Benny Koh (BBA 1994) started in the job market with Citibank before moving on to a couple more global companies, and finally settling into GE in 1999. Today he is Managing Director of Investor Marketing at GE Capital. So in all the ebb and flow of his 15-year professional life, does he feel fulfilled? Find out below.
Are you in a career or job you’ve always wanted and dreamed of?
As an undergraduate in the early 1990s, students like I only had one thought – get a degree, get a job and support the family. Aspirations come later. So what tends to happen is that your first job sets the tone for the rest of your professions. While I took whatever job that came by way, I was fortunate to get a “first job” with a company like Citibank, as a Forex trader. That was life defining, as it carved out my career in financial services.
What kept you in GE for 10 years?
If you really want to pin down my aspirations, I’d say that from a young age I knew I would thrive in a challenging environment and in GE I’m lucky to be in an environment that feeds that desire. The more complex my job is, the more fulfilled I feel. Young people are given a lot of responsibilities in the company; I spent 5 years in the United States of America, and to thrive in the headquarters was fulfilling. I’ve also worked in many countries so there’s been a great exposure to different cultures. All this expanded my world view and has enriched my life in many ways.
Did you have to modify your aspirations at any point?
There were trails and defining moments – the 1997 financial crisis; the 9-11 incident in USA which happened when I was posted there; the 2006 coup in Thailand while I was working there; and most recently, the financial meltdown of 2008. They made me appreciate what I have. The 9-11 event was a “Eureka” moment as I realized that life is fragile. So since I travel so much – I spend half the year overseas – I treat my days at home as precious, and I try to spend as much time as I can with my wife, Elizabeth, and my 8-year-old son, Zachary.
I have a slide show of my family photographs on my desk and it reminds me how much my son has grown. I realize that if you fail in your career, you can always start again. But with children, they’d be grown up before you know it, so you have to do things right the first time round. I am always anchored by the fact that my legacy is not defined by the amount of money I leave behind. It is what my son turns out to be that reflects on me as a person. So I am aware that while my job helps put food on the table, a good work-life balance lets my family know that they are more important to me than my work.
So, would you give up travelling in your job, or even be a stay-at-home father, for the sake of your family?
I have to admit that I have to be mobile for my career. In fact, we are a well-travelled family as our family values say that we stick together. My wife gave up a successful investment banking career to accompany me to the USA. She is a classic example of someone who had to make that hard decision to put family before career, and she made that choice. So we have had this discussion. But if there comes a time when my wife wants to advance her career, I’d gladly be a stay-at-home Dad. Increasingly, people today are more aware of work-life balance and are trying to make it happen.
So how will you remain challenged in your work and, thus, keep fulfilling your childhood aspiration of working in a challenging environment?
I am lucky that the company moves me around every two years and grows my responsibilities.
But more than just nurturing my career, it is also important to give back to society as I advance professionally. I volunteer in GANO’s mentoring program. It is hard since I travel so much, but I try to do what I can when I am in town. Also, GE always has interns and new graduates. So when I have interns or trainees working for me, I mentor them too. I am also a proponent of giving our money and time to charitable organizations.
The fact is that aspirations will keep changing. The only thing that stays constant is our values. We must stay true to who we are, and that is the only way to stay fulfilled.