Dream big, drum loud

Roch Ong (NUS-PKU IMBA 2008)

roch_ongDream Big, Drum Loud is the mantra of ZingO Festival Drum Group and the personal philosophy of its founder, Roch Ong.

Established as a society in 2004 and subsequently incorporated in 2011, ZingO showcases a unique and dynamic drumming repertoire accompanied by martial arts-style choreography and driven by its most important ingredient for success, a consuming passion for its art.

NUS MBA graduate Roch Ong has brought the group from its infancy as a fledgling percussion group on a part-time basis to the market leader of the genre today as a professional performance group. ZingO has developed a strong brand image over the years and an impressive portfolio that includes televised performances at the Youth Olympic Games 1-year Countdown and Singapore Arts Festival 2009 Opening Pre-Show as well as a 13-episode teenage drama “Cheerful Drum Beat”, themed around ZingO, and in which Roch coached the cast. ZingO have also taken part in popular celebrations such as 2008 Esplanade Moonfest, 2013 Esplanade Huayi Festival and 2013 Nine Songs – SPH ZaoBao 90th Anniversary Mega Outdoor Concert.

So what diverted this NUS Business School graduate away from the traditional business path and his career in engineering to turn the art of drumming into a viable business?

roch_ong1Spurred on by a supportive alma mater
Roch attributes much of his motivation to two separate factors: a passion for drumming that was lit in his secondary schools days in Johor Bahru, and the support and encouragement of the then Dean, Prof Kulwant Singh. “I was concerned that by following my passion rather than going down the traditional business route, I would be bringing shame on the school,” Roch recalls. “But Dean Kulwant was extremely supportive of my dream, reminding me that NUS Business School wasn’t just looking for high income earners as graduates but for leaders and business owners.”

Bolstered by the support of his alma mater and the new skills he had picked up on his MBA, Roch began to look upon his already established ZingO group as a business that he could grow and develop into a Singapore icon, and one that could garner demand for its performances beyond the shores of Singapore.

New skills take the business further afield
“During my MBA, I took a leave of absence for one year to finance my course through my drum teaching,” he explains. This experience gave Roch the confidence to make the decision to give up his full-time engineering job, which he was supposed to resume upon completion of his MBA. He turned his energy to making ZingO a full-time business instead of a part-time hobby it had been to this point.

“Through doing the MBA, I realised that most successful businesses are driven by passion rather than the pursuit of money,” Roch recalls. “So I decided to face my fear of financial insecurity and take the leap. After all, you only live once, so you should follow your passion.”

He is also able to draw on skills learnt in his engineering work and on his MBA to help run his business. He attributes his ability to deal with tough customers and his understanding of human behavior to his work experience. His ability to see things through others’ perspective, work in teams and build a sustainable business he attributes to his MBA course. “After that,” he adds, “practice made perfect!”

A testament to that fact was the nomination of ZingO for “Best Sound Design” at the Straits Times Life! Theatre Awards in 2009.

roch_ong2New revenue streams, exciting new opportunities
Roch no longer performs himself but devotes all his time to growing the business and developing his protégés. “My days are typically taken up teaching Singapore’s youth our unique drumming style in primary and secondary schools as well as other institutions – the bread and butter of our services,” he explains. “The evenings and weekends are spent overseeing group performances, rehearsals, planning new choreography routines with my team and conducting workshops.”

The unpredictability in demand for performances has inspired Roch to seek additional sources of revenue. “The performance revenue at the moment is unpredictable as it relies on large events being organised and held in Singapore, and we also rely on word-of-mouth referrals,” he explains of the need to sustain business operations in other ways. Typical engagements include corporate anniversary celebrations, official openings, groundbreaking ceremonies and events held by international companies based in Singapore that wish to showcase the local Singapore culture.

In addition to workshops, he is combatting the limitation in demand for performances by expanding to venues overseas. Having already ventured abroad to play at events such as the Taiwan International Drum Festival and the Malaysia International Drum Festival, the group is now scheduled to perform in the Middle East in Abu Dhabi in October this year, marking an exciting new era for ZingO and its passionate founder.

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