Interview with Serge Pun

Mr Serge Pun is the Executive Chairman of Yoma Strategic and also the Chairman of Serge Pun & Associates (Myanmar) Limited (SPA).

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WHAT IS YOUR MOTIVATION FOR SUPPORTING GENDER DIVERSITY ON YOUR BOARD?

Diversity is important but not the goal. The goal is to have a very good board, with diverse backgrounds, gender, experience and contributing attributes.

Diversity on the board is a great step for any company, particularly if you can have people who know the business environment, who are more sensitive or better informed of the political landscape and the climate. It makes a lot of difference, instead of having just professional people, who keep you in line. So I’m all for it.

WHAT DIFFERENCE SPECIFICALLY DOES IT MAKE?

It gives you an opportunity to have more views [other than your own] when assessing the political landscape and the economic climate: looking at the trends a bit further out, and so forth. Those qualities are extremely valuable for a board. But I think if you are going to recruit a female member to the board, it’s not really because of her gender – it’s because of who she is and what she could contribute to the board.

So, to me, proficiency and suitability are far more important than gender. It could be the other way. As far as I’m concerned, it could be all women on a board, if they are more suitable than other people. So, I wouldn’t say I’m gender-blind, but I would say I am not one of those who are very sticky about having so many men and having so many women, and so forth. The number one priority is to have the right skills. Gender is important, but still second priority.

WHAT’S YOUR STRATEGY FOR FINDING CANDIDATES TO BUILD YOUR BOARD?

We rely a great deal on our own network and recommendations. We rely to some extent on search companies, but I’m all for knowing the board member rather than recruiting one through a search firm just for the sake of filling the post.

“I’m hoping to find more people who have a view of their own instead of all being ‘yes men’ who will just agree with me. That would defeat the whole purpose of having a board. I might as well make all the decisions myself.”

YOU ALSO MENTIONED THAT YOU USE SEARCH FIRMS. DO YOU GIVE THEM A BRIEF TO FIND WOMEN CANDIDATES IN YOUR SHORTLIST?

We do indicate that, all things equal, if we can get a female on the board we would prefer it because we do need one. We would like to have one, or even more. If we use a search firm, I think definitely that would be one of the criteria we would give them. But I don’t think this will be the deciding factor.

In other words, we would not want them to look for only one gender. The goal is to have a very good board. And, hopefully, we would be able to find a diversified background – both in gender and also experience and contributing attributes.

HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THE DIVERSITY OF VIEWS YOU GET FROM A MORE DIVERSE BOARD?

I’m hoping to find more people who have a view of their own instead of all being ‘yes men’ who will just agree with me. That would defeat the whole purpose of having a board. I might as well make all the decisions myself. So I don’t think there is a danger of the chairman choosing only like-minded people or only people who would approve his views. That’s probably the furthest from my consideration.

Like-minded is required if you want to be in sync in one go. But on the other hand, I don’t need people who are there just for the sake of opposing.

DO YOU THINK THERE SHOULD BE QUOTAS TO HAVE WOMEN ON BOARDS IN SINGAPOREAN COMPANIES?

No. Having quotas defeats the purpose of having the right board. If your aim is just to fill quotas, you might be denying very qualified people just because they happen to be the wrong gender.

“All things equal, if we can get a female on the board we would prefer it because we do need one. We would like to have one, or even more.”

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO CHAIRMEN WHO ARE STILL RELUCTANT TO CHANGE THEIR WAYS?

There are many women heads of corporations in the world today, à la PepsiCo [Indra Nooyi] and many others. They emerge, and when there is a woman that’s qualified for the job, I think the business world has not shunned them. Maybe some companies have, but that is to their own disadvantage if they choose to be chauvinistic about gender. If there is a qualified woman and you don’t choose her because of her gender, then you’re just being stupid. Traditionally, there may be societies where they were a lot more chauvinistic than they should be, but I think that’s a matter of the past. I don’t think it applies today.

For more interviews with board chairmen and directors, please see DAC’s report ‘Speaking with the Boards‘.

Speaking with the Boards‘ is a supplement to DAC’s report ‘Women on Boards: Tackling the Issue‘ launched in October 2016.