career transitioner/ restarter

TAN AIK NA

Senior Vice President (Admin), NTU

(In her 50's)

 

Her story (as shared by her nominator)

Aik Na was the first Asian woman in chemical giant DuPont’s 210-year history to be appointed global CFO of its world-leading Titanium Technologies business. In 2016, she left the familiarity of a global company after a 24- year illustrious career. At 46, she embarked on a new career - in a Singapore public institution - she returned to her alma mater as its CFO. In 2018, she became the first alumna to be appointed Vice President at NTU Singapore. Her portfolio includes overseeing administrative functions, with a mission to drive simplification and productivity, leverage technology, and accelerate people development to make a step change at NTU. Aik Na is unafraid to challenge convention and the status quo while championing organisational change and transformation. Her ability to make tough decisions, strength in adversity, and ability to connect with people have enabled her to successfully transition from the corporate world to drive collaboration and innovation in a public institution, earning the respect from new stakeholders. The COVID-19 pandemic stress-tested these new organisational capabilities by enabling seamlessly the University’s remote operations for 40,000 students and staff at short notice. She received the 2018 Nanyang Alumni Achievement Award for modernising NTU’s administrative infrastructure and capabilities.

Aik Na backs and motivates her people. Her initiatives and direction are very clear, and she is not afraid of challenges. She is a good communicator and rallies the organisation through active engagement. She is a clear- thinker, innovative, process-oriented, and contributes beyond her area of responsibility. She delivers ... and is an important element in the team in the progress we have made in the last four years ...” say her stakeholders. What a difference four years have made with Aik Na leading NTU Administration, an organisation of more than 3,000 non-teaching employees. In August 2016, Aik Na embarked on a new career – at her alma mater Nanyang Technological University as CFO, after more than two decades in a multitude of leadership roles in the private sector. The odds were stacked against her – she had been in the MNC world all her career and had a very limited local professional network. There was no office space for her on Day 1 and was told that she was actually “not needed” for another couple of months. At 46 and a female, she did not fit the stereotyped expectations, and someone told her she was the wrong choice for NTU, and they were not sure why the search committee had picked her. She decided she owed it to herself, and those who believed she can make a difference, to take on the challenge. She was also named Chief Administrative Officer in Apr 2017. She accepted the challenge she was handed by the trustees and senior leaders and made it her mission to make NTU a progressive employer for non- teaching professionals, and a more modernised eco- system for the 40,000 strong community. She became the champion of change.

Since 2016, she has been the driving force behind the University’s transformation efforts. Under her leadership, the NTU Administrative transformation had moved from talking to doing. We took bold steps in the use of advanced technologies and global best practices to modernise and upgrade not just the administrative capabilities and infrastructure, but also the student learning platforms to advance NTU’s ambition to be one of the great global universities. The change management needed to address the resistance and concerns of faculty and staff is not to be under-estimated. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic validated our transformation journey. That we have been able to move thousands of hours of lessons, hundreds of assessments, career fairs and open houses attended by thousands, and voluminous end-to-end transactions, online at short notice is testament to the new organisational and people capabilities built. When Aik Na took the reins at NTU Admin, she left a career that was, by some measures, much bigger and more international. In contrast, she had to quickly adapt to not just the scale and complexity of her new role, taking on a broader range of responsibilities, and also creating the right environment for transformation and change for an organisation of 9,000 employees and 33,000 students. She had to build a new team quickly to strategise, reskill, retrain, and build new organisational capabilities for a future-ready workforce. Despite the magnitude of these “impossible” challenges, she has accomplished much in the last four years. She has embraced the challenges, and tapped successfully on her past experiences to create new pathways for the future. Her insights and tenacity have translated into a more efficient Administration at NTU that touches the journey of every student, faculty, and staff.

 

In her words:

Greatest achievement

Elevating the role of the administrative functions at NTU by earning a seat at the table of the President’s Council which is the key decision body of the university.

 

Biggest challenge thus far

Advocating for more open communication across the faculty and staff across NTU - against a backdrop of naysayers and people telling me that nobody will be interested to attend, I started the ball rolling by holding the first ever university wide town-hall in 2017 for the 3000-strong administrative workforce to share the vision of how we need to work together to uplift our capabilities to enable the University. More than 1,000 staff attended the town-hall in person. Since then, the university has adopted periodic town halls as a means of employee outreach and communication.

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what judges say

Super impressive achievements in both her careers.  She had already achieved so much in her first career, yet in her 2nd career - she still inspired with her efforts and success.