HRM Asia Watch List 2018: Naveen Chhabra

Olam International’s Regional Head of HR for Southeast Asia has a technology background, but says HR is where he can have the biggest impact.
By: | October 17, 2018

The HRM Asia Watch List 2018 (#hrmwatchlist), brought to you by Armstrong Craven, showcases the brightest next-generation HR leadership talent from across Southeast Asia.


Before taking on his biggest, most complex role to date, Naveen Chhabra’s career was focused largely on HR business partnership, something that has given him a unique perspective as the now head of the entire function for Olam International’s Southeast Asia region.

HRM Asia Watch List

Naveen Chhabra

Vice President and Regional Head of HR, Southeast Asia,
Olam International

Based in: Ho Chi Minh City

HR focus area: Talent Management, Inspired Organisation, Employer Branding

Favourite aspect of HR: “The impact I am able to create for the growth of the business.”

Career-defining moment“Moving into my current role, which has provided me with the opportunity to learn and develop perspective on a completely different industry.”

Chhabra started out his career in the technology hub of Bangalore in India. Armed with an engineering degree, he began working life as a software engineer with a development company in the year 2000.

But his first change – into the much larger organisation of Accenture in 2004 – also saw him switch functional roles.

As part of his appointment, Chhabra undertook MBA studies with a HR focus – and this was paired with his work as a technology-conversant HR business partner to Accenture’s High-Tech vertical.

A string of similar, but progressively empowered roles then followed: at a finance firm in 2006, and then Microsoft between 2008 and 2010.

He joined Olam International as Head of HR for its global technology division at the end of 2010.

That led to the then newly-created role heading up HR across Southeast Asia from Olam’s base in Vietnam, with Chhabra making the big move into this region in 2013.

“My current role involves heading HR for the Southeast Asia region for Olam, which includes 45 different locations in Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar, East Timor, Laos, and Papua New Guinea, and has an employee base of 7,000 across the six countries,” he said.

That makes for an incredibly diverse workforce, and not just in terms of cultures. “There are very diverse skillsets, with some highly-niche specialists and also a significant blue-collar workforce,” Chhabra said, adding that he is responsible for Olam’s relationships with employee and labour unions in each of those markets.

That is just one of an equally diverse list of objectives and metrics for the Ho Chi Minh City-based Regional Head of HR.

Among his other responsibilities, Chhabra lists: aligning the HR strategy to the business objectives, building and strengthening the system and processes on employee engagement, integrated talent management, employee communications, and culture-building as key to the company’s success.


The HRM Asia Watch List aims to showcase the up and coming generation of HR leadership talent in Southeast Asia. The list will be unveiled daily between September 27 and October 19, 2018. Check the dedicated archive for the latest updates, follow #hrmwatchlist on social media, or see below. 

Introduction | Welcome address by Tom Mason

Profile #1: Jaspreet Kakar | Profile #2: Dianne Goette | Profile #3: Chen Fong Tuan

Profile #4: Felicia Teh | Profile #5: Monica Oudang | Profile #6: Evangeline Chua

Profile #7: Agapol Na Songkhla | Profile #8: Clayton Tan | Profile #9: Tony Tan

Profile #10: Vanessa Mercado-Maningas | Profile #11: Jahja Soenarta | Profile #12: Minn Yan

Profile #13: Rudy Afandi | Profile #14: Norazlina Idris

Profile #15: Naveen Chhabra | Profile #16: Monir Azzouzi