By Pamela Chan
The two things that utterly captivated Renee Kida since she was a child were human connection and Asian culture. As a native of Oakland, California, she was no stranger to living amongst an array of ethnicities. Innately curious about humans and their stories, she was the person her friends would turn to for advice.
Renee was raised by a single mother who ensured that she was well-exposed to a diverse set of cultures, taking her to local jazz and R&B music festivals, free admission days at museums, and street fairs sponsored by various communities. Specifically, it was Asian culture that piqued her interest from an early age.
This interest solidified into a life-long passion during her high school trip around East Asia. It was on this trip that she decided to dive wholeheartedly into learning about Japan. Fast forward a decade later, with her degree in Japanese Studies and Intercultural Communications under her belt, she said goodbye to the Golden State and made the long-awaited move to Japan.
The Land of the Rising Sun
Life in the Land of the Rising Sun wasn’t all sunshine initially. Landing a role as a marketing assistant at Stryker — a U.S.-based medical technology company — Renee was immediately thrown into the deep end, “I couldn’t speak much Japanese and just sort of showed up.” Out of seven hundred employees, she was one of just three foreigners.
Though the science-based sales support role wasn’t exactly her cup of tea, she was fascinated by both the customers she managed and the employees she worked with. “I also saw areas within our HR model that I wanted to improve, which got me excited about the field,” she adds.
After getting married to her husband whom she met at work, Renee went back to school, attained her MBA through distance learning, and steered her career towards the sector that best incorporated her interest in people: Human resources. For over twelve years, she climbed the HR ranks at IKEA and Google Japan.
“I loved the work I did and learned an incredible amount during those years, taking on roles as HR Manager, HRBP, and Employee Relations,” she recounts, “At the same time, after twenty years in Japan, I felt it was time to move away and gain broader experiences to eventually bring back. I felt like I had hit a plateau in my career, continuously doing the same thing within the Japanese context.” With her husband retired and keen on living abroad, all signs were pointing to making the move.
So, for the second time in her life, she took a leap of faith and sailed to new waters, docking in Singapore.
To GoTo She Goes
Feeling a similar sense of plateau after a few years at Google Singapore, Renee began seriously considering how she could re-innovate herself. She had originally applied to similar HRBP roles at other tech companies but recognised that these environments wouldn’t foster the self-growth she was seeking. She explains, “Taking the safer route would have been moving from one big box to another. Stable and secure, but I realised that going a bit into the unknown might be exactly what I need.”
When the door to GoTo Financial appeared, she knew this was the space she was searching for. Sometimes, the most daunting path is the one that will yield the greatest results.
On her intimidation about the role, Renee discloses,
"I focus much more on achievement through growth than attainment through title or brand.”
GoTo Financial (GTF) is a brand new business entity formed through the merger of Gojek and Tokopedia. As a leader in this organisation, Renee inherited the monumental task of assembling its entire HR vertical from scratch. In fact, the name “GTF” didn’t exist until a week before she was hired.
“There are a lot of processes GTF acquired as part of the larger family. They’re good processes, but weren’t totally made to fit,” Renee details, “Several things needed to be looked at from a fresh eye.”
Some of her duties include:
- Setting up strong foundations for our job leveling process
- Hiring new talent and rebuilding her team amidst the shuffle of merging
- Building effective teams and systems for HR Operations
- Establishing branding initiatives and company values
To tackle this seemingly endless list of responsibilities, Renee believes it’s less about “work-life balance” and more about energy management.
“As a senior leader, there’s a certain amount of expertise and experience required, but it’s also about how you show up and communicate. Energy is a vital piece of that,” she explains, “If, as a leader, you get stressed or tired, it has a huge impact on your team.” Consuming energy-sustaining foods, prioritising breaks, and factoring in daily walks with her husband are just some of the ways she maintains her energy levels throughout the day.
Additionally, she credits the group of people she works with as a constant source of energy. “Whether it's my direct team or my business stakeholders, I have been so impressed by their kindness and commitment to people and the business. You really understand we are trying to build something here. That’s incredibly inspiring and infectious.”
HR Through Her Eyes
To Renee, HR is fundamentally an enablement function:
“We’re the advisors, facilitators, and challengers of the business, but we don’t replace the business,” she defines.
HR partners with and guides business leaders on possibilities and pitfalls, equipping them with proper support and knowledge to make smart decisions.
A constant challenge she faces in the field is the desire to jump in and prevent bad decisions from transpiring, but doing this too often leads to muscle atrophy. She explains, “People often rely on HR and ask why we aren’t doing this or that, but it ends up being that we in some ways can handicap people. We need to support the business in making progressively better decisions. This is how you grow high-performing teams. Accountability is most definitely a keyword here.”
One way she instills accountability is by actively sharing information with her colleagues, “Of course, there’s a certain amount of HR information that’s confidential, but there’s also a lot that you can share with your colleagues.” This practice fosters feelings of inclusivity, clarity, and transparency within her team, empowering them to drive their own decision-making.
Underscoring What Makes Us “Human”
Cultivating a culture of taking initiative and accountability and building trust is proving useful in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has subsequently reshaped many of our priorities and perspectives at work and home.
More so than reshaping her HR outlook, however, Renee believes the pandemic has clarified it: “COVID has brought HR and People Experiences to the forefront of companies’ minds. It has brought greater clarity regarding the micro profiles of our employee groups and challenged us to think about what support and flexibility mean - not just now, but in the future.”
Systems that ensure employees’ physical, emotional, and mental safety have never been more scrutinised. Our professional and personal lives have never been more intertwined. Efforts to drive interpersonal connection amongst remote employees have never been greater. Navigating such unfamiliar territory involves fielding complex questions, but Renee hypothesises that rather than a ‘right answer,’ it’s the continuous engagement with such questions which will lead to better solutions in the long run.
Renee’s story is a pertinent reminder that what makes us “human” — our interests, lived experiences, relationships, and shared needs of purpose, rest, and companionship — should act as a guiding force in what we do. Powered by her passion for people, of Asia, and of self-growth, she has forged a path that her seven-year-old self living in Oakland, California pondering her future would have never dreamed possible.
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