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Poh Mui Hoon – defining IT in business

Poh Mui Hoon, president of SESAMi Inc, has after all, been in this industry for over 15 years, and was at the center of the migration from using the Internet as a pure information tool to using it as a B2C and B2B e-commerce medium.
Written by Ariel Tam, Contributor
Poh Mui Hoon

Information technology has always intrigued Poh Mui Hoon. She has after all, been in this industry for over 15 years, and was at the center of the migration from using the Internet as a pure information tool to using it as a B2C and B2B e-commerce medium.

The former GM (Internet Commerce Group) of National Computer Systems is intent on continuing her legacy. As president of B2B services provider SESAMi Inc, 39-year-old Poh has already managed to turn a ten-person company into a team of more than 120 with capitalisation of US$72 million, all in a space of some 18 months. ZDNet Asia talks to this wonder woman about life in the digital age.

What are some of the problems you encountered when you were asked to run SESAMi in 1999?
The business that SESAMi is in was spun off from NCS under the SingTel Group of companies. I would say that some of the teething problems that were faced initially were really trying to find a balance in being an autonomous separate entity and one of being part of a larger entity. As many on the team at the initial stage came from NCS and SingTel, it did take us a while to settle into being SESAMians with an identity which is unique to the organization.

We have always held on to the belief that the potential of the Internet has yet to be fully realised and we are still only touching the tip of the iceberg now. The variety of challenges we faced from the start illustrates the complexities that we had to deal with. But charting a course out for SESAMi in untested waters has been the main challenge.

Being a key player in the B2B e-commerce space in Asia, we are finding our niches and we are building the business through very focused efforts. To some extent, some of the teething problems have been resolved while others may take some time to resolve as the industry and markets in this space mature.

Is there a role model whom you look up to?
Yes, Mr K C Lee, CEO of NCS – I have tremendous respect for him. I have worked with K C for many years and have been fortunate to have had him as a mentor and coach for a significant period in my career. I have learned so much from him and I find myself going back to the basic principles that I have seen him demonstrate in many business situations.

What keeps you going at your job?
It’s about having the ability to build something from scratch and mould the organization with a team of people that I care about and respect. It’s also about knowing that I am charting new grounds and helping to define an entire new era in how IT is being used in business. It’s about knowing that what I do will make a difference.

Which aspect(s) of the Asian culture do you think makes for a good or bad business edge in the global IT market?
The concept of “face” and the consideration of group interests rather than on individual interests found in Asian culture helps foster trust and the desire to achieve win-win goals for all parties. However, rigid adherence to such principles by the same token can also take away any business edge in the international IT market. This is because these values may undermine the expression of individuality, a key part of creativity that would allow businesses to stand apart from their competition.

Do you think technology isolates people or brings people closer together?
It can do both – depending on how you use it. It can be a valuable communication tool that allows me to stay connected but it also means it tend to make me work much much longer hours since I am more accessible – it eats into [my] private time.

What kind of mindset do you think is needed to survive in this digital age?
What is needed is nimbleness, speed and the ability to embrace change. We have more tools, better technology, but less time. What happened?
This is because all the tools and technology have deluded us into believing that we can do more with the same resources.

Which gadget is on your most wanted list?
I would want a combination of palm and handphone as the next gadget – but I want one that is smaller and sleeker, not the size that is available on the market now.

What’s your favorite tech acronym?
That has to be B2B, right? I am in the business. I sleep and eat it.

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