StrategicRISK catches up with IHG’s regional head of risk management, Tan Shuh Lin

Tan Shuh Lin

The InterContinental Singapore is an instantly recognisable building in the city’s Bugis precinct. The hotel’s fusion of Chinese, Malay and Western styles reflects Singapore’s centuries-old Peranakan heritage. So it is appropriate workplace for a passionate risk manager whose dedication to her profession is matched only by her love of her homeland.

“I am born, bred, educated and now working in Singapore,” the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) head of risk management for Asia Australasia says.

“I love the country and I am very loyal to Singapore, which is why I love to contribute to Singapore’s risk management maturity.”

This drives her to deliver lectures at schools, as well as contribute to risk forums and industry seminars.

“A lot of my work is to enhance the risk maturity of the hospitality industry and hopefully other businesses and the overall risk maturity of Singapore,” she says.

“My vision is for this to move to a wider scale to other countries in the region.”

Tan engages in these activities in addition to her role managing IHG’s risk management team, which is responsible for risk reviews, crisis and incident management, insurance support, and ensuring hotels operate according to IHG standards, procedures and guidelines.

“Operational risk management is my day-to-day job, but actually my job is everything that has risks,” she says.

“I’m involved in anything related to risk that could arise out of agreements where we plan strategically.”

Resilience and trust

As Tan explains, IHG employs three levels of risk management: operational, tactical and strategic.

“Risk management to me is not just about health and safety,” she says.

“It’s about resilience of the business, continuity of the business, and running a safe business for long-term sustainability; as a result, building trust among our stakeholders such as owner, colleagues and guests. At a strategic level, we provide risk profiles, and support financial and owner due diligence. The two key areas are security risks and natural catastrophes in markets where we’re operating or developing. On top of that, there are things like non-critical concerns, things that aren’t showstoppers because they can be managed by internal controls.”

When considering the development of a hotel, Tan’s team investigates its location, property history, safety, previous or current owners, past losses and building code requirements.

“Also codes of conduct, country sanctions, human rights, security risks, intelligence and other precautionary measures,” she says. “We basically facilitate the reviews.”

Trouble triggers

Then there’s the crisis management side of the business. “Although we have specialists in these programmes at our UK headquarters, in Asia we are involved in establishing frameworks to manage crises as well as business continuity and business recovery,” Tan says.

She takes part in regular calls with IHG’s hotel teams and describes her role as ensuring that the necessary parties are represented in the call, depending on the level of crisis. And, she adds, “IHG does crisis management well”.

“For example, in Bangkok our hotel teams have been kept up to date through internal communications and they really appreciate our response,” she says.

“We proactively mitigated any risks from the Bangkok protests but, even before, we had crisis management frameworks in place so that when the Bangkok crisis occurred last year we were all prepared to trigger a crisis management team meeting.”

Engineering results

A qualified chemical engineer, Tan worked in the chemical industry for almost 10 years before joining FM Global as a loss prevention engineer in the areas of fire, explosion and chemical safety in offices, data centres, warehouses and manufacturing facilities.

She joined IHG seven years ago, quickly realising that many of the principles she had been applying in her previous positions were also relevant to her new role.

“Ultimately, in hospitality the risks are the same as manufacturing, finance or telecommunications,” she explains.

“The kind of risks you have in hospitality that you can get in manufacturing, for example, are product liability risks, things we use and serve at the hotels, and liability risks in terms of what our guests and our colleagues go through when they are using our hotels.”

And, of course, there’s human capital risk. “We employ general managers at the hotels and colleagues in offices to manage the business, so talent is a big one that we manage with our HR partners,” Tan says.

“And also fraud risk management; we have frameworks at our offices and hotels to ensure we detect and proactively manage fraud or any employee dishonesty.”

Such efforts go to the heart of protecting an organisation’s reputation, which Tan says “should be on top of everything else”.

“We need to build trust with our customers and stakeholders, including our investors, shareholders, suppliers, partners, guests, employees and regulators,” she stresses.

“Reputation risk is something that I work really hard to try and mitigate in my role, in partnership with communications, with legal and the rest of our functions in our company.”

Evolving technology

A related emerging risk in today’s economy, particularly for a company that relies so heavily on online reservations system, is cyber risk. Customers need to be able to trust, use and rely on this system.

“Cyber risk is on top of my concerns,” Tan says, “and that’s everywhere, not just in emerging markets. Technology is always evolving and if we don’t put enough money and resources towards managing this risk, someday we will be suffering as well.”

Tan says that her company’s approach to negotiating the corporate risk landscape has changed dramatically, along with many others in the region.

“There has been a shift from when I started seven years back when it was very much about safety compliance, to now when we are starting to see a higher level of maturity,” she says.

“I think one of my biggest achievements has been in progressively influencing and impacting the mind-set and culture of risk management at IHG. I am now seen as a specialist, as someone who is a credible, and this is a great personal achievement for me.”