Conversations with Yvonne Yap

By Shania Loh and Jace Bong

Yvonne Yap is the Business Lead for Digital Healthcare & Insights at Roche Diagnostics Asia Pacific. As a highly self-motivated and articulate team player, Yvonne strives to bring about significant contributions to society, particularly in bringing healthcare access to developing markets across the region. She has also developed a strong track record of driving private public partnerships, particularly in the healthcare industry.

My job scope is specifically looking at the growth and expansion of our clinical decision support digital business in Roche Diagnostics. My job scope covers everything from sales and marketing down to commercial operations and implementation – this includes setting out the entire business and the service delivery of our customer solutions across the Asia Pacific.

A typical day in my work is quite varied, from multiple meetings where I bring in my team to tackle the choke points that they face, as well as working with the sales team locally to advance our sales pipeline. We do this to ensure that we address a customer’s needs and drive what we term as contracts and subscriptions across Asia Pacific.

I was in the public sector for quite some time before Roche Diagnostics but I have always been interested in healthcare. I had the opportunity to join the Economic Development Board, where I interacted with many top leaders in the economic, medical device and pharmaceutical industry because I was part of the biomedical sciences sector.

Through the experience, I ended up liking healthcare because my focus was always on bringing affordable health care, specifically in the Asia Pacific as well as the emerging markets here.

When I finished my A levels, I was not very clear on what I wanted to do. As such, I thought that the best experience for me from an educational perspective was to get as much breadth as possible in terms of knowledge, so that was how I chose to go to the United States (US).

In general, the US education system is a little bit more flexible, where you can build your degree as you find things that you think you will enjoy doing. I was also interested in politics in conjunction with the social sectors, and had the opportunity to really deep dive into public health. Besides the courses I did in school, I also did multiple internships in public health and realised that healthcare was an industry that I liked. When I came back to Singapore after my studies, I eventually went back to that route after having exposure to the healthcare industry.

I had the opportunity to come to Roche and there was an entirely new business unit I needed to set up. It was a really good opportunity because I have never been in a commercial role before and my manager was willing to give me the chance to do it. There is not a moment I can pin down but it was a really good period for me to learn from multiple perspectives.

I also had a lot of liberty in forging out what the business looked like in the Asia Pacific and deciding how to scale it. As we progressed, the management team in Roche also gave my team more responsibility beyond oncology and infectious diseases, and we now cover other disease areas. One of the best parts of my day-to-day job would also be working with my team members and helping them develop in the way that they want to develop.

When I first started working, I was a little bit less polished. There are always a lot of men in this space so you may feel a little bit intimidated. Over time, knowing how to present yourself and being clear on how you communicate becomes important. In Roche, my main experience was largely in Japan and India, which are more male-dominated. Working in Japan was interesting as I had to attend meetings where the majority were men. Japanese culture is also very entrenched, so they do not really like being told what to do either.

In this particular environment, you need to be comfortable and build your domain expertise, such that you are very clear on what you want to deliver. You should also be able to hold your ground – not in a pushy way, but being able to pull your ground. What has helped me a lot was the ability to understand and re-frame the ideas of others such that it becomes their idea too.

It is not a one-shot path! However, if you want to join the healthcare industry, it would be good to have a passion for healthcare in general. In addition, do not ever limit yourself to one area that you think you are interested in. Back when I was 18, I thought I would be working in the non-profit or public sector, and would not have expected myself to be where I am today. So always be willing to try things out!

Secondly, when you do put your mind to at least trying out a field, it is not going to be easy. I have seen people try very hard to join an industry, myself included – I tried it for almost three years before I managed to get a good break. When you get an opportunity, you need to make sure you are putting in the effort. You have the benefit of your youth so when the opportunity comes, you want to make sure that you are as ready as you can be.

When I graduated from the US, I had a lot of breadth and I was growing more and more in terms of that. It was only in the middle of my career when someone told me about this T-shaped professional thing. My manager brought up that I needed to figure out what my depth is as well. Then, it was a good juncture where I started building a lot of depth in finance. For me,  it is a little less about whether you want to focus on your breadth or your depth –  it is more about building as much experience as possible. Only then will you be able to grow organically into a T-shaped professional.

I am not a big believer in domain knowledge, because I believe that it can be picked up. For fresh graduates, it is important to show the right attitude as well as show that you can learn. The ability to learn is something that I always look out for.

Another thing that could potentially differentiate yourself would be your way and structure of thinking about issues. For ourselves, we do not interview fresh graduates because our domain requires more domain knowledge. To set yourself apart from other domain experts, the structure in which you think about issues is really important.

Lastly, your experiences can help differentiate you as a more interesting candidate. Throughout your time in university, what types of experience did you have that showed that you had a good breadth of experience? I had a really good opportunity back in my EDB days, where my hiring managers were looking out for people with very diverse experiences. When the team came in, many of them graduated from different parts of the world which made them interesting. In today’s day and age, the diversity in your experience may put you at least ahead of the pack of the rest of the fresh graduates.

Being able to set up the team well so that they become more visible in the organisation and that they continue to grow. This is one thing that I have been quite passionate about. For the new members who are coming on board, giving them some form of direction and helping them grow in their space is quite motivating.

The other thing that has been exciting and motivating is looking at the whole digital ecosystem and the Asia Pacific. We were spending a lot of time before the pandemic in China and doing a lot of the mergers and acquisitions and partnerships and tech work in China have been really exciting. Bringing innovation from Asia into a traditionally European firm has been quite interesting.

Youths have the benefit of time. You need to ask yourself – what is it you want? And if you cannot, that is okay but always know that it is ok to try and fail.

Another thing to note is that in today’s day and age, people who stand out are people with different and more diverse backgrounds and experiences. This ties back nicely to my previous comment that it is really about being able to pursue things that you think you might be interested in – this gives you your diverse experience and background. Otherwise, everyone is coming out from the same mould and it is not very helpful.

When I first started my job, I said that domain expertise did not matter and I was the odd one out. However, now, I do not think I am the odd one out anymore. My key takeaway is that a lot of people have hard skills – if you are more flexible, your soft skill mix will help you stand out from the crowd. As a whole, focus more on your soft skills while you build up your career.

The way I currently tackle failure has also changed as I became more seasoned in my line of work. After all, the success or failure of my work is no longer dependent on myself and I also need to leverage on others. I have failed in the past few years when some projects did not go as planned. However, it is less about me and more about the collective effort which helps me feel more comfortable when tackling failure. Another factor that I consider would be market circumstances which I could not control.

Turning failure into a learning opportunity is something I now try to do actively so that I can avoid similar mistakes in the future. Being able to tell myself that I have done the best I can, and being able to acknowledge that there are some inevitable factors (be it governmental or market) is a skill that I have matured into over time.