When The Chicken Dies, Everyone Cries
Friday, 10 March, 08.00 PM at MGS

Boonsiri Somchit returns to her humble roots in rural Malaysia and shares her unique insights on leadership, life and dealing with rogue chickens.

In her 18-year career at NASDAQ-listed AMD, Boonsiri Somchit spearheaded the set-up of its accounting and financial shared services organisation, servicing AMD’s global business entities. The culture that she built at AMD Global Business Services has been recognised as an industry benchmark and featured in academic white papers in Malaysia and the UK. She is the brand ambassador of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) Malaysia.

Boonsiri Somchit is a finance and operations professional with over three decades of experience. In her 18 year career at Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), she spearheaded the set-up of its first accounting and financial shared services organization. Under her stewardship, AMD’s Global Business Services was recognised as a global industry benchmark.

Boonsiri is a wife, mother, partner and co-founder of Xtrategize. When The Chicken Dies, Everyone Cries is her first book.

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From Kampung to Corporate

My very first major speaking event took place in 2009 in front of 600 delegates from over 30 countries. I was sharing the stage with global CEOs and CFOs and I was terrified. When it was my time to speak, the short walk up to the podium felt like an eternity until I noticed the giant backdrop, which proclaimed: “The Global Village- No Boundaries, No Limits”.

Seeing the word ‘village’ was my A-ha moment. The moment that I realized that everything I knew about leadership, teamwork and communication came from many years back, when I lived with my family in our borderless community – my kampung.

Thinking back, my first leadership lesson began with my very own existence. I am what you could call an “accident baby”. Meh was forty eight when she had me and Por, my father was in his fifties. At the time, my parents already had seven kids to take care of. Life was hard but my parents never complained and they always found ways to make ends meet. I’m blessed that Meh and Por never took my arrival as a nuisance and I was accepted as a boon just like my other brothers and sisters.

My family’s gentle, unwavering love taught me that (just like me) accidents always happen. We have the choice of complaining about it and blaming ourselves, blaming the people around us, finding something or someone to blame for the mishap or we can tell ourselves, hey, shit happens deal with it. There is really no point in focusing on why something happened. It doesn’t matter, focus on what you need to do next, smile and move on.

From an early age I learnt how to deal with different bosses because being the youngest I had nine - my parents and seven elder siblings. If you analyse it, family structures are really similar to corporate structures. My parents were the CEO and COO and my elder siblings were the VPs and Head of Departments. Me, well, I was the employee. Sometimes (if I was lucky!) these home executives would give me very specific instructions. Often I received vague and confusing instructions which I should have clarified but I never bothered to ask because all I wanted to do was finish the task quickly and run off to play with my gang.

This was the attitude that got me in trouble with my direct line boss, Che Che, my eldest sister. She had given me RM10 to buy cinnamon sticks so that she could cook curry. However, Che Che only needed one stick and because she wasn’t specific I ended up buying an entire gunny sack of cinnamon sticks which I had to push home on my little tricycle (hey, in those days RM10 went a long way!). We never returned the cinnamon sticks because we  didn’t want to be the talk of our small kampung. I think my family was still using the cinnamon even after I graduated from college. That was a valuable leadership lesson on the importance of giving specific instructions and the importance of asking when you don’t understand.

Growing up in the kampung we had few possessions but we were happy. My kampung gang would make toys from old tin cans, old tennis balls, pebbles, rubber seeds, rubber bands and anything we could lay our hands on. One of our favourite pastimes was to see how many gang members we could fit on one bicycle. We had to develop a strategy, be creative, collaborate and execute an extremely intricate balancing act without hurting ourselves or damaging the bicycle. It’s similar to the corporate world where you don’t get every resource that you ask for, so you have to learn to do more with less.

Those kampung bicycle rides gave me the motivation to build AMD’s first shared services organization (SSO) with only thirteen people. My team and I had to transition the entire accounting function from all our Asian entities to Penang, together with an ERP implementation. We needed to get it done in nine months (I was pregnant at the time). We did. That was fourteen years ago and that organization has grown and now supports AMD’s entire global network.

We all lead such busy lives and in the process, we are always rushing from one place to another, from one meeting to another or from one airport to another. Stop. Take time to reflect on your own stories and memories. Use these to connect with your people, your friends and your family. My kampung memories have been the very foundation of my own leadership learning. I didn’t know it back then, but now I realize that the most compelling leadership wisdom can come from the most unexpected places. I am so thankful I found that place.

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