Procurement Leaders
Procurement Leaders

Interview: Christina Ooi, head of group procurement at Malaysia Airlines Berhad

In the run up to speaking at the 6th Annual Asia Pacific Forum on 2-3 November in Singapore, Christina S. S. Ooi, head of group procurement at Malaysia Airlines Berhad, discusses restructuring the function and the challenges surrounding recruiting talent in Malaysia. Ooi will also be sharing her experiences at the forum of how to drive supplier compliance and the best use of data to this end.


Procurement Leaders (PL): Can you describe the scope and responsibility of procurement in your business?

Christina Ooi (CO): We centralised our procurement function when Malaysia Airlines Berhad (MAB) started operations on September 1, 2015 as a new airline company. We cover all procurement activities for MAB and our sister companies. With the increased scope and responsibilities, we now need to take a look at the new role that group procurement needs to play.


Group procurement needs to create and increase value group-wide by moving away from an operational, back-office mindset towards a more strategic orientation where we are engaged with our internal stakeholders much earlier in the procuring process, and to participate in meaningful discussions on their business requirements – only buy what we need when we need.


Our early involvement reduces risk through end-to-end procurement process and governance, and improves time to value and speed to market. We need to balance the risks of procuring with speed with the need for governance —if we focus too heavily on speed to market we may compromise on process compliance and governance, while if we are too strict with governance, we would not be able to act fast.

PL: How have you assembled the skills you need to facilitate the change that you’ve described and what challenges have you faced along the way?


CO: In Malaysia, procurement as an employment opportunity is not as mature as in developed countries such as Australia, New Zealand, the US and Europe, and good procurement talent in the country is very scarce. Because of this, we faced a number of challenges in recruiting good talent. Not only was it difficult to find good talent in the first place but it was also a challenge to attract candidates who would want to work outside of the city, where our headquarters is located.


On the flip side, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of the group procurement organisation. The scale and magnitude of the procurement transformation agenda, and the overall restructuring plan is unprecedented in corporate Malaysia. For many, such an opportunity is not to be missed. So, that in itself is an attraction for procurement professionals from other organisations in Malaysia.


Our own employees from other divisions of MAB have also started looking at us and thinking that this renewed role of group procurement is something they would like to seriously explore in their career progression. So, we’ve been able to attract some good talent from other areas of our business as well.


PL: What challenges do you think procurement teams in APAC can help each other tackle and take learnings from each other on?


CO: Talent is the main challenge for procurement in the APAC region, and, at MAB, we strongly believe in lifelong learning for our group procurement team. We also believe in growing our own talent. In Malaysia, there is also a shortage of talent in category management, and hands-on procurement practitioners. This is another area of talent that we need to develop. So, rather than organisations luring trained talent away from other organisations where good procurement talent is already scarce, it will be a win-win and more effective approach to pool talent together in a collaborative manner with other non-competing organisations.

I think procurement teams from these different non-competing organisations could work something out where we rotate people across different organisations. For example, people from the talent pool could spend around 3-4 weeks at other organisations under this programme, working in the procurement divisions, while learning and networking with each other. We could also provide cross-organisation category mentoring opportunities to leverage the skillset and overcome the issue of talent scarcity. We have started to give this some serious thoughts, and have a few organisations in mind already to reach out to.



PL: What are you hoping to get from the Singapore Forum?


CO: Firstly, from a personal point of view, it is a great opportunity to network and swap and share the dynamic aspects of procurement with other CPOs from various organisations across Asia and beyond. Procurement has become a very dynamic discipline in the increasingly competitive environment where cost management is crucial to the survival of businesses today. We need to keep our people up-to-date all the time with good practices, best practices, and learn from those who have succeeded; more importantly, for us to learn from those who have failed, and then succeeded.


Regardless of whether we are from different industries, whether we are from small or large businesses, and no matter how different our businesses are, variety is great and we can all stand to learn from each other.


Secondly, I will be joined by three members from our group procurement team. We see this as part of our belief in lifelong learning —an excellent opportunity for my team to take home their two days of experience from the exposure to your event, and share their learning with others. I believe lifelong learning and thinking outside the box is contagious and so we can look at what other procurement teams have found success in and take this forward within our own team.

The Asia Pacific Forum 2016 takes place at The Westin in Singapore 2-3 November 2016. Find out more here.


This article is a piece of independent writing by a member of Procurement Leaders’ content team.

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