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How a woman CIO rose up the ranks in a Japanese firm

Henrietta Yaw draws on her people-oriented approach to management which has served her well in her decades-long career at Fujifilm Business Innovation

As a female CIO of the Asia-Pacific business of Japanese tech giant Fujifilm Business Innovation, Henrietta Yaw has had to work harder to convince her stakeholders on her business proposals in a male-dominated corporate environment.

“The Japanese are very focused on data, and it’s not that we don’t focus on data, but I think they want to see the evidence and that makes it a bit more tedious,” Yaw said. “But over time, I’ve learned that’s the way to convince them.”

These are just some of the challenges that Yaw has had to overcome in her 30-year technology career at Fujifilm Business Innovation, which was formerly known as Fuji Xerox.

Yaw, who majored in IT, first joined Fuji Xerox Singapore in 1992 as a programmer before she was transferred to Fuji Xerox Asia-Pacific in 2000 to set up its IT shared services organisation as part of the company’s efforts to optimise business costs and improve efficiency.

At the time, she implemented, among other initiatives, an Oracle enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and a managed desktop service that provides a standard operating environment for employees across the region.

More recently, she was involved in scaling down the company’s regional datacentre as usage of public cloud services grew. The company has a cloud migration strategy that hinges on factors such as scalability and where a system is in the technology refresh cycle.

Along with its move to the cloud, Fujifilm Business Innovation has set up a transformation office made up of subject matter experts to look into transforming business processes and driving change. Yaw is part of the steering committee that spearheads the work of the office.

The company’s transformation efforts bore fruit at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic when it had to support remote work arrangements, such as providing virtual private network (VPN) and collaboration tools that were already in place.

“We also run a call centre and offer ‘zero touch’ desktop support and application services, so we were well-positioned to continue to operate without disruption,” she added.

Meanwhile, the company has been driving robotic process automation (RPA) adoption to much success, with business groups offering to help others set up their bots. It is also driving greater use of data analytics, where more data scientists will be needed to harness data and make better business decisions.

Throughout her career, Yaw has adopted a people-oriented approach to management, which stemmed from her growing-up years in Kuching in the East Malaysian state of Sarawak, where she lived in a close-knit community.

“The secret to doing better is really to build trust across all parties who come to the table with different expectations and objectives,” she said. “The key is to have empathy, understand different people, and respecting different cultures and opinions while staying firmly grounded on values and key objectives.”

Yaw’s approach has served her well, especially at the time when women are confronting artificial glass ceilings in Japanese companies, where it takes time for women to rise up the ranks. “But I think I’m lucky in the sense that I had the opportunity to progress in my career here,” Yaw said.

Being the first woman to be appointed to senior management in the region, Yaw said there is pressure for her to do well so that she can open up opportunities for other women in the organisation.

She provides career guidance to other women, urging those who don’t think they will make the cut to focus on building their personal brand and working with facts and data. “Do not be afraid to move out of your own comfort zone when the opportunity arises, and trust your own instincts,” she added.

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