Evelyn Tay is the VP of communications and public affairs for sustainability at Foodpanda for the APAC region. She brings over 20 years of global PR and marketing communications experience across Asia, the US and Europe. We caught up with her recently to get her thoughts on career paths, leadership skills and what makes her tick. She likes to think of herself as a “ferocious traveller” (Bhutan was her favourite destination) who loves football, Formula One and the Olympics. She volunteered at
red at the 2005 Singapore Olympic Congress and Team Singapore activities at the 2012 London Olympics. Inside Retail: Tell me about your career journey. Evelyn Tay: I manage all aspects of communications, government, and public affairs, as well as sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes across Asia at Foodpanda. I joined Foodpanda in 2020, in the thick of the pandemic and ‘circuit breaker’ phase in Singapore – it was quite unforgettable to join at a time when food and grocery delivery was a key component during lockdown periods. I felt an especially strong sense of mission that the app was creating economic lifelines for restaurants and riders, while serving our community in the most direct way. Especially on the public affairs front, my teams and I engage in deep conversations with government and public policy stakeholders to establish regulatory parameters for the gig economy. My job also includes managing our ESG programme, so our team is doing a lot of work to build a more robust sustainability programme to fight climate change (including things like exploring more electric vehicles usage and non-plastics-based packaging options). My 20-plus years in tech comms and policy started in Silicon Valley in 2000, cutting across all aspects of consumer/enterprise technology, mobile platform/startup and microelectronics industries across Asia, the US, and Europe. I’m especially keen in building public relations/government relations (PR/GR) programmes, and counselling companies and senior executives on how they manage large volumes of complex issues and PR and regulatory subjects in the most challenging environments. IR: How did you get into the industry, what are some of the different roles you’ve held along the way? ET: I started my career in Silicon Valley, after graduating from university in the US. I’ve now spent two decades of my career working in different aspects of tech, from deep-tech to consumer, and now mobile/platform tech. I moved back to Singapore in 2004, to be closer to family but was also attracted by the huge growth opportunity in Asia’s tech sector. While I’m a bit nomadic at heart – having lived and held roles in the US, Europe and Hong Kong – Singapore will always be home. I’d say the biggest inflection point in my career was joining Uber in 2014 as its first head of communications in Asia. I didn’t know what to expect as Uber was very new and rapidly expanding throughout Asia (including China and India). The challenges Uber faced as a new gig work platform, and the novel idea of an on-demand car ordering service meant there was a lot of interest but also intense levels of scrutiny from media, public, and governments. I often say that was my hardest but also my best job. Post-Uber, I also managed Tesla’s communications in Asia at the most interesting time when building the Shanghai Gigafactory. Working with a well-loved brand (and Elon Musk!) was an opportunity I couldn’t say no to. I relocated to Hong Kong with the role, so I really enjoyed living in one of my favourite cities in the world. At Tesla, I spent a lot of time in Beijing and Shanghai, working with local teams and Chinese media on a variety of PR topics, from new vehicle launches to more macroeconomic issues, culminating in the groundbreaking of the company’s first Gigafactory in Asia. That career experience was very special, albeit with a lot of hard work. Now at Foodpanda, I am really harnessing all the crises and issues management experience I’ve had for the last two decades and putting them to very good use. For the last four years, we’ve witnessed the rise of the food and grocery delivery phenomenon through the pandemic as my teams and I tackled numerous regulatory topics across a wide spectrum that will shape the future of gig work. We’re also taking the lead on committing to a more eco-friendly delivery process from promoting sustainable packaging, to mitigating food insecurity and hunger, to deploying more electric vehicles. The job is not done, but I am very motivated by the work our teams are doing in 11 markets, each dealing with very different issues. IR: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in your career and how have you dealt with them? ET: With the career path I’ve had with new economy and platform companies, I am dealing with challenges everyday! I’ve had a fairly long career, and I firmly believe that “everything happens for a reason”. There are moments when you wonder “why is this happening?” but once you process the facts and remove emotions from the equation, you’ll realise there’s always a way out. In time you will look back and think “that was rough, but it turned out ok.” It sounds cliche, but “this too, shall pass” has been a useful mantra that’s helped me through difficult and frustrating times. IR: What advice would you give someone who wants to get into your line of work? ET: I think being a PR professional today requires so much more than just media management skills. The media and external communications landscape has become so nuanced especially with social media, that we should always be prepared for the unknown. I’ve dealt with way more complex comms issues that’s beyond writing good press releases and maintaining strong media relationships. We now have to manage PR programmes with a comprehensive view of company goals, alongside the challenges it faces, and from that, you design a communications strategy that will lift up the company’s goals and needs. I’ve been actively advocating the need for communications to be joined at the hip with government relations and policy-making functions because you need to tackle issues with a holistic view. Especially for platform companies that are facing unprecedented scrutiny today, true PR/GR effectiveness should be enabled by the fact that the functional head should have a seat in the boardroom, with influence over company direction, and how it invests in resources and programmes for long-term sustainability and impact. IR: What are some of the key leadership lessons you’ve picked up over the course of your career? ET: Leaders and managers who have inspired me throughout my career have taught me the importance of balancing performance with empathy and thoughtfulness. As a leader, I strive to be firm and considerate, always anticipating and mitigating challenges. I mentor younger team members by sharing my experiences and coaching them through different career stages. I hope to encourage them to pursue opportunities confidently and chart their own career paths, even if it means they eventually move to something else (which is perfectly healthy!). I keep in active contact with past managers who have given me guidance, encouragement and growth opportunities. I’ve learned from their leadership, work ethics and management skills. Now that I am mid-way through my career in a leadership position, I am passing those learnings forward. IR: Do you have any business heroes? ET: When I was younger, I really looked to female business leaders (I was a huge fan of Carly Fiorina who was an inspirational leader in a time when female global CEOs were less common – true story, I once met her in a restroom at a conference, I was non-intrusive but very excited!). I am still in awe of female leaders, but I am generally not a fan of the word ‘hero’ because it seems like such a big word – heroes are people who put down their lives and well-being for others. I think many business leaders are inspirational, but to me, the word hero is not something I use often. IR: What does a typical day look like for you? ET: Filled with meetings! I average 8-10 meetings a day (my record was 14 I think!). I do pretty long hours sometimes into European time zones and late into the night – but I try to find pockets of downtime in between, even if it’s stepping out for a kopi-c, or taking a dinner break to get dinner or watch an hour of drama on TV, anything helps. IR: What’s your approach to work-life balance? Do you have any hobbies that help you switch off and stay balanced? ET: I love travelling (Bhutan and Jeju are my favourites), and watching mindless TV/dramas (Korean, Chinese, Thai, you name it, I watch it) as a form of escape, it’s very therapeutic! Although my days are very busy with problem-solving, I try to insert some downtime, even if it’s watching drama/eating dinner at the same time. Once I’ve had that brief moment of downtime, I feel recharged and have no problems getting back to work on my laptop. I am not athletic in any way but I love watching sports in general for the ‘adrenaline rush’ – cheering on (or swearing at!) Manchester United on weekends is a staple. Fun fact – I’ve met quite a few Manchester United footballers at events and on my travels. I’ve met Alex Ferguson, Bobby Charlton (three times!), Bryan Robson and Gary Neville, to name a few. I often say this to younger members on my team – every individual has the power to shape and decide what they want their work ethos, reputation, legacy to be. Rewards, titles and benefits are short-term gains, but a good career reputation, life-long friendships and the sense of pride that you get from doing a job well are things that last a lot longer.