Karen Tan Puay Kiow
First woman colonel in the Singapore Armed Forces
Reaching the rank of colonel in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is a significant achievement in itself, but being the country’s first female colonel is even more of a triumph. Karen Tan Puay Kiow achieved that in 2005, 23 years after she joined the SAF. That was the year when she became Commander of the Central Manpower Base (CMPB), the first woman to do the job since the CMPB was established in 1966.
Karen joined the SAF in 1981. Always extremely dedicated to her job, over the years Karen steadily rose in rank. She was one of the first few women in the SAF to be promoted to major. In her early days in the SAF, being a colonel was never her goal, but Karen says she always did her best, and that’s what got her to the heights she reached.
As Singapore’s first female colonel, Karen was an inspiration to young women in the SAF, and to others considering joining. Young female officers studied Karen’s leadership and management style, and could plot their own career paths by examining hers. The SAF, Karen says, has progressed a lot in the last two to three decades and there is now a much greater role for women.
Until taking on the position of CMPB Commander, Karen had always dealt with in-service personnel. When she took charge of the first port of call for entrants to Singapore’s National Service (NS), she relished the opportunity to give new recruits a good introduction to the SAF. It gave her the opportunity to shape in some way their entire NS experience.
Karen also prided herself on bringing a personal touch to the CMPB, by promoting a positive work culture and the importance of bonding. She is on record as saying she wanted the CMPB to be regarded as a “great place to work in, like a big family”.
Karen retired from the SAF in 2007 and is now general manager at ST Electronics (e-Services) Pte Ltd. She is a working mother, balancing the demands of her challenging job with raising two young sons.
“I’m a people person. I believe in leadership by example, in earning respect and not commanding respect by rank.”