We are thrilled to introduce you to May Oh. Now the owner of her own law firm in Singapore, May formerly held the position of the first woman director of Mobile Oil. We couldn’t wait to hear how she has managed to balance her vibrant faith, with her successful career, while she also cared for her family. Her son and daughter are now adults, but May recalls the challenges of balancing work, faith, and family and she shares her insights with us today.
4word: Can you share with us your career path? What led you to owning your own law firm?
May: I studied law in London. When I came back to Singapore from England, I was required to be attached to a senior lawyer and pass a local exam before I could be called to the Singapore Bar. My pupil-master, Madam Kwa Geok Choo, was a brilliant lawyer who attained first class honors from Cambridge University. She was a wonderful teacher and taught me so much in conveyancing and corporate law. With my interest in corporate law, I decided after I was called to the Singapore Bar, to apply for a job in Mobil Oil Singapore.
I was hired as a legal assistant. At that time, Mobil Oil Singapore represented the largest US investment in Singapore. Mobil Oil Singapore’s refinery rapidly expanded over the next five years, causing me to work late every night.
At the age of 31, I was appointed to the Board of Mobil Oil Singapore. I was the first Asian and the first woman director of the company. Besides Singapore, I also had legal responsibilities for Thailand and Malaysia.
I was honored to have been recognized for my work. The new position meant a lot of travel for me. I traveled often to New York and areas of Southeast Asia. After doing this for awhile, I decided to start my own law firm, which was something that I had always wanted.
I was 42 years old, and decided that it was time to fulfill my dream of being independent and having my own firm. I have never regretted it. I enjoyed my time with Mobile Oil, but I love the flexibility I have owning my own firm. I like the independence I have. My partner in the law firm (Miss Wee Eng Hwa, daughter of the late Dr. Wee Kim Wee, former president of Singapore) is also a devout Christian. We decided that small is beautiful, so we have purposefully kept our firm small to maintain our independence. We’re happy doing God’s work in the market place. We run a Bible class every week in our office. I could not do that in a large firm.
4word: What is the greatest need you see in the business world today?
May: I think integrity and knowing Christ are the greatest needs. If we can follow Christ’s example of love, integrity, and humility, I think it will be a much better place.
4word: What are your secrets for balancing your career and family?
May: I have two children and six grandchildren whom I am very close to. When I first joined Mobil, it was a difficult time as I needed to travel a good deal for meetings and conferences.
I made it a point to spend my evenings that I was not working late, and my weekends with my family.
I think the main thing is not so much the quantity of time spent, but the quality of time spent with family. Because I was working full time, I cherished my time with the family at home.
4word: How has your upbringing influenced you in your career? In raising your family?
May: My mother is the greatest influence in my life. Her father was a pastor in China. He passed on the Christian values and faith and she grew up fearing the Lord. My parents married young- ages 21 and 22. By the time they were 32 they had seven children. I was the youngest.
During the colonial days in Singapore, my dad was the Chief Inspector of School. He passed his love of education on to me and I now sit on the board of my old school, the Methodist Girls School.
When I was 16, I fell very ill. During that time, the doctors told my mother they didn’t know what was wrong and a cure would be very difficult. My mother had great faith during that time and prayed daily for my recovery.
Praise the Lord for His goodness; I did recover and after two years of studying at home, I left for England to study law. My mother passed her deep faith in the Lord to me, and that helped a lot in my career, especially in difficult situations. London was my first time overseas, and when I felt homesick I prayed to Jesus and He was always there to comfort and guide me.
My love and faith in the Lord and love for education have certainly helped me in my career and in raising my children.
4word: What advice do you have for women who are trying to "do it all"- have a flourishing career, grow their faith, and build their family?
May: I think mainly to trust in the Lord- have faith in Him. The Lord has a plan for each of our lives. Follow Him and look to Him for guidance. Don’t try to do everything on our own strength, but with the Lord’s strength and guidance.
Whatever the difficulties are, if we trust Him and seek His help, He will always be there for us.
How does your faith affect your career? Are you trusting in God’s plan, or trying to do it all on your own?
May Oh has been practicing law for 28 years. Before starting her own law firm, she was an Executive Director and Director of Legal/Government Affairs for Mobil Oil Singapore, directing the legal affairs of a US$100 million enterprise capable of processing 175,000 barrels of oil daily in its Singapore facility. She also held legal responsibility for Malaysia and Thailand.