Cultivating Habits for Today and the Future [HR Leader Series]

Editor’s Note: This is the third post in the HR Leader Series, in which Women of HR contributor Rowena Morais features successful HR leaders who talk about the habits made the biggest impact in their professional lives.  


Jenny Ooi’s passion for learning and growing drives almost everything she does.



It is clear that Jenny Ooi enjoys the work she has been engaging in for the better part of her career. The former Senior Vice President of HR at USG Boral Building Products decided very early on in her career that work would provide her satisfaction across various aspects of her life. She absolutely loves being a business person in the HR world, as she puts it. However, she still planned for her unemployment and has since ventured out on her own as a consultant.

She knew that her career was important though not all-encompassing. Yet, the joy of having a good career can be hard to let go. This year, she is two years behind her plan to leave the world of work to explore the world of consulting.

For many reasons outlined here, I knew that I had to get Jenny to talk about the habits that led to her success. My question to her : Can you tell me the habits that have got you to where you are today?

Before we delve into Jenny’s habits, let me paint a picture of the person. A graduate of the Royal Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (UK), she brings with her more than twenty years of diverse and rich experience in a few fields – Finance, Supply Chain, Business Development and Human Resources.

Prior to USG Boral, Jenny was the Senior HR Director of Agilent, an organisation that won all the top awards for Employer of Choice in 2012 and 2013 in Malaysia. She herself has been awarded a few awards for HR Leader of the Year and HR Professional of the Year. A certified Marshall Goldsmith coach, Jenny recently co-authored a book with Dr William Rothwell of Penn State University and Dr Peter Chee of ITD World on the subject of talent management.

Impressive on many levels, she is, in person, warm and affable, showing great interest in whoever she talks to, about who they are and what they do.

This is what Jenny had to say about her habits.



Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character for it becomes your destiny.


There’s much truth in this prose.

Over the years, there have been many moments in my life where I forced myself to change my way of thinking. I realised that this change very soon affected my habits and impacted where I landed in various stages in life. Rowena’s assignment forced me to take stock of my habits and I found that these habits of mine fall within two distinct areas:


Cultivating habits that affect the NOW

  1. the habit to learn and feed my curiosity;
  2. the habit to innovate and feed my creativity.


Cultivating habits that affect the FUTURE

  1. the habit to invest and feed my desire for financial freedom;
  2. the habit to be grateful and feed my need for rest.


The habit to learn and feed my curiosity 

“Millions saw the apple fall but Newton asked why.” ~ Bernard Baruch

 I am naturally curious about how things work and how to simplify processes. Being a working mother, I need an effective mode of learning. I find that my phone is my best university. Each day, I would listen to podcasts, YouTube videos and TedEx episodes. I would typically do this while I was getting ready for work as well as during the commute.  I cultivated this habit when I began working. Initially, I used CDs but then later, the smartphone took over.

The habit to innovate and feed my creativity

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” ~ Maya Angelou

 I find it a joy to see processes and relationships work better. So, one of my habits is to decide on one or two processes/relationships to work on every now and then. The beauty of focus is that less is more. Once I am pleased with the level of improvement, I’ll pass the ‘project’ on to someone trustworthy to ‘lead’. I find that it works for most scenarios – work processes, relationships and social initiatives.

What discovery did I make doing this? To my surprise, I found that even relationship responsibilities could be passed on to another for a season.


The habit to invest and feed my desire for financial freedom

“Financial freedom is more valuable than riches. It is liberty.”

 From the onset of my working life, I decided that a successful career would provide me satisfaction in various facets of my life. However, I also have other interests that clash with the demands of a full time job. Therefore, early on, I planned for my unemployment.

Moving from ‘success to significance’ demanded that my family become financially independent. While I pursue my new interests now, the family lifestyle should be maintained and for this reason,  I recommend building a financial safety net of two years. This safety net requires developing a habit to save and invest. Over the years, I have spent time and energy in a few select activities (learning, reviewing, purchasing properties and investments) that would allow me to accumulate wealth.

The habit to be grateful and feed my need for rest

“It’s a funny thing about life; if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it.” ~ W. Somerset Maugham

This is one of my favorite quotes. Personally, I find that there are two facets to it. First,  it drives me to do my best. Second, I believe that I am always served with the best that life has to offer. All things will turn out good.

I have developed the habit to pause and be thankful throughout the day. It gives me the impetus to pursue the next goal. It helps me smile more. It helps me to be generous with my time, money, praise etc. Why? Because I know I will always have more than enough. My future will be fine.

I can rest.


Jenny Ooi is a business person in the HR world, a seasoned ‘C’ Level HR Professional. Based in Kuala Lumpur, Jenny believes in business-focused HR solutions that are simple, nimble and effective. She has managed teams in the US, EU, Middle East and Asia. Her key areas of expertise include international board level HR interventions, building best workplaces, developing leadership excellence as well as culture transformation for sustainable growth.



About the Author

Rowena Morais

Editor and Program Director at, a media and learning organisation, Rowena Morais is an entrepreneur, writer and editor. She supports Human Resource and Technology professionals in their career development through articles, podcasts, interviews and a range of internationally accredited, in-demand technical and professional courses offered throughout Asia Pacific and the Middle East. A ghostwriter, you can also find out more about Rowena at Rowena tweets at @rowenamorais.


Bernard Cruz

Excellent comments by Jenny. Truly she is a business person in HR. I like and believe too that we need to make things simple. You can only do that if you understand the business and contribute even though you may be a HR person. You bring creditability to the table. Great article.


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