From Global Experience to Local Impact – How Phui Har Leverages Her Global Expertise for Malaysia's Success

The career journey often leads us far from home, and yet it is journey that eventually leads us back to serve our own country. There is a unique comfort, joy and sense of purpose in returning home to contribute to your homeland that remains unparalleled.

Lim Phui Har brings 20 years of international experience to her current role as Senior Director and Site Lead at The Estée Lauder Companies (ELC) in Malaysia. Her story exemplifies the positive impact returning talent can have on a home country's economy and professional landscape. 

Read this interview as she discusses her career journey, her passion for empowering people, and her vision for the future of shared services in Malaysia.

Q1: Could you share a brief overview of your current role at The Estée Lauder Companies, including your tenure with the organisation?

My name is Phui Har, and I work for The Estée Lauder Companies (ELC) in Malaysia as Senior Director and Site Lead, managing OneSource, ELC’s shared services function. We offer support in various key areas to the Human Resources, Finance, Retail Operations, and Supply Chain functions for our teams across Asia-Pacific.
I’m originally from Malaysia but have been very fortunate to have worked across a variety of locations and in various roles throughout my career. I completed my school years in Melaka where I obtained a scholarship from the Malaysian Institute of Accountants (MIA), before studying Accountancy at the University of Malaya. Straight out of university, I was given the opportunity to work in Hong Kong, which quickly became one of my favourite cities, as part of the University Internship Program. This really broadened my horizons. Fast forward 20 years later, after working across four different locations, I’m delighted to be back in Malaysia and working with ELC.

Q2: Can you elaborate on the factors that led you to pursue a career within multinational companies, culminating in your current role at The Estée Lauder Companies?

Identifying and accelerating the potential in people is my passion, while also ensuring that work we do is effective and impactful. These values have driven my entire career and have been behind every decision to move and take on different roles over the last 20 years.

A few years ago, ELC identified the need for an integrated shared services organisation to better serve its brands, functions, and regions, while making employees’ roles more productive and impactful. Kuala Lumpur was identified as a great location for this hub due to its strong reputation in this area. The hub was launched in 2022 to service the Asia-Pacific region. This opportunity with ELC ticked all the boxes for me and came at the perfect moment as I had been dreaming of moving back home to Malaysia.

Today, I lead a team of close to 100 employees and I am focused on empowering this team to be solution designers in a center of excellence. Looking ahead, I see great potential in growing the hub further through a focus on digitisation, analytics, and globalisation. This role fits perfectly in marrying the skills that I have developed throughout my career with my passion for accelerating people and solutions. It is an exciting opportunity, and I am just thrilled to play a role in supporting this dynamic team and providing meaningful ‘high touch’ experiences to our employees, in keeping with our company values.

OneKL Leaders (From left: Gary Fung, Site Lead, KL Global Technology Centre; Cheryl Joannides, Managing Director, Malaysia; Lim Phui Har, Site Lead, KL OneSource)

Q3: Working in an MNC often comes with its unique challenges and opportunities. Within the MNC environment, what specific challenges have you faced, and how have you leveraged your experiences to overcome them and achieve professional growth?

In my experience with large MNCs, I have found that implementing big projects that impact multiple parts of the business can be challenging due to the involvement of multiple stakeholders. Over the course of my career, I have found a few important strategies that have helped to support a smoother process.

Firstly, when working within a matrix or complex organisational structure, stakeholder buy-in during the initial stages of any project is key, as well as clear and consistent communication. Providing clarity on the objectives and timely and regular updates are always incredibly valuable to all stakeholders. It is also important to recognise that within any company, there is no such thing as a perfect project plan. Changes must be made along the way and so transparency is vital.

More broadly, I believe that placing my trust in my team to execute is key to any project. Trusting your employees empowers them to take ownership of the project’s success, which is crucial to accelerating their potential. This approach ensures that issues are highlighted and rectified early on.

Celebrating staffs' birthday as part of ELC employee engagement sessions. 

Q4: Considering your extensive international experience, particularly in China, we are curious about your decision to participate in the Returning Expat Program and return to serve in Malaysia. 

What motivated you to choose Malaysia as the next step in your career after working in China? How do you see this move contributing to your personal and professional growth, and what aspects of Malaysia's professional landscape appeal to you?

Malaysia is rapidly becoming a key destination for global shared services, and many companies are following in the footsteps of ELC in establishing shared service centres here. It is also home to a very diverse talent pool, with increasing global interest from foreign investors.

I’ve been very fortunate to have lived abroad and worked in some amazing locations, like China. When you are younger with less experience, it is important to seize the opportunities and working overseas was a real gamechanger for me. However, it is lovely to be back home in Malaysia and close to my friends and family. This has always been the long-term goal for me.

Q5: How has your international experience in China shaped your perspective on contributing to the professional landscape in Malaysia, and what specific strengths or insights do you bring back with you from your time abroad?

Working in China is incredibly fast-paced, and consumers have high expectations - as such, I learnt so much! 

During my time working there, it was important to find ways to leverage technology to constantly improve our service. As such, the focus was on upskilling our teams and enhancing capabilities, which included building bots for owned processes and using analytics to proactively identify risks and drive decision-making. We quickly learned that there was less value in seeking technical consultants to support this, and instead relied on our team to build these functionalities out as they had more understanding of the processes. This insight has been incredibly valuable. In addition, it is critical to keep everything simple – no matter how complex the framework.

Q6: What advice or insights would you offer fellow aspiring Malaysians to build a successful career in an MNC? Are there specific skills, mindsets, or strategies that you believe are crucial for success in this context?

My advice would be not to fixate on roles and job titles. Say yes to every opportunity that arises and take every learning that it gives you. In the world of MNCs, it’s important to network and find sponsors in different areas of the organisation. You can learn so much from those around you.

To those in the shared services world, there is a stigma that each role is just about routine transactional work, but this is not true. The role is what you make it. I give this advice to my team all the time: approach your work with the mindset of how you can add value to the business – try to do things differently; upskill through automation; leverage analytics for better decision making; and make suggestions on how to simplify or improve processes. This is what your role is about.

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