She may not have written the playbook on enlightened employment, but Wee Wei Ling certainly walks the talk when it comes to inclusive hiring and encouraging employees to work for as long as they want and are able to. As Executive Director (Asset, Lifestyle & Community Partnerships) of Pan Pacific Hotels Group, she holds many hats from managing the purse at the hotels under her care, overseeing the group’s Si Chuan Dou Hua restaurants and St Gregory Spa outlets, and her recently added portfolio – Community Partnerships, also her latest passion.
Considering she’s at an age – 67 – when most people in her circle are discussing retirement travel plans or building holiday homes from Hokkaido to the south of Spain, Ms Wee clocks in the same working hours as her ‘family’ of employees, managing the Singapore operations or visiting the group’s overseas properties and initiating Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and charity projects. She is the chairperson of Project We Care – an initiative between the People’s Association and the private sector to promote corporate volunteerism. She also founded the performing arts-related charity Extra.Ordinary People with her cousin Wee Boo Kuan. The hotel group recently released the book Along the Journey – a compilation of its corporate art collection that Ms Wee curated over the years in support of local artists.
Her current passion project is to encourage more companies to see CSR not so much as a charitable component of their business, but a corporate strategy in which inclusive hiring – training and employing special needs people – can be a viable solution to manpower needs.
That Ms Wee is a petite package of unstoppable energy is not a surprise given her genes. After all, she’s the eldest child of billionaire banker Wee Cho Yaw who’s still full speed ahead in his 90s. By that token, Ms Wee has a long way to go and she’s relishing every moment.
Why did you get involved with Project We Care?
I always tell people that I used to only sign cheques. But in 2011, I was appointed to head this CEO network for corporate volunteerism. The idea is to encourage Chu Qian Chu Li (to give one’s money and time/energy willingly), to tell companies, instead of just signing cheques they can also contribute their time. As I got more involved, I realised doing charity is not enough, we have to do more. On our part, we worked with the Enabling Village’s training kitchen to teach people with special needs to prepare food according to our recipes which we buy back, so there’s employment for them. We want to work towards finding job opportunities for people with disabilities – autism, intellectual disability, cerebral palsy. If employers believe they can help, they can tailor jobs to their needs – it just needs some observation and patience to identify their skills. And we want companies to do this as part of their corporate strategy, not as charity.
What are some of the community projects that you are most proud of?
Under Project We Care, we have the SPECtacular programme which rallies partners from optical shops to tertiary institutions, hospitals and surgeons to provide eye care for low-income residents. This is one project where partners come together to care for the community, even if they are competing business partners! Another project is Stay Well With Friends – the fumigation of rental flats infested with bed bugs. In my capacity at Pan Pacific Hotels Group, our inclusive hiring initiative which I shared earlier, as well as our Eat Well With Us programme are both close to my heart. Hiring inclusively has created a more compassionate work culture for us and more significantly, it has transformed the lives of those whom we hire, giving them dignity through a means of livelihood. Eat Well With Us harnesses the expertise of our senior chefs to rejuvenate the menus and impart culinary techniques to nursing homes.
The book, Along The Journey showcases your staunch support for local artists. Can you share some of your best memories of dealing with some of these artists?
When I met Delia Prvacki, it was over 20 years after we first acquired her artwork in 1997. We had had her ceramic installation in one of our properties for many years and held on to it even after the sale of that property, determined to find another home for it. In the process of auditing our art collection for the publication, we discovered the piece needed restoration and spent a significant amount on it.
At the same time, we found a space in the lobby of Pan Pacific Serviced Suites Orchard, where we thought Delia’s artwork would fit perfectly. When we reconnected with her last year, she shared how moved she was that we had invested the effort to take care of her handmade piece over the years and to re- home it. To Delia, as an artist, the piece represented her hard work and our efforts to preserve it meant that we respected the work of artists. I also had a very treasured opportunity to visit the home of Dr Iskandar Jalil, a Cultural Medallion recipient. Though his works are incredibly hard to access, we connected and he showed me many of his valuable handmade pieces. His dedication was clear in the way he spoke and the physical environment of the space we were in. It was truly an immersive experience.
You’re often described as the poster girl for active aging. What’s your secret to staying young and active?
High energy. Capability comes before age. The work doesn’t allow me to pause. I keep having new ideas to improve business and my personal life. So the more you are used to the momentum, the easier it is. I am not necessarily better now; I have simply entered a different season, one where I continue to feel renewed every day and inspired to give back in deeply meaningful ways. Discipline is very important. For me, that means a thrice-weekly workout early in the morning, regular vocal and music theory lessons to hone my passion, and a moderate diet.
What are your thoughts on aging?
I think the way to deal with getting old is to deal with it BEFORE getting old. It is important to remember that health is wealth. In order to take care of ourselves as we age, we not only have to maintain a healthy body through diet and exercise, but maintain our friendships so that we remain socially connected and active. I am still regularly in touch with my classmates from kindergarten, primary school, secondary school and university.
What are some of the most important things to you in life?
Keeping myself healthy, both physically and mentally, so I can take care of people around me. Sharing, whether it is the wisdom and experience I have accumulated in life, or simply little finds that I stumble upon on my overseas trips. Finally, I don’t want to have regrets. A lot of people like to say, “How I wish I had done this or that”. I just do it. There’s no need to be calculative and question, oh, I bought this for you but you didn’t give anything back. It’s about how you want to simplify your thinking, and your life. It’s very simple. Just open your mind, and open your heart.
This article was originally published in The Business Times.