Straddling Two Worlds



Cruising Beyond

When Professor Irene Ng (PhD 1997) sold her business with an annual turnover of US$250 million to return to school, little did she know that she would stay on to master the art of straddling the academic and corporate divide.

“I wanted a change” explained the founder of The Empress Cruise Lines who took a 75 per cent pay cut to be a part-time student again from 1996. She completed her doctoral studies in NUS Business School in 2002 while leading SA Tours group of companies as Executive Vice Chairman.

While running the cruise line and holding senior leadership positions in the travel industry, Prof Ng felt that she had lived a lifetime. She recounted managing challenging situations such as a mutiny onboard The Empress and a collision at sea.

Yet, despite learning valuable lessons from her corporate experience, she knew that she needed to enrich herself further. “There is a limit to how much you can learn in the private sector,” explained Prof Ng.

“I was hooked on learning.”

Accidental Juggle-naut

Having demonstrated her capability in the industry, few would be surprised that alumna Prof Ng was recently rewarded the prestigious Advanced Institute of Management Research (AIM) Fellowship.

The AIM fellowship is a highly prestigious award in the UK where, in order to support and encourage cutting edge innovation in management research, AIM takes the unusual step of supporting people rather than projects with its Fellowship scheme.

Prof Ng was not only awarded the fellowship, but was chosen to lead a team of six Services Fellows to generate knowledge suitable for academic audiences in scholarly settings while engaging with practitioners and policy makers throughout their research.

Although she had attained success as an academic, Prof Ng felt uncomfortable being labeled only as an academic.

“Some people focus on being very good at either being a corporate leader, or an academic,” said Prof Ng. “I don’t feel 100 percent comfortable being either. I want to craft out a space where I can be both.”

Prof Ng recognized that there would be differences being in the corporate or academic world. Still, she would like to make a difference. “I would like to try and align the interested of both.”

She lamented that it was “ego” that prevented both sides from sharing information and experience which could help build up a shared knowledge that lead to greater things. “If only they can shed their egos!”

Adding Value

Armed with a wealth of corporate experience and a place in academia, Prof Ng successfully straddles the corporate and academic border. “I live in the space between corporate and academic world,” mused Prof Ng.

When asked if she were forced to leave her position that crossed two worlds to focus only on one, Prof Ng revealed that she would pick “industry – the interface between technology and business.”

“I see a lack in this area,” explained Prof Ng. From a technology’s standpoint, how do you build value for the society? From a business point of view, how do you monetize it? It would be interesting for me to be involved in the development of this area.”

No matter which would this alumna decided to straddle, one can look forward to her successful juggling of responsibilities and unreserved contributions.


Professor Irene C L Ng is an Associate Professor of Marketing and the Director for the Centre Research at the School of Business and Ecnomics, University of Exeter (UK). She recently received a prestigious AIM fellowship to lead research on services. She was also previously the CEO of SA Tours, the largest tour operator in Southeast Asia, and the Founder and CEO of Empress Cruise Lines, a cruise company with a turnover of $250 million per annum.

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