The many ways to give back

The Alumni Appreciation Dinner 2014 got us thinking about the many different ways our alumni contribute to the School, be it time, skills, knowledge, mentorship, organisation or fundraising. So we took the opportunity to talk to some of our alumni volunteers, both in Singapore and overseas, to find out more about how they contribute and what motivates them to continue to do so despite their busy schedules and lives.

Yeo Keng Joon (MBA 1985)

fa_keng_joonA familiar face at most alumni events, Yeo Keng Joon has been an active alumni member since his graduation in 1985. After serving as President of the MBA Alumni – NUS, he set up the NUS Business School Alumni Association (NUSBSA) in 2000.  He also served two terms on the NUS Alumni Advisory Board from its inception in 2005 to 2011.

However, over the last six to seven years, Keng Joon has been involved in fundraising, an activity he has found very rewarding and, with the network that had nurtured over the years, something he finds relatively easy to do. “You give back in the best ways you can, and at this stage in my life, this is the way I am most able to contribute,” he says.

In 2007, he almost singlehandedly started the endowed NUSBSA Bursary Fund to help needy students in the NUS Business School. Even when travelling, he can initiate emails to contacts to garner support for worthwhile causes, including endowment bursaries, some in the names of former classmates and professors who have passed away. These bursaries provide ongoing funds to support needy NUS Business School students. He also helped raised funds for the NUS BSA Students Experience Fund, which enables students to take part in exchange trips to further their outlook.  “The good thing is that all funds donated by alumni go towards helping the beneficiaries,” he explains. The Endowed Funds in NUS are structured so that donors of $25,000 or more get sub-naming rights of their choice for the bursary fund, and they will be helping a student each year in perpetuity with the funds disbursed from their endowed fund.

Keng Joon is currently active in raising funds for the NUS Alumni Student Advancement Committee, and his participation in golf fundraising events and other themed events goes towards this. One themed event that particularly thrilled him to initiate is the NUS Campus Couples Fund , which appeals to alumni who met their spouse on campus. Ten couples are now on board the programme and the aim is to reach 40 couples. “This was a fun one for me,” he explains. “I was blessed to meet my wife on campus.” Keng Joon is now working on the NUS Campus Couples Interest group, a platform to help couples network and explore how they can give back, not only through fundraising but in other ways. On top of that, he is always looking out for other creative ideas to theme fundraising events. “It’s never too late to take part in alumni activities,” he advises. “If you see it as fun, as I do, and not as a chore, you can contribute, and do good by giving not necessarily money, but your time, experience and skills in many ways that will help others and impact their lives.”

Are you a campus couple? Would you like to support the NUS Campus Couples Bursary Fund? For more information about the NUS Campus Couples Bursary Fund, or to make a gift, please contact

 Peter Yap (MBA 1986)

fa_peter_yapPeter lost touch with the Business School for many years due to his heavy travel schedules and overseas postings in corporate life but was re-acquainted with the alumni through his friend and MBA coursemate Yeo Keng Joon.  With the encouragement of another course mate, President Mike Teng, he now serves on the MBA Alumni-NUS Board as the Assistant Secretary.  He enjoys being an active participant of events and interacting regularly with students and other alumni members.

Peter believes that students must be challenged to think out of the box in their learning.  He is a firm believer that education in the business schools must combine the study of management with the practice of management.  Facilitating lectures in the Alumni Lecture Series, he applies this principle as he relays his experiences and engages students in open discussions.  He enjoys sharing his experience and is a firm believer in open dialogue with students rather than adopting a top-down approach to teaching. Through his sharing, his hope is that students appreciate being able to see the theories they learn in classes come to life.

Peter appeals to alumni to try their hand at being more active within NUS and to give something back to their Alma Mater from the much they have gained from it.  He asked that the giving be based on an altruistic motive; if it is not, it will be unsustainable.  As another way to give back to his Alma Mater, Peter has also signed up for next year’s MBA Mentorship Programme.

Sonny Yuen (BBA 1985)

fa_sonnyAs co-founder of an executive search company, Sonny has the flexibility to devote time out of his day to various alumni activities. Always active in hostel during his university days, being involved in alumni activities was a natural progression.

A life member of the NUS Business School Alumni Association since 2000 , Sonny has taken on different roles on the Board over the years, including that of Assistant Treasurer and Vice President. This year, he assumes the mantle of President for the next two years. It was Sonny too who organised the first CEO Breakfast series, running six talks over two years as well as more informal CEO Unplugged sessions, where students gain insights from CEOs as to what makes them tick. Yet another example of his contributions is the 2013 Bizad Charity Run , which grew in iconic popularity when he took over, raising a record sum of over $175,000. This funded five bursaries of $25,000 each, with the remaining funds going to the three adopted charities. With his business and contacts, he has also been referring job and internship opportunities to Business School alumni and students by connecting them with interested corporate partners.

Asked how he manages his time, Sonny says he carefully picks events that allow him to contribute the most. While he acknowledges that there are benefits to be gained from connections made through the NUS network, he advises fellow alumni to get involved with the altruistic purpose of making a difference to others.

Joseph Tan (MBA 2011)

fa_joseph_tanFollowing an enriching MBA year where he made many connections and friendships, Joseph Tan decided to dedicate time to giving back to NUS Business School. Spurred on by his experience as a mentee under Yeo Keng Joon, he believes that giving back is made easy by simply contributing in areas in which you naturally excel. In between his work in the Air Force and spending time with his two young children, he was the committee chair for the NUS Biz School Golf Reunion Challenge over the last two years. Joseph is no stranger to organising major events as he is also the Chairman of the Parade and Ceremony of the National Day Parade 2014. As the Vice President of the MBA Alumni-NUS association board, Joseph helps to coordinate events that connect students with alumni, and encourages new graduates to participate as they have fresh perspectives to offer. Like his mentor, Joseph hopes to be a role model and friend, and to pass on valuable life experiences and knowledge.

Ryan Peh (BBA 2009)

fa_ryan_pehRyan’s decision to be an active alumni member boils down to one thing: gratitude. Having switched from Engineering to the Business School in his years as a student, he recognises the unique opportunities that the Business School presents. He believes the chance to network and create connections with others in his time at the school was one that he would not have gotten elsewhere and is determined to see others benefit from this in the way he has. An active alumni, he helps organise events that bring together both graduates and undergraduates from the same industry in order to maximise networking opportunities. He also takes part in BSA-led events such as Members’ Night and makes an effort to boost attendance at GANO-organised events such as Mind My Business.

Zeeshan Khan (MBA 2012)

fa_zeeshan_khanAfter living and working in Dubai for some years, Zeeshan decided on a career change.  Recognising the diversity that the Asia Pacific has to offer and the region’s growing importance, he proceeded to do his MBA with the Business School.  He feels that the School has opened a lot of doors for him and he hopes to help students as he was helped, believing that alumni and students have a shared journey. He is now a mentor in the MBA Mentorship programme and meets his mentee once a month for drinks at Clarke Quay or for a casual catch-up. To Zeeshan, it is a two-way relationship in which both mentor and mentee learn much from each other as they exchange experiences and information. With both of them being in the oil and gas industry, Zeeshan shares his experiences and knowledge while his mentee brings new perspectives to the table. He also regularly attends MBA alumni networking events, where he has the chance to interact with students, share his knowledge and offer advice.

Overseas Alumni

Tan Yong-Wah (B.Sc 1982, MBA 2000)

fa_tan_yong_wahAs an active alumni member, Tan Yong-Wah cites a desire to give back as his reason for contributing. Exchanging experiences with students, mentoring and conducting briefings are some of the ways he does this. Being based in Hong Kong has by no means limited his possibilities to contribute as he
takes part in activities that do not require him to be physically present at the School, such as being long-distance mentor in the MBA Mentorship Programme. He also takes part locally where he can, for instance, he was one of the speakers at the alumni networking seminar organised by the Hong Kong Alumni Chapter and GANO. “Experience sharing does not take up much time,” he reveals. “Experiences, without sharing, will not reflect value,” he says, and encourages alumni to impart their own unique experiences and knowledge.

Rahul Tadimalla (MBA 2007)

fa_rahul_tadimallaA self-made investment banker by day and musician by night, this multi-talented MBA graduate has been actively helping NUS Business School since the establishment of GANO in 2007. As an alumni representative for Bangalore in India, Rahul spends a lot of time spearheading events there. From sourcing for venues and rates to securing prominent speakers for seminars, he spares no effort in making sure everything stays on track.

Besides organising events, Rahul actively offers his assistance and time to ensure that the full-time MBA students and UCLA-NUS APEX MBA students on study trips are able to get the most of their overseas experience. Not only does he take full charge of arranging their corporate visits, accommodation and sightseeing activities both in Mumbai and Bangalore, he also brings the students for shopping, dining at local restaurants and bar visits.

His various interactions with the NUS Business School alumni as a student sparked an early interest in alumni activities. Rahul looks forward to an alumni chapter in Bangalore in future which will bring those in the city even closer and foster greater communication with the rest of the alumni chapters worldwide.

His advice to those considering to give back? “None of our efforts in giving back to NUS business school would be sufficient compared to what we got (and continue to get) from the School. This is a form of saying thank you, and just a small way of appreciating what GANO and the School have done for us.”

Kirti Chopra (MBA 2010) 

fa_kirti_chopraFor Kirti, being an active alumni member is the one way to remain connected with the alma mater, professors and current students. As a regular attendee at alumni events and taking on the responsibility of class champion, he helps current students by giving them a perspective on the industry and on recruitment. When asked how he manages to find time between his work, personal time and alumni activities he promptly replies: “Frankly, giving back does not require an inordinate amount of time. But even this small amount of time I do give goes a long way in cultivating relationships.”

 Huang Kuo-Fen (APEX-MBA Chinese 2011)

fa_huang_kuofenFor Huang Kuo-Fen, it is her desire to share her knowledge, skills and experience that motivates her to be a part of the alumni community. She sees the global Business School alumni network as a platform that unites alumni members and promotes the exchange of ideas and information across borders. “Our alumni network spans across the globe, with chapters in many countries. This means that alumni can receive assistance and resources in almost every part of the world, even when they are not in their home country,” she explains. As such, she regularly organises events to welcome new alumni members into the Taiwan chapter and patiently explains the benefits of the alumni network. Encouraging other alumni members to contribute their time, she says: “It only takes a little time and effort to be able to make a big difference in the lives of others.”

David Wong (BBA 1977)

david_wongFor David Wong, it was his personal experiences with the Business School alumni as a student that motivated him to later become an active member himself. His desire to give back was so great that even being based in Hong Kong did not deter him. Today, David is the Vice President of the Hong Kong Chapter, doing for the junior cohorts what his seniors did for him. In his role, he hosts EMBA exchange students to Hong Kong, helping them to settle in and grow their network of contacts. By giving the students access to practical experience and a better understanding of the Chinese markets, David hopes to bridge the gap between studies and the real world. For those considering giving back, he says: “If you can’t give your time, give your money or fund something. Because every little bit counts.”

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.

The accidental social entrepreneur

Sim Sin Sin (BAcc 1984)

simsinsinWhen you run a social enterprise, the focus has to be a little different from that of running a commercial enterprise. When others depend on you, giving up when the going gets tough is not an option. No one is more aware of this than Mdm Sim Sin Sin, former CEO of Secret Recipe and founder of social enterprises Laksania and Social Food Inc. She sees these social enterprises as her “new life” and her days in Secret Recipe and as a certified public accountant as her “past life”.

“In a way, you can say that I am an accidental social entrepreneur,” she says, for running a social enterprise was not something that Sin Sin had considered until she was approached by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) in 2007 to run a central kitchen designed to employ ex clients of IMH. “I knew immediately that it was something I wanted to be involved in, but the business model of Secret Recipe could not incorporate the use of a central kitchen,” she explains.

Undeterred, Sin Sin went ahead with the project in 2008, conceptualising a new F&B chain, Laksania, to which the central kitchen could supply. This was seeded through $300,000 in funding from the Ministry for Social and Family Development’s ComCare Enterprise Fund.

“It wasn’t simply a case of opening up the restaurant and beginning operations,” Sin Sin recalls. Before launching the first Laksania outlet at Nex Shopping Centre in 2010, she and her daughter conducted three years of research and development in two phases: one phase was to perfect Laksania’s proprietary Laksa paste recipe so that it could be produced and the chain scaled without its core recipe losing its unique combinations of flavours; the other phase was to establish the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) of the central kitchen in a way that all employees could work effectively within their existing capabilities.

“Our employees need to be engaged in single repetitive tasks that they can be trained to complete day in, day out,” Sin Sin explains. “Any variation in their duties may upset them and the balance of operations tremendously, so we had to build the SOPs on that premise.”

She put a lot of research hours into finding out not what her employees couldn’t do, but rather what they could, and building their individual job scopes around their capabilities. Having been involved with these employees for so many years, she had built a close bond with them. So when the use of the IMH kitchen was recontracted to a different supplier in 2012, Sin Sin couldn’t simply drop the project. Given just a month to move out, she temporarily rehoused the central kitchen in her Laksania East Coast outlet, taking with her 11 employees who wanted to make the change. “I had to let 13 employees go, and that was my most painful experience,” she recalls.

And the problems kept coming. She lost her Halal license due to the loss of the central kitchen license. Despite slow sales at Laksania and higher operating costs with the loss of the IMH kitchen, Sin Sin did not want to let her employees down by closing the business. Instead she sacrificed personally by selling her landed property, and added in her life savings to continue the project. More than $2 million has been pumped into the business to date.

Even when she thought things were looking up with the launch of a new Laksania outlet at Jem in Jurong, sales suffered when the entire mall had to be closed for repair following a ceiling collapse. On top of that, the East Coast outlet had to close in December 2013 due to slow sales.

Sin Sin laughs at the irony of the situation: “My friends asked me if I had lost my mind, especially given my history as a CPA, but I just couldn’t give the project up. I had to find a way to make it work. It wasn’t just the business at stake, it was these people’s lives. I couldn’t let them down.”

So, determined not to let the downfalls beat her, Sin Sin soldiered on. The company relocated the central kitchen to larger premises at Kampong Ampat in August 2013 and has since obtained its central kitchen and Halal licenses. It is in the process of obtaining HACCP certification.

To keep the central kitchen going now, she is looking to rebrand Laksania to attract a wider audience and have the central kitchen supply other businesses as well as Laksania. Providing meals en masse daily to institutions such as hospitals, nursing homes and schools is one way she can keep the kitchen going without having to retrain her kitchen staff.

Having invested a great deal of time and funds into training research, and amassing a depth of highly specialised knowledge on how to train individuals with special needs, Sin Sin has now identified an additional avenue through which she can help the disadvantaged – through specialised training geared specifically for the marginalised in society, such as those with autism, Downs Syndrome and other mental and physical disabilities.

Having stepped down as CEO of Secret Recipe, Sin Sin now devotes all her efforts to her social enterprises or her “new life”, and is currently seeking investors who believe in her social cause. With more than 20,000 marginalised people with disabilities in Singapore, 70-80% of whom aren’t in gainful employment, it’s a cause worth supporting.

Passing the baton

Simon Phua (BBA Hons 1976)

simon_phuaAs Simon Phua prepares to step down as President of the NUS Business School Alumni Association (NUSBSA) following the committee elections in June 2014, we take a look back with him at the achievements of the Association over the years and look ahead to the Association’s new initiatives.

Fundraising achievements
“I am proud to be able to look back and say that we have consistently contributed over $100,000 a year to the students, the school and the community since 2007 through various fundraising initiatives,” says Simon.

Two golf events held in 2007 and 2008 were the first major fundraisers organised by the Association, specifically to raise money for the building of the Mochtar Riady Building. In total they raised close to $400,000. Now an annual social event, the golf championship and dinner have become a highlight on the calendar for many.

“Sub-named Bursary and Student Exchange Funds were also started to support students of NUS Business School, and are ongoing initiatives,” Simon explains. “To date we have raised over more than $500,000 for Bursaries and more than $275,000 (excluding matching grants) towards the Student Exchange Programme to support students as they broaden their experience.”

However, the Association’s signature charity event is the annual Bizad Charity Run, first held in 2011. “It started as a simple event, as an idea to do something different to raise money for designated charities and bursaries,” says Simon. It grew in popularity and in 2013 the Bizad Charity Run raised a record sum of over $175,000. This funded five bursaries of $25,000 each and the remaining funds went to charities. This year’s run, held on 11 January 2014, attracted a record number of participants and garnered good media attention. It raised a further four bursaries and supported local charities. Next year’s event will flag off NUS Business School’s 50th anniversary.

Continued support is needed
But as Simon cautions, “The work we do doesn’t happen out of thin air. It requires the support of our Association members, alumni and students, who generously give their time and support to organise such events and think of creative new ways to give back.”

So as the Committee prepares to elect its new leadership team for the next two years, Simon hopes to see younger alumni getting involved, particularly those who graduated in the ’80s and ’90s and who now have well established in careers. “We need the support of all graduates – the ones that continue to support us year after year, those who haven’t yet become involved and of course new graduates.”

New initiatives to drive greater results
Looking ahead, the Committee has identified the Bizad Charity Run and the Alumni Reunion Dinner as the Association’s two signature events. “The reunion dinner event is a good opportunity for us to raise money and to recruit new members. Last year at our inaugural event, we filled 30 tables and this year we are targeting 40.”

As for the Bizad Charity Run, Simon would like to see it increase in scope to become an annual Bizad Day, where many different fundraising events can be held concurrently.

The Association will also continue to support the initiatives of its members, with the BSA Youth Wing being one example, with its Connexxions series of networking events. “It’s important that we support initiatives like this as a means to sow the seeds necessary to engage future alumni, and to attract and retain graduates each year,” advises Simon.

The latest target is a $75,000 endowment NUSBSA Social Impact Prize. The first of its kind, it will be awarded to students who have not only done well academically but have demonstrated their passion for community services and have contributed meaningfully to society.

“It’s been a challenging and fulfilling time being the Association’s President,” Simon concludes. “I would like to thank GANO for their support and I hope that alumni will continue to engage in our varied initiatives, and that as we create greater awareness of what we do, that more alumni will come forward to serve and take up life membership in our Association.”

Sculpting an alternative future

Bartholomew Ting (BBA 2001)

bart For Bartholomew Ting, the experience gained at NUS Business School shaped his career pathway, but not quite in the way you would expect! It wasn’t the Bizad lessons that led him to discover his life’s calling as much as the creation of floats during his first annual Rag & Flag in 1998.

For what Bartholomew discovered during this initial introduction into making creations out of recycled items was a deep-seated love of working with cardboard. It wasn’t a coincidence that his first job following graduation was with a packaging company as a management trainee. “I was introduced to the different roles in the company on a rotation basis, but naturally graduated towards the design department, where I settled after six months, managing a small team of designers,” he recalls. It was during his time in this position that he learnt about the properties of cardboard and how to maximise its strength in construction.

Finding his niche

Wanting to be more hands-on in the design of cardboard sculptures and fully utilise his creative skills, Bartholomew moved on, taking up a post with an exhibition company. It was here that he learnt to work with design software, creating virtual 3D designs that could be converting to the 2D prints of cardboard cut-outs used to create his final 3D cardboard sculptures.

He honed his skills at various exhibition companies, meeting the consistent challenges of tight deadlines before finally burning out from creative overload in 2008. It was time to take a break and recharge, so Bartholomew made the bold move during the economic crisis to embark on a working holiday with his girlfriend to London. There he took up freelance assignments and used the funds to tour Europe to gain new experiences, perspectives and creative inspiration.

bart1Realising his value
Back in London, he landed a job with a London-based exhibition company working on projects in Dubai. While the working culture of the company was relaxed with plenty of time given to the creative process, the Dubai clients required fast turnarounds, something Bartholomew was used to from his work experience in Singapore. As such, his boss recognised the value Bartholomew could deliver to the company in helping the team to secure new projects due to his speed of delivery of creative concepts.

The experience increased his confidence in his creative abilities and following his return to Singapore in 2010, Bartholomew decided to work on a freelance basis providing exhibition design. By 2011, he had turned his focus purely to cardboard sculpturing. He started with a sculpture at NUS. From there his confidence grew and he attempted larger sculptures, all made from recycled cardboard. Today he works as creative director for Tri-Wall Creatives, the creator of AAA triplewall cardboard, the perfect raw material for Bartholomew’s creations.

Expanding his range of services
Bartholomew’s love of his art has led him to conducting workshops to teach cardboard design, both in schools and in private workshops and liaising with art & design departments in polytechnics to involve students in art festivals. For example, a recent project he worked on involves collaboration with a few polytechnics in building a three-metre-tall Merlion at *SCAPE. “The concept behind the project is for the community to build together,” Bartholomew explains.

Perhaps his biggest showcase to date has been his work with National Library Board (NLB), where his iconic sculptures are displayed on rotation at various libraries around the island. He has also worked with SCDF, creating a cardboard fire engine for display, which NS Men were tasked to put together. This project illustrates well Bartholomew’s commitment to give his clients more than they asked for.

“I found that the concept of sculpting a simple fire truck didn’t stretch me creatively,” Bartholomew recalls, “so I proposed a fire truck that turned into a transformer, which of course the kids love. This allows SCDF to send a more powerful message to children through more active engagement.”

bart2The many avenues for growth
The future is bright for this sculptor. Tri-Wall Group is seeking to launch an IPO in Hong Kong in 2015 and Bartholomew sees this as a good platform to launch internationally and to promote their unique cardboard material beyond the B2B market, directly to consumers.

“I see a huge potential in cardboard in an era where people are becoming more aware of recycling and the Global Maker Movement spreads its message of creating things from what you already have.” Bartholomew showcases his armchair and coffee table designs as examples of how paper can be turned into something useful for everyday living. “People are always surprised at how sturdy they are, but this is all part of the design process, in how the cardboard is combined and folded to maximise its tensile strength,” he explains.

He also foresees a large market in cardboard sculpture replacing temporary carpentry projects such as exhibition stalls. “For now it’s the technology part that holds the process back, but this can be overcome, either by learning the skill or outsourcing it.” Bartholomew explains that most 3D designers today are animators, but they should be taking advantage of the rising demand for physical modelling.

“The Cardboard Building Block is also an option to grow the business further, where we supply the pieces and have people create their own sculptures out of their imagination,” Bartholomew concludes

Changing Brand Perceptions One Business at a Time

Trica-Ann Kee (BBA 1996)

Trictricia_ann_keeia-Ann Kee (BBA 1996) ), Founder and Principal Image Consultant at , built her career from her two passions. “I decided to combine my talent in branding and my love for beauty and fashion to make a difference to the lives of people I connect with,” she explains. Her company image@inspire was born with the goal of inspiring the lives of people and organisations.

Having graduated from NUS Business School in 1996, her first big career opportunity was with Mattel Southeast. From her initial role as Executive Trainee in 1997, she soon became Brand Custodian for Infant and Preschool Division at Mattel in 1998. “It was a job that I truly enjoyed and it paved the way for me to handle bigger brands.”

Brand management has always been what she envisioned herself doing. She loved the dynamics and fast-paced nature of the profession and has worked for a diverse range of companies including Olympus, Estée Lauder, Starbucks and McDonalds China.

Whilst she was working at Starbucks, she was constantly involving herself in community projects. “These projects were truly life changing and immensely touched my life,” Tricia recalls. When she found herself living in Shanghai shortly afterwards, she began to do some soul-searching. Her experience of working with the Starbucks community projects had shown her that she had a passion for working with people and that she had a strong desire to empower them on a more personal level.

Combining her talents for branding with her love for beauty and fashion, she set up image@inspire as a professional image consulting company. She had the vision to create a powerful brand image for individuals and corporates that leads to a breakthrough in personal lives and organisational excellence.

One of the core missions of the company is to focus on inspiring individuals and corporates in the workplace. Tricia-Ann believes that enriching the mind, body and spirit of individuals through image transformation aids them in achieving their personal goals and enables empowerment. “The way we think and carry ourselves directly affects our behaviour in the work environment. Our dressing, grooming, body language, etiquette, verbal communication, values and goals – the way we think and carry ourselves – will inherently affect our personal or professional branding and development,” she explains. Tricia could see that transferring her skills in corporate branding to running workshops and individual and corporate consultations to create personal and corporate image branding could inherently affect business performance and output.

Image@inspire runs group workshops for corporate clients that involve the clients being advised about and encouraged to think about their staff’s appearance, behaviour and communication skills. “Personal Branding is our most powerful tool that defines who we are,” Tricia remarks.

Image@inspire also offers individual and corporate consultations. Tricia hopes to expand this particular service in the near future. She also intends to add customised jewellery and tailored clothing for clients as services to complement the workshops and consultation services that are currently offered.

Challenges for Tricia in securing new clients revolve around corporate clients’ perceptions of the importance of appearance. In Singapore, local Chinese companies tend not to see the need for personal branding and are mostly reluctant to invest in their employees in this area. In China the tradition of guanxi governs how business relationships are established, where business people build relationships with each other through favours and gifting under strict coded customs rather than talent or image. However, as China is a fast-growing economy and attracts an increasing number of Western investors, opinions on personal and corporate branding are changing. More and more companies and individuals are becoming aware of the importance of image in the workplace as a valuable tool used to affect the way other business people deal with the company or individuals.

Tricia has worked hard to establish her company by unleashing her inner entrepreneur and utilising her skills in brand marketing in a new and rapidly expanding sector. Increasingly corporate businesses and individuals are becoming aware of the importance of personal and corporate branding, and Tricia divides her time between Singapore and Shanghai, servicing her clients.

She credits her ability to do business both in Singapore and China to former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew: “He dared to do things differently and that sets us apart from the rest of the world. For example, the most important business languages in the business world today are English and Mandarin, and Chinese Singaporeans, being bilingual in both these languages, are very much sought after in China.”

What keeps Tricia going is the physical and emotional difference she makes to her clients: “I feel so happy whenever I see that my clients feel empowered after their image transformation and I am glad to have inspired that change.” She advises potential business owners to find something that motivates them. “Life is like a book,” Tricia concludes, “filled with various experiences that inspire us. Be an author of your own book, follow your passion and be prepared to overcome the challenges.”

Living the Dream

Joanna Wong (BBA 1981)

joana_wongDreams do come true if you are driven by the passion to make them happen. Artist and children’s author, Joanna Wong (BBA 1981), is proof of that. The youngest in a family of sixteen children, Joanna loved writing and painting as a child and dreamed of making it her living, inspired by her favourite author, Beatrix Potter. She eventually achieved her goal of writing and illustrating children’s books, and becoming respected as an artist working in water colour and oils. But her career started down a very different path.

Coming from such a large family, with her father as the sole breadwinner, finances were stretched. As each of her siblings left school, they went straight into a job to help pay the family bills. When it came to Joanna’s turn, she asked her father to let her go to university and promised to pay her way with odd jobs while she was studying. Her father agreed and Joanna was accepted into NUS Business School, an experience she remembers with fondness. “I was part of the first batch in King Edward Hall at Kent Ridge. We “hostelites” as we called ourselves were very close, and we still meet for dinner on the same date every year without fail.”

Upon graduation, her father was adamant that she start work immediately. So she took the traditional route of entering the finance industry with Standard Chartered Bank, and worked her way rapidly up the banking ladder. She was running the Priority Banking Division before she retired after 18 years of service. “I have no regrets delaying my dream and working in banking,” Joanna says. “It was great training, I had great colleagues, a fantastic team and it gave me many rich experiences that I have since been able to bring into my writing.”

The down side was that her work kept her very busy and she found herself working 14 hours a day. Not only did this take a toll on her health but it affected her relationship with her children. “I wasn’t able to spend the time with my children that I should have,” she recalls, “and that weighed on me. So I used to spend quality time with them at bed time, tucking them in and reading stories to them, and eventually gave up work so I could be with them.” The stories Joanna read weren’t the traditional children’s fairy tales. “I used to create my own stories and illustrate them with paintings.” The children loved the stories, and as they grew up, they suggested that Joanna publish them and share Squeaky the Squirrel with a new generation of children.

With this suggestion, Joanna recognised a perfect outlet for her as a stay at home mum and a way she could incorporate her passion for writing and painting into her life. In 2005, she launched her first book under her own publishing company. “I did my homework before that, attending courses at the National Book Council and learning about copyright issues and such,” she explains. “Now I am able to leave my stories as a legacy to my children.”

In addition to selling her books commercially, Joanna has made her whole series of young reader and junior novels available in all Singapore primary school libraries. “I had also recorded my stories, so when the suggestion was made to create interactive versions of my young readers, it was a natural avenue to pursue,” Joanna recalls. Her interactive early readers are now available as free apps in the Apple App Store.

Joanna’s children were also instrumental in getting her started in painting in the early days of retirement. “My sons bought me a Chinese painting book for Mother’s Day and it came with paints and instructions to paint a rooster.” This rekindled her love of painting and in 2003 she enrolled in classes with renowned painter Ong Kim Seng, a class she still attends today. These classes are conducted outdoors weekly and have taken her to wondrous scenic destinations such as Bali, Malacca, Nepal, Myanmar, Shanghai and Tuscany over the years.

As Joanna paints around one painting a week, over the years her work accumulated and she needed to find a way to store or sell her oil and watercolour paintings. “I also needed a well-ventilated place where I could paint with oils, as the fumes are too toxic for the paints to be used in small enclosed spaces such as at home.” Today she runs her own art gallery, where she paints and displays her work. She also donates paintings and books to raise funds for charitable causes, notably children’s homes and charities that help children at risk.

An added bonus to turning her hobby into a business is that it enables Joanna to finance what was becoming a very expensive past-time. “I use quality paper and pigments as well as good canvases, and these don’t come cheap.” But for Joanna the biggest benefit is the freedom she now has to live life at her own pace, spend quality time with her family and pursue her life-long passion to write and paint.

Born to make music

Richard Tang (BBA 2011)

richard When Richard Tăng Dật Hanh (BBA 2011) first got up in front of an audience and sang, he discovered a passion he knew would be with him for life. The thrill of the applause had him hooked and wanting more. Winning fourth prize in a televised singing contest boosted his confidence even further. Now he had validation from a source other than his family and friends. At 15 years of age, Richard knew he would make a career in music.

His parents, however, did not agree. While Richard wanted to enroll to study music in his home country of Vietnam, his parents, both musicians themselves, were adamant that Richard would read for a “proper” degree overseas that would open doors for him to build a “proper” career. Richard couldn’t understand their point of view at the time. However, having graduated from NUS Business School in 2011, he can now appreciate that, thanks to his parents foresight, he has a choice of careers and something to fall back on, should a career in music not pan out.

A well-rounded education at NUS
“In fact, studying at NUS also opened up more doors for me in music even while I was studying business,” Richard explains. In addition to being the vocal instructor of the Vocal Group of the Vietnamese Community (VNCNUS) in his free time, he joined the NUS Choir. This experience exposed him to an even wider range of music styles and increased his network of friends with music contacts. “I used the opportunity to soak up all I could learn in music from NUS’ extensive libraries in my spare time as well,” he recalls. He became exposed to jazz, blues, rock, pop, Latina and classical genres, and recognised the beauty in them all. “When I write my music today, I can see the influence these styles have had on my writing,” he says.

Early influencers
Richard began writing his own music on the guitar when he was 15, inspired by his eldest uncle, who was also a songwriter, and picking up basic music theory from his parents.

The exposure he gained in various competitions in Vietnam earned Richard recognition in the local music scene, and he was privileged to have been mentored by Vietnamese musician Giac An, a songwriter of Buddhist music, who showed him all he knows today about how to structure layers and master scores. Richard was also inspired by Pham Duy, a renowned Vietnamese musician who graced a concert Richard organised in Singapore in 2010. “I was so honoured to have him travel to Singapore especially to give his support to the concert,” Richard proudly reminisces.

richard1Adding music director to his repertoire
While he is committed to his work as Regional Consultant at HRnetOne, an executive search firm, his spare time at weekends is taken up with his first passion, music. He has taken part in four major concerts since coming to Singapore. Two of the concerts he organised himself and the other two were organised by the Gentle Fund Organization (GFO) – a non-profit Vietnamese organisation based in Singapore that raises funds through Singapore’s Vietnamese community in aid of underprivileged children in Vietnam.

Giving back by nurturing new talents

Through these concerts, Richard discovered yet another passion. Having had the benefit of mentors in his own musical development, he naturally began to groom and nurture other music talents, forming a musical interest group, Harita Productions. “I admire the prolific songwriter David Foster and how he nurtures and promotes other talents,” Richard enthuses. “That’s what I aspire to do.” His degree through NUS Business School has armed him with the knowledge needed to develop his business in the future. He sees the artistes he works with in Harita Productions as family. “The idea is that we all grow together.”

richard2An ongoing learning journey
Even while he works to hone the skills of upcoming musicians, Richard knows his own learning will never be completed. He used to write his songs on the guitar, but two to three years ago he started learning to play the piano, mentored by fellow GFO member, the talented pianist Ashley Nguyen. She taught him the basics and he further honed his craft through watching videos on YouTube. Now he also uses the piano to write his songs. When ideas come to him, he records them in his small home recording studio. “Either the melody comes first and the lyrics later, or they both come at the same time,” he explains of the writing process.

Singing-wise, Richard is influenced by the quartet Il Divo and aspires to perform to their standard to local audiences in Vietnam. But it is in writing that his passion truly lies and where he has ambitions on a global scale. “I am strengthening my base now so that I can write scores for movies in the future,” he explains. “Maybe one day, I’ll write a Broadway show. That’s a dream I would love to come true.

Driving an Inspiring Vision

Ng Inn Chiau (MBA-HEC 2011)

ng_inn_chiauCurrently working at DBS, in its Institutional Banking Group, Ng Inn Chiau (MBA-HEC 2011) is a member of its Group COO Office strategic project management, responsible for creating new initiatives to better on-board corporate customers into the bank globally. It is a far cry from his original career as a Project Engineer. So what prompted the switch?

Having graduated with an Honours Degree in Engineering from a university in Melbourne, Australia, gaining a double major in computer systems and software systems engineering, Inn Chiau started out as a project engineer working for an SME. Here he gained valuable experience on how an SME needs to be nimble and versatile in order to stay ahead of its competitors.

Selected for a Training and Attachment Programme (TAP) through the Economic Development Board (EDB), he moved to Paris, France, where he was mentored and provided with a real-world perspective on process implementation and design scalability. Being exposed to working in France for a couple of years gave Inn Chiau a chance to experience and learn valuable lessons about bridging the gap between different cultures, and he particularly enjoyed working with colleagues from around Europe and leading international teams. Returning to Singapore as a project manager, he helped deliver the MRT Circle Line, the longest fully automatic metro line in the world by the time it was completed. Despite being involved in such ground-breaking projects, Inn Chiau had begun to feel increasingly distanced from the work he was doing. “I realised that I wanted to be more involved in shaping business and implementing business strategy for companies,” he explains. “I also realised that my engineering background could be a bridge to companies’ next stage of growth.”

Inn Chiau elected to read for his MBA, hoping that this would open up a variety of alternative options to him. The MBA course exposed him to people from a wide range of industries and opened up career possibilities he had not considered before. However, it was in the final stages of his course that he found the direction he had been looking for when he attended a talk by the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of DBS Bank, Institutional Banking Group.

“He shared the vision of the bank to make the quantum leap from its current position to becoming the Asian bank of choice, and how the bank needed the right people to make this a reality,” Inn Chiau explains. “As he articulated how the bank envisioned its growth to becoming a regional bank, I felt a connection and was inspired to be part of driving this vision.”

Coming into the banking industry from an engineering background has had its challenges, in terms of knowledge acquisition. Inn Chiau attributes his successful transition to being able to stay humble and listening to others. He has gratefully accepted the help and guidance that his colleagues offer him, especially as his learning journey is further complicated by a constantly changing business environment due to the multiple regulatory requirements imposed on the banking industry.

“The key to making the transition to a new career is in keeping an open mind and never closing your options too soon,” he advises. “The banking industry is constantly developing and changing, which means I have to network, interact with colleagues and be aware of new and ever-changing processes, products and terminology,” Inn Chiau explains. “It is a constantly evolving process to keep as up to date as possible.” However, this suits Inn Chiau well as it fulfills his constant thirst for knowledge. It also enables him to shape and mould some of the business’s strategies, his key driver for changing career paths in the first place. Keeping up to date with new job scopes and meeting and experiencing new cultures has been a very exciting and interesting part of his role in DBS. His energy is proof that he loves what he does.

Giving parting advice to anyone seeking a career change, Inn Chiau concludes: “Keep an open mind and you will know when the right role appears. Stay humble, maintain a thirst for knowledge, listen to others and keep learning.”

Making time to plan

Angela Sim (BBA 1998)

angela_simWe sat down last month with one of our alumna, Angela Sim, to find out more about her company ROI Strategy Consultants Pte Ltd and how planning has helped drive her business growth.

When did you realize the importance of planning?
To be honest, at the beginning I didn’t really realize it. But looking back, I was always planning subconsciously. For example, when I graduated, I knew I wasn’t good at holding money so I started to put money away in an investment-linked account where I knew I wasn’t able to touch the funds. It wasn’t a concrete plan to save a specific amount. I just knew that if I didn’t impose a disciplined savings plan on myself I would never hold on to money. And ironically it was a lack of planning by others that got me started with ROI.

How so? How did ROI come about?

I had recommended past customers and associates to various third parties to have them do the marketing for them, but when things didn’t work out, these clients sought me out and started asking me to take over, so that’s when I realized I could make a viable business out of it.

How has planning helped your business growth?

After a few years in the business we were stable, but we began to stagnate. We had regular clients and cash flow was steady, but I began to see that I had reached my maximum capacity in terms of bringing in business. That’s when we put plans in place to bring in other directors to help drive additional revenue, or ROI wasn’t going to go anywhere.

Being busy with the business, how have you been able to devote time out of the business to plan for its future growth?

I’m a very organized person, but I realized pretty early on that actions that are obvious to me aren’t necessarily obvious to others in my team. So I invested a considerable amount of time systemizing the processes of the business in manuals, and by labeling equipment and drawers, etc. This ensures that all staff are following the same processes, know where things are and I am not constantly spending my time repeating the same things to members of staff in turn. That frees me from the humdrum of daily operations so that I can concentrate on developing strategies for growth.

How do you keep yourself motivated in your business?

It can be difficult not to become complacent with the routine of business. That’s why it’s important to keep re-inventing goals. We are usually at our quietest around the beginning of the year so I use that time to plan my major goals for the coming year. For example, last year I focused on putting new directors in place while this year it’s all about staff training and staff retention. I have set milestone goals for the business throughout the year to devise bonus and training schemes for each staff member. But as in everything I do, it’s a two way process. For example we have a deal where if staff attain an agreed number of certifications within a year, they receive a cash bonus as a reward. However, if they fail to achieve their training goal, they pay the business the bonus as a form of penalty.

So how often do you revisit your goals?

Once the year goal is established, I set up specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely (SMART) goals to achieve throughout the year. It’s no good planning at the beginning of the year and leaving it at that. I review the goals on at least a quarterly basis to make sure that I am on track. I also check for changing circumstances in the business that have had an impact on the possible achievement of my goals. In such cases, adjustments have to be made to keep things on track.

Is there any one long-term goal you hold on to that keeps you striving forward?

One of the goals that keep me motivated is to have an office one day in Suntec City. If at any time problems seem insurmountable and I need a reason to push through a barrier, a Suntec office is usually the vision that does it for me. That and making sure the business never diminishes in size. We have to continually move forward. That is why I have set my goal for staff to increase from the present seven to 15 by the end of the year. The key is to set your short-term goals with clearly determined long-term objectives in mind so that you are always moving forwards.

About Angela Sim
Angela Sim is the tactical mind behind ROI Strategy Consultants Pte Ltd, a dynamic Marketing agency that positions companies for growth through business structuring, brand positioning and market targeting guidance. She has more than a decade of business development and marketing experience on a local and regional level. Her company, founded in 2007, comprises a team of dynamic and experienced personnel with cutting-edge insights into business strategy.