HR Champions: Forrest Li’s perseverance on employee morale


  • Title: CEO, Sea Ltd.
  • Office headquarters: Singapore
  • Company operations: Southeast Asia, Taiwan, and Greater China
  • Industry: Technology and e-commerce
  • Employees: 63,800

Addressing employee woes after a huge stock decline last year, Bloomberg reports, Forrest Li said: “This is short-term pain that we have to endure to truly maximise our long-term potential.” His focus remained on investing in growth and capabilities, rather than on immediate profitability.

That period was not without difficult choices, hence his use of the word “pain”. Layoffs and tightened operational budgets were among the cost-cutting methods implemented to keep the company afloat. Employees felt this daily in the office, from pantry options to the quality of toilet paper. For longtime customers, there was a sudden lack of discount vouchers and promos. For a time, Li and the rest of Sea’s top management went without pay, forgoing any cash compensation until the company reached “self-sufficiency,” as Li stated in an all-staff memo.

This sparked a self-sacrificing spirit within the company. According to some sources, employees would even use their own money to initiate, organise, and fund team events, just to boost morale. Staff were undoubtedly distressed, yet they stayed and pushed on while pushing down on company costs. Amid bleak circumstances, Li’s presence and visibility allowed him to keep a struggling workforce not just together but collectively determined to keep their heads above water and weather the storm.

Sea Ltd. eventually emerged from the pandemic with increased revenue, trickling down into a pay rise for many employees following the first quarter of 2023. Between November 2022 and May 2023, the company had more than doubled in market value.

Li has certainly lived up to his namesake in the 1994 film Forrest Gump, having demonstrated an unwavering, loyal, and persevering brand of executive leadership.

Bold and compassionate; proven resilient and intensely mindful of their own humanness, these HR Champions are being revealed one-by-one. The full report, featuring all 15 Champions, is now available for subscriber download.

Share This Article


Advertise Now

Click to zoom
What's in it for you?
Click to zoom

Chief of Staff Asia