INSEAD Participant Interview

Business Strategy for HR Leaders: how to be a partner to your organisation

Carmen Chong

Director of People at Lalamove, Hong Kong.

With HR leaders needing to step up to more strategic roles, Carmen Chong explains how INSEAD’s Business Strategy for HR Leaders programme is a fast track to building the knowledge, understanding and credibility to lead change and create real value.

Carmen, what is your background in human resources?

I’m Director of People at Lalamove, a new tech player that is scaling up fast and disrupting the logistics space in Asia. The company was founded in 2013, in Hong Kong – I joined as their first HR person in 2016. I’m originally from a talent acquisition background, and I’ve really seen my own role grow and evolve in tandem with my organisation’s growth – from 30 people to a headcount in excess of 5000 globally in the last four years.

How is human resources management changing in your view?

We’re starting to see the role of HR director shift from an operations, compliance and administration focus to more of a partnership with the business – understanding the business’s strategic needs in order to help shift and shape its organisational capacity, while empowering its people to navigate change and drive growth.

When I joined Lalamove, we were a start-up and my expertise in talent was needed to get the right people into the company. But right from the start, we understood that we would become a people-oriented organisation and that our people would be our primary asset. This seems to be the direction HR is taking all around the world. I believe that the challenge for HR directors now is to really partner with the C-Suite to determine the organisational design of the business and build the necessary human capabilities. There’s a kind of new imperative to understand what the CEO is thinking, and to become a bridge between senior leadership and people – nurturing them and empowering them to grow as they navigate change with each new growth curve.

Was this what brought you to INSEAD in Singapore and the Business Strategy for HR Leaders (BSHR) programme?

Yes, this and a desire to really build credibility both with the C-suite and with my own team.

I’m part of a new generation of HR leaders who come from a non-traditional business management background, so there are certain gaps in my knowledge. To help take our business to the next level of growth, and to be part of making that happen, I needed to understand the business itself inside out. And I needed to be able to speak the same language as our C-suite. So I was looking for a programme to help me accelerate this kind of transition.


The people I know with an INSEAD background are pretty impressive, so that acted as an assurance of quality. Then the programme itself stood out from any other offering that I researched. I had the clear objective of becoming a credible partner to my business and BSHR was the only programme that I felt could deliver that kind of learning.

What expectations did you have going into the programme?

I set the bar high, but I was absolutely blown away by the charisma of the faculty and by the calibre of my peers. I expected the teaching to be scholarly and perhaps heavy on the academics – I wondered if I’d be going back to school – but I was amazed by how quickly and easily our professor was able to bring strategy to life.

I’m not intrinsically great with numbers so initially I was a little reserved about some of the more technical elements of the programme. As it turned out, our professor had a dual expertise based on both academia and real-world consultancy, so he could bring out the relevance and practical application of even the most conceptual things – scary stuff like economic models. It was all completely digestible. Everything we covered was so well structured and understandable that even when we got deep into the theoretical elements I got really excited about what I was learning.

Did the programme help you get a broader sense of how disruption and transformation is reshaping HR around the world?

We heard from a variety of experts in different disciplines, from gender studies to ethics, who showcased a real breadth of knowledge while sharing valuable insights. And the mix in class of different professionals from diverse backgrounds, all sharing many of the same challenges and the same need to be more relevant to strategy and growth – all of this created a really unique opportunity to see how what worked before is no longer relevant and how things are really transforming now in the world of HR.

How would you describe the impact of the programme on you?

I’ve come away from the programme with a greater depth of knowledge, understanding and a degree of enhanced credibility in my role. The programme has given me a fully functional framework that has helped structure my thinking and helped me develop new strategies for my company.

I enjoyed my INSEAD experience so much that I’ve actually signed up to take the INSEAD Certificate in Global Management and I’m making good headway. I have BSHR and Negotiation Dynamics under my belt now and the next programme for me will be the Women Leaders Programme. So much of what INSEAD offers has real and direct relevance to me and doing the certificate is helping me become a much more rounded leader for my business.

Business Strategy for HR Leaders has been a gateway into an authentic interest and motivation to keep on learning and investing in my education.

The programme embeds knowledge and builds your confidence exponentially, so that you come out of it really equipped to lead and to create value for your company. You learn from the very finest minds – academics and management consultants – who help you build a rock-solid framework for managing forward. It’s common for organisations to sometimes bring in consultants from the outside when they need to build future roadmaps. But coming out of the BSHR programme, the joke between participants and faculty is that our companies no longer need to hire external consultants – now they have all the expertise they need in-house. And actually, I think they do!

INSEAD's Business Strategy for HR Leaders programme is no longer running. If you are interested in one of our other strategy programmes, please take a look at our strategy portfolio.


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