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Leadership Lesson with Sophie Asker, Regional Managing Director, Asia-Pacific, GCI Health

A seasoned healthcare communications professional known for delivering strategic communications counsel to leading global pharmaceutical companies, Sophie Asker has held top leadership spots at healthcare agencies and organizations throughout her career. Four years ago, she left her home in the UK to join GCI Health’s Singapore office and has since had an integral role in expanding GCI Health’s presence in the region. Here, she reflects on her move and shares her advice for others seeking to grow their careers in Singapore.

What motivated you to make a move outside of the UK?

I wanted a change of scenery professionally and personally. While I love my home country dearly and I am super close to my family, I had this real hunger to live and work abroad, a craving that could not be “cured” without taking the leap. At that stage, I had already built-up extensive experience in the UK, Europe, and globally, and wanted to take that experience and immerse myself in a completely different continent.

I also wanted to broaden my horizons after (passionately!) being in the same industry for quite some time understanding how other regions and individuals work in the sector.

Why did you choose Singapore for your next career move?

Singapore chose me! I had been very open to working in Asia or the Middle East, and the opportunity with GCI Health presented itself there. I had only visited Singapore once during my early twenties, but I had fond memories of the city.

Moving there as a professional in my thirties was a leap of faith, but offered a whole new perspective, which I found incredibly exciting and energizing. It was very different from backpacking around the country and region in my twenties!

How were your new peers and the local talent receptive to having someone from the UK?

They could not have been more welcoming. My global experience was valued, and my colleagues appreciated the diverse background and perspectives I brought to the table. It helped that I immersed myself in local life by learning Mandarin, embracing customs and exploring the cuisine, all of which helped me to integrate smoothly.

Singapore has a large expat community, so being from the UK was welcomed and normal within the workforce.

What were the greatest challenges you faced during the relocation process?

Moving during a pandemic was incredibly challenging and at the same time, invigorating. From dealing with border closures to uncertainties about job security while my move was held up due to travel restrictions, there were serious highs and lows. But in fact is that I was really reassured by GCI Health that my position was very much there and secure, which took a big weight off my mind.

Growing a team and client base was also really tough during a pandemic, but we all worked together really well and there was a lot of determination to evolve into the big and hugely diverse team we are proud of today.

Starting a new role in a new country while setting up a new home was also daunting, but resilience and a positive attitude can overcome any obstacle. Surprisingly, obtaining a visa was smoother than expected; Singapore has very efficient processes.

Could you share some of the best highlights you have experienced so far in Singapore?

So many across the board. The thrill of GCI Health’s Singapore and Asia-Pacific presence expanding hugely during my time here tops the list. That is something we are all so, so proud of. GCI Health Asia-Pacific is now a fully diverse, one-stop-shop for health communications including medical strategy, health policy, and creative offerings on top of our integrated communications and earned media expertise.

Also meeting a lot of friends and being a part of an amazing melting pot here in Singapore. Whatever happens, they are going to be friends for life. Creating a home within the region has been incredible and is now a place that will always be very dear to me, wherever life leads.

Are there any misconceptions or unrealistic expectations people have about relocating to Singapore?

That life in Singapore is like being on a constant tropical holiday! While the city offers beautiful surroundings, the reality is that the work ethic here is very strong, and we can put in longer hours sometimes. Working in communications here can also feel different to other regions, I would say there are far more nuances here than in many other areas given the diversity of healthcare systems and populations in each country making up the region.

Another misconception is about the cost of living, which is high, but with proper knowledge and planning, it is manageable.

What advice would you give to someone considering a move to Singapore?

Keep an open mind and heart. We do have a different environment here and culture, so it is important to respect that and be prepared for a different work environment. Flexibility is key to adapting to life in Singapore. And do not forget to pack plenty of summer clothes, as the weather here is hot and humid all year round!

My journey from the UK to Singapore has been an enriching experience, filled with triumphs and of course a few challenges along the way. By embracing change and approaching the transition with an open mind, I have found fulfilment in both my personal and professional life in this vibrant city-state.

The article first appeared on Hanson Search.