Olivia Lum is the founder, group chief executive officer, and president of the Singapore-based Hyflux Group. She also heads the Research and Development function.
Lum was adopted at birth, and never knew her parents; she was brought up by a woman she called her grandmother. When Lum was only three, her grandmother gambled away her savings; they lost the house in which they were living, and moved to a leaky shack without running water. She came to Singapore at the age of 15 and enrolled at the Tiong Bahru Secondary School
, where she supported herself through tutoring and sales jobs. She went on to study at Hwa Chong Junior College
and then to National University of Singapore
, from which she graduated in 1986 with an Honours degree in chemistry.
Lum started corporate life as a chemist with Glaxo Pharmaceutical
. After working for three years at Glaxo, she left in 1989 at the age of 28 to start up Hydrochem, the precursor to Hyflux, with just SG$20
,000 of capital, which she raised by selling her condominium and car. She hired three employees at the start; Lum herself rode around on a motorcycle selling her company's water filters and treatment chemicals. By January 2001, Hyflux had became the first water treatment company to be listed on SESDAQ
, and was upgraded to the Singapore Exchange
's Mainboard in April 2003. By 2005, she had a net worth of over US$240
million, which earned her a place as the only woman on Forbes
' "Southeast Asia Rich List". As of 2007, Hyflux was worth
SG$1 billion and employed more than 800 people.
Lum holds several positions in public service. She is a board member of SPRING Singapore, the National University Singapore Council, and the Singapore Exchange, as well as the president of the Singapore Water Association. She is also a member of the UNESCAP Business Advisory Council and the Singapore Green Plan 2012 coordinating committee. Lum was a Nominated Member of Parliament in the Parliament of Singapore from 2 July 2002 to 1 January 2005.
In 2003, Lum was awarded the International Management Action Award, followed by the Global Female Invent and Innovate Award the next year.
On October 3 2008, Lum resigned her position as independent non-executive director of the Singapore Exchange and relinquishing her position on the audit, regulatory conflicts and remuneration committees of the Exchange, according to the Exchange's filing. This is due to her heavy work committments in line with Hyflux's rapid expansion, and her resignation enabled more time and resources to focus on Hyflux's growth.