The GBS Adventure: When your brain is in your mouth (but you're already committed!)

In a corporate jungle obsessed with hype, office politics and the never-ending race for promotion, position and power, textbook leadership skills are failing to bridge the gap between management and their most precious commodity: people. 

From her humble roots growing up in a Malaysian kampung, Boonsiri Somchit shows what it takes to truly engage and lead from the heart. Taking inspiration from her childhood adventures with her rag-tag gang, kite season, rusty Raleighs, ghost hunting and the Carpenters, Boon brings her hilarious insights to leadership, life and dealing with rogue chickens in her best-selling book on GBS Leadership: When the Chicken Dies, Everybody Cries. This column is based on the book.


I grew up in a family that has always come up with weird sayings and to this day I have no idea how we even came up with these. Some expressions were nonsensical gibberish that only we, the Somchits, could understand. However, one of the sayings that has stayed with me, and which I still use today (although I know it is anatomically impossible) is, “When your brain is in your mouth”.

As a kid, I was constantly getting in trouble because I would volunteer or agree to do something that often seemed impossible, foolhardy and utterly crazy to my family. I was never content to volunteer just myself and would regularly rope in my elder siblings, my nephew and nieces. In my own conniving way, I’d always figure out a way to get them to buy into my ideas. I remember my exasperated sisters telling me, “Ri, the nurses must have dropped you on your head when you were a baby, because your brain is in your mouth. How else can you explain the mess you keep getting yourself into?” (I wonder if that really could be the reason I am the way I am?)

When AMD embarked on its finance transformational journey in 2001, under the capable leadership of Bob Rivet, our new CFO, I was the Director of the Manufacturing Services Group Finance. Bob’s message to the finance leadership team was that we needed to move into the new millennium and we needed to add value to the company through business partnering and the adoption of a shared services model.

Of course, all of us had no idea what a shared services was but the thought of creating something from nothing got me all excited so I did what any clueless risk taker would do, I volunteered. After my fateful 2am call with Bob, when I told him I’d build AMD’s first shared services, I was totally convinced that I had wowed him with my plans, ideas and shared services ‘knowledge’. As I drifted off to sleep, I dreamt about developing fool-proof plan to build this organization. I could picture it, the excitement and buzz that my team and I would create amongst the rest of the folks at AMD. Over the next few weeks all I could think and talk about was this amazing shared services adventure. We were going to be pioneers.

I know it may sound unbelievable but not once at the beginning of the formulation stage of AMD’s SSO, did I even think about cash flow, financing or the budget for this major project. You must be wondering by now what sort of finance professional I am, right? In my humble defence, I thought that since this project was sanctioned by all the top guns, I would have all of AMD’s resources at my beck and call. My logic ran that since AMD was implementing a sophisticated, multi-million dollar ERP for all its global entities at the time, funding for my SSO start-up would be like peanuts in the grand scheme of things.

My first order of duty was to go talk to the Big Four consulting groups who had a wealth of experience in SSO start-ups. Most importantly, I needed to know how long it would take and how much it would cost. The figures I presented back to AMD were in the multi-millions and I was told that we didn’t have the budget to spare. The bulk of the cash had to be prioritised towards the new global ERP system; I would have to make do with a tiny fraction of what I originally requested. I took the news relatively well (out of sheer ignorance) as back then I didn’t fully understand the magnitude of the task ahead. I thought, to heck with it, we’ll just work with what we have and do it ourselves without any of the Big Four consulting firms holding our hand.

At the time I agreed to take on my new SSO role, I discovered that I was pregnant with my youngest daughter, Alicia. All of the Big Four had also told me there was no way we could manage it without them, it was too complex and if we wanted it done in nine months, well, the costs would have to be hiked up. There was no way I was backing down on this, I had taken up the challenge, got myself into one of those “When your brain is in your mouth” situations and now, I needed to find a way to get it done.

So there I was, pregnant, with no knowledge of shared services other than what I had read in books, with a limited budget and no consulting support. Yet, I was optimistic and one hundred per cent convinced that, with the right people on my team and backing from finance leadership, anything could be possible.

After all, I was the kid from the village who had figured out how to get eight kids on a single bicycle. If I could pull that stunt off, there was no reason I couldn’t manage this latest adventure. But how I did it is going to be a story for another day.

To be continued….