Leaders Q&A: Jolyn Tay

Post by: Anna Johansson
Published: 9 January 2023

Tell us a bit about yourself and your career so far.

Right now I am working at GrabPay, a bohemia of transport and payments. We are driving towards the goal of being so sticky in the APAC region that we are in every touchpoint of people’s lives. I work across a few different elements of GrabPay whilst I also take care of a few teams. This includes the sales team, the partnerships team and the sales and operations efficiency team. My job is to be the glue to bring them together to see the shared goal. 

Before GrabPay I spent 3-4 years at Hoola. Hoola is a very interesting buy now pay later company, I invested a lot of my time into the 0 to 1 start up environment – a lot of bloodshed, pain, tears and passion as well. Before this I was in digital advertising, so you can see how my career evolved as a female leader in fintech through the years, from working in a startup to now a bigger company. It trains a different muscle and makes you think about where I position myself as a female in a large company and in Asia Pacific

That is so many teams you are managing, how do you lead these teams?

That’s an interesting question, it ties in with our agenda. I believe in nurturing people, if you think about the debate of getting someone from outside or do you nurture talent within the company. I believe in the latter so long as it makes sense. For me I feel that without good people around you, you will not succeed. 

I spent a lot of time digging into everyone’s personalities, their individual strengths and weaknesses to help me identify the leaders of tomorrow. I think having a good mix of diversity really helps in the thinking process and dynamism. I make sure to do strong one to ones with everyone each week and then bring it all together in larger meetings so the group understands we’re all in this together. 

I try to identify all the different phases that each of the members in my team are in and when they will be ready for leadership so that I can nurture this and help them succeed. I like to lead by example and one of the things I truly believe in is empathy.

I think that empathy may come more naturally to females, as we have an innate understanding of what you’re thinking or feeling as well as the ability to read physical body language. Putting that ability into leadership is powerful. I don’t think that leadership style is interrelated to gender as it is developed from your beliefs and the openness to accept new notions.

For example, in Singapore there used to be a really strong social norm and expectation that females should want to start a family and have children. However now this has started to shift, there is now a bit more a belief that being with a partner is enough to be happy.

I know you’ve spoken a lot about empathy and how important this is to your leadership style. But I wanted to know what else do you think are important skills (soft or hard) for a leader to have or try to develop?

There are a few that I try to keep quite close to myself. The first is of course empathy and the second for me in critical thinking. I define it as the ability to diagnose what the true root of the problem is. I’ll give you an example, in a company meeting we could discuss something for ages sort of like an aqua chamber and we always fall back into what we are comfortable with.

But that is just drawing lessons from history – sometimes you need to dig deep and deconstruct a complex problem to ensure that you understand it all. If you go deeper into understanding what the core root of the problem is we can address it. It helps to be efficient instead of spending too much time and resources on basic concepts. 

I also think in today’s world you need to be open to new ideas, making sure you sit down and listen to everyone’s thinking and thought process helps you to understand if something is possible. It also means you need to be brave enough to admit you might be wrong. My ethos is ‘I’m sorry, I apologise for what I said earlier I think I’m wrong and you’re right’. When you admit you make mistakes it helps to humanise you as a leader, relate to your team and show your willingness to learn. 

Congratulations on being honoured as one of the top women in Singapore in Fintech for 2022, how did this come about and what does this mean for women progressing in fintech?

I believe that the teams around me and some of my industry friends in Fintech came together to nominate me and through their votes I become recognised in the Top Women in Fintech. Obviously I was not the only one there was heaps of other amazing women recognised too so kudos to them.

As for what it means, I think for me it means two things. First, the sky is the limit. Secondly, I think for a woman it may sometimes be tricky to navigate such a heavily male dominated sector like fintech but once you establish your strong understanding of the landscape and learn about yourself you can supersede your expectations. 

What did creating the go-to-market strategy for grab’s Paylater’s launch in Singapore entail?

That’s a very interesting question. For the go-to-market it was specifically for the buy now pay later segment of Grab’s product for retailers and their stores in Singapore. I had to really think about how to bring together 26 teams in Grab, a mix of small and big teams from marketing to engineering to finance etc.

The main thing is getting everyone across this to understand and work towards the main goal. It was one of the most challenging projects for me because of the volume of people I was working with and making sure that I was meeting their expectations and fixing their pain points. 

The goal was to launch the product in early November with two things in mind, market share and capability. 

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a woman in leadership?

I have a long list. But for me one of my key challenges ties in with empathy. I guess it can be seen as a double edged sword, displaying empathy can sometimes be seen as a sign of weakness or interpreted as indecisiveness. This is one of the key challenges I have had to overcome at every step or transition in my career.

I think there is a secret recipe to overcome this, lying in the timing that you display empathy. If you always display empathy then I think the industry could see you as a follower or a team player. For me differentiating a team player from a leader is the difference in knowing when to have a tough conversation and when to talk about performance – which I have found to be a taboo in the industry and one of the most difficult conversations to have. 

You need to be able to pull the trigger but also display empathy and show that you’re tough and make sure the team understands this. I have made a lot of mistakes throughout my career so far but they are all important lessons that I apply to my leadership. I realise now that nobody is perfect, but when you realise that you are surrounded by imperfect people it gives you a lot to learn from. 

As a leader are there any key things you’re doing to support diversity and more female leaders?

It’s not a big approach, but I wanted to start small and make sure I am able to help the females at GrabPay, so I am mentoring the up and coming female leaders to make sure they are ready for the next step into leadership. I have come up with some interesting mentorship programs and talking to my own experiences and challenges and how I overcome them.

It really varies, sometimes it can be one to one or a small focus group or if the need calls for it I book a meeting room and sit down with the women to take a topic and expand on it a lot more. To help them manoeuvre the industry and understand what the next steps for them might look like for their career trajectory. 

Sales is obviously not studied at college or university, in Singapore how can we support women in the earlier stages of their career to move into sales?

Is it easy for women to get started in sales? Yes and no. I think there are a lot of misconceptions, especially when you look in from the outside. I think we need to start by breaking the mystical impression of it all and the focus of commission, instead replace it with some hard truths of what head hunting and prospecting really is. Also a focus instead on what the day to day really is like, creating a sales pipeline, driving conversations, lead generation, delivering a pitch etc. 

Understanding what type of sales person you are is key to retention – the conversational salesperson, a networking or solutions salesperson. Segmenting each individual salesperson into these different types helps them to understand who they are and how to help them succeed. 

What have you been reading or watching or listening to lately?

I really enjoy listening to podcasts or reading case studies about founders and how they became successful to understand their thinking and how they responded to and anticipated the market. I would like to share one book which I’m currently reading, Thinking, Fast and Slow (by Daniel Kahneman) which considers the two different thought processes and ways that people react to things.