Swee Chen Goh, ’03 (AXP-2), is the chairman of Shell Companies in Singapore—the first woman to earn a role that high in the company. Shell Singapore has more than 3,200 employees. Goh wants Shell to continue to play a prominent role in Singapore’s future and contribute as an active member of the Singaporean community. “My primary role as chairman is to protect the reputation of Shell,” Goh said. “It is not just the commercial value that is important to us. It is also the value that we add to the community that we serve.”
The daughter of a mechanic and a seamstress, she spent her teens in the town of Batu Pahat in Johor, Malaysia, juggling multiple jobs to save up for an overseas education. That precocious work ethic paid off when she matriculated at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, where she balanced work-study positions and academics to earn a bachelor’s degree in information science.
After graduation, she worked as an IT analyst for Standard Chartered Bank in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and then moved to Melbourne, Australia, to serve as a systems engineer at IBM. She was relocated briefly with IBM to Austin, Texas, before returning to Malaysia.
For the next 14 years, she worked for Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble, including three years spent in Japan. In 2000, Goh began her studies in the Executive MBA Program at Chicago Booth. “Booth offers not just one of the best reputations in terms of business school, but also top-notch faculty where we can learn and be inspired by some of the top brains around the world,” Goh said. “I was simply awed by the knowledge we could gain from the faculty and from the cohort around us.”
In 2003, after earning her degree, Goh joined Shell as chief information officer, oil product, East. Just a year into her tenure at Shell, Goh was promoted to vice president of global IT services, a move that made her the first Asian woman to hold such a senior role.
Over the past decade and a half, Goh has rapidly climbed the corporate ladder at Shell. She took on a P&L role in 2011, running Shell’s lubricants and commercial fuels business for Asia Pacific/Middle East. Goh and her family relocated to Beijing before returning to Singapore, where she assumed the role of chairman in October 2014. She became the first female chairman of Shell Companies in Singapore. She has also, previously, either chaired or sat on the boards of several Shell joint ventures in China, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia.
Throughout her career, Goh has leaned on the connections she made at Booth when she needed input on tough decisions. “The Booth alumni network stretches to all parts of the world—it literally is a global village,” Goh said. “When you need that expertise, when you need someone to challenge your thinking, there’s someone to have a dialogue with.”
Goh finds time to give back. Her personal purpose is to influence education to 21st century needs, to lead sustainability development, and to raise human capital. She holds board positions at Singapore University of Technology & Design, and CapitaLand, an SGX (Singapore Stock Exchange) listed company. She is also the vice president of the Singapore National Employers Federation, and chairman of the Institute of HR Professionals. In January 2017, Goh was elected president of Global Compact Network Singapore, a local chapter of UN Global Compact.
Goh is honored that her achievements have been acknowledged with the Distinguished Alumni Award by the Booth alumni community. “I am really proud that the recognition is given to me, being here in Asia,” Goh said. “It puts Asia and Singapore on the Chicago Booth platform as well, where there are so many distinguished past honorees. It is a humbling experience.”