Making Change Happen

Jason Lim (MBA-HEC 2013)

jason_limWhen Jason Lim (MBA-HEC 2013) enrolled on his MBA course, little did he know his career path was going to take such a sharp turn and lead him away from a stable job in the public sector and towards the high-flying world of corporate finance.

Awarded the Defence Science and Technology (DSTA) undergraduate scholarship to read mechanical engineering at NUS, Jason graduated with honours. He began his career at DSTA as a project engineer and was soon promoted to Project Lead, responsible for procurement and management of weapons systems and services for Singapore Armed Forces. The experience taught him a lot about dealing with public service companies and how they implement their systems and procedures. It also gave him insight into the culture within public sector companies.

After several years working for DSTA, Jason had reached the point where he wanted to expand his professional network both in terms of geography and industry. He did some research and sought advice from seniors and friends. “I took the MBA programme in order to network effectively in one setting with people from all walks of life in different industries.” He added that he saw the MBA programme as an excellent opportunity to gain some business knowledge and experience a totally different culture.

Interacting with his fellow MBA students, Jason soon understood the particular path he wanted to follow. “I found the consulting and finance industry a very exciting sector to be involved with,” he explained. With so much growth to be achieved in the emerging markets and a lot of opportunity to be exploited, Jason sees the corporate finance industry at the forefront of change, and is excited at being part of making that change happen.

Now an assistant manager at KPMG Global Infrastructure Advisory, Jason focuses on providing advice about corporate finance, project finance and public-private partnerships (PPP). He also provides advisory services for the corporate world and sovereigns in Asia, within the infrastructure sector. It is a consultancy role with two main goals: to assist governments in emerging countries to facilitate the improvement of their infrastructure; and to advise private companies on how to enter this space and earn an attractive rate of return for their investors.

Jason was able to draw on his engineering and MBA backgrounds to get a head start in terms of technical knowledge, and his past experience came in handy when dealing with people.

However, as would be expected, making such a drastic career change meant that he had a lot more to learn as he settled into his new role. His team comprises 15 individuals of eight different nationalities, and so while he already had good people skills, learning to interact with different cultures was a new but rewarding experience. “Part of the reason I changed career was to meet new people and experience different cultures,” he explains.

Of course, he also had to bring his knowledge of finance up to speed. Although Jason had several years of public sector experience, this new career required a broader understanding of the entire spectrum of the infrastructure sector, coupled with a general understanding of how governments in emerging countries in Asia operate. This necessitated both breadth and a reasonable amount of depth in terms of industry knowledge and general. So he continued to study and work towards completing the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) and Financial Risk Management (FRM) programmes. By doing this he was able to get to grips with the needed financial information and gain respected qualifications that are highly regarded in the industry.

While the wealth of knowledge Jason had to amass in a short time frame seems daunting, the challenges he has faced adapting to his new role have been worth it. “This is an industry where you will be at the forefront of driving change and spearheading infrastructure projects in countries that need it the most,” he explains of his biggest motivating factor.

Looking back on his decision to switch careers, Jason admits he struggled to decide whether to stay in an established career or embark on such a big change. “It was a daunting prospect,” he recalls, “but now I am glad I ventured into doing something different.”

When asked what advice he would give fellow alumni considering a career change, Jason said: “It’s a major decision to undertake. Know where your strengths lie and research thoroughly on the path you intend to pursue. Where possible, always approach people who have been down the road before and seek their advice. Good luck!”

Time to give back

Benedict Andrew Lim (MBA 2000)

andrew_limFor this NUS MBA alumnus, time is not the enemy, despite a full work load, mentorship commitments and the demands of a loving family.

Benedict Andrew Lim, Director and Head of Investments for Global Capital and Development, is a civil and structural engineer by training, and an NUS MBA and Master of Real Estate graduate. He currently heads a private equity platform formed from the joint venture between Mubadala and Khazanah, the investment companies of the governments of Abu Dhabi and Malaysia respectively, and is responsible for the financial performance of the asset under management as Head of Investments in the creation of Medini, a new city in the making for the Iskandar region, Johor, Malaysia.

“Medini appeals to me as a very big but interesting challenge,” explains Benedict. “Singaporeans have a tendency to avoid Johor for its perceived crime and security issues. To try to position an investment in this city, we need to be creative, steadfast and professional to change long-held perceptions and create a symbiotic vision of the possibilities of complementing real estate hubs between Singapore and Johor.”

It is this creativity and steadfastness he hopes to instil in his mentees in addition to the values he picked up at NUS. “NUS has imbued in me a life-long thirst for knowledge, to accept diversity as a strength and to quest for excellence in every business using management science and philosophy,” he explains. “I also benefitted from the discipline to think strategically, analyse issues in a myriad application frameworks and to seek lasting and optimal outcomes. These skills have their roots in the days of running from lecture halls and tutorial rooms, being guided and challenged by faculty, not just to learn and apply new theory, but to critique and bring new dimension to them.”

Having benefitted from the guidance of a mentor himself early on in his career, Benedict feels a strong calling, as an NUS MBA alumnus, to see fellow alumni do well in their career journeys and more importantly, to build an alumni community that supports and collaborates with each other and the alma mater. “I decided to participate in this year’s MBA Mentorship Program because I see that many graduates don’t fulfil their potential because they are not guided early in their careers.”

Benedict’s main aim is to make sure his mentees are on the right career pathway. “Many mentees take the route of searching that perceived dream job before reviewing whether it is something they want and can do well. Often it is someone else’s dream, not theirs.”

Another challenge he has faced in past mentoring experiences is that mentees expect to be showered by wisdom that they think will translate to instant results. But as Benedict clarifies, this is not the purpose and intent of a proper mentoring engagement. “Mentors do not deliver customised solutions and outcomes on a platter in the mentoring process, but rather mentoring is a journey, not a destination.”

With his mentoring program and the Medini project in full swing, it is a wonder that Benedict finds the time to balance work and family commitments. But that’s where his time management mastery comes in. A father of two, Benedict finds the inspiration to manage his time in the words of his mentor: “Do not think about it, apply yourself as best as you can to the task at hand and plan to focus on one thing at a time. Prioritise and make your time worth the effort in providing the highest and best outcome from your effort. One should not over-plan his schedule, but rather complete the prioritised task and move on to the next prioritised task. And remember that one cannot do everything all at once.” This is advice that has served Benedict well and enabled him to devote his free time to one priority – his family. “I take a lot of joy spending time participating in the childhood journey that both my son and daughter are going through. So to me, time management is a series of prioritised responsibilities, all managed with full focus and unwavering care, one at a time.”

Planning a successful journey

Clement Wong (BBA 2003)

clement_wongA successful entrepreneurial trip
Clement Wong (BBA 2003) is the founder of BeMyGuest, a rapidly growing travel portal delivering to visitors “authentic” tourism experiences around the world, with the focus on emerging markets. Through his exposure as a student at NUS Business School and as a highly sought-after global strategy consultant for tourism-related businesses, Clement has gained the determination and skills to position his company for tremendous growth this upcoming year.

Travel opens doors to new opportunities
Looking back at his time at NUS Business School, where he double majored in Finance & Marketing with a minor in German, Clement recalls two significant learning experiences that changed his perspective on life and business and ultimately shaped his entire future. The first occurred during a semester he spent in Sweden on a Swedish Business Association Scholarship. Here he came across “The Law of Jante,” which states that if you think you’re better than someone, you’re not. This provided him with a completely different outlook on life and was a major factor in his decision not to enter the “rat race” upon graduation. The second life-changing experience happened later on in his course when his team won the Singaporean round of the marketing competition sponsored by L’Oréal and earned a trip to Paris for the global final, but also won the Special Jury Prize, beating teams from across the globe. The knowledge that he could compete on a global scale gave Clement the confidence and determination to forge a career path in the international marketplace.

Starting his professional journey abroad
After graduation, Clement went to work for the company that had previously sponsored his internship in Austria and was soon headhunted by Euromonitor International, a world leader in market strategy research. Joining the company’s London office, Clement rose to become the company’s head of travel research in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region. He was subsequently headhunted by two more London-based firms, firstly Travelport, where he was Global Strategy Analyst for Hospitality and then PhoCusWright, where he was Head of Research for Europe, Middle East and Africa. It was while working at Travelport that Clement made the business trip to Kenya that would alter the course of his life.

One business journey leads to another
After wrapping up his business meetings, Clement decided to stay on in Kenya to experience the local culture. During a trip to a Maasai village, he was disturbed to see the inhabitants living in very poor conditions. He asked the locals why this was so when they obviously received a lot of money from tourism. Their answer shocked him. The Maasai villagers were only receiving $2 of the $20 charged per tourist. It was at this moment that Clement found the inspiration to finally set up his own company, as he had always planned to do. But instead of his business mirroring his then career as a global travel strategist, it would focus, through the tourism industry, on empowering local communities in emerging markets.

A win-win situation for local travel agencies and the traveler
After researching the markets and setting out his business plan, in 2012, Clement saw that it was the right time to return to Singapore to establish BeMyGuest, a travel portal that benefits local tourism operators in emerging markets like Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar and India. BeMyGuest manages the online marketing and booking of authentic travel tours and local accommodation on behalf of the locals, only taking a small commission fee when a booking is confirmed.

Growing more than just his business
Clement is passionate about giving back to his alma mater through mentorship programs and contributing to the growth of Singapore’s next generation of global leaders.

“I intend to grow BeMyGuest significantly and engage more independent operators as well as locals in the emerging markets,” Clement adds. Over the next five years, he envisions BeMyGuest becoming a major tourism agency in Asia, benefitting not only the local communities it serves, but also providing global experiences to graduating students. “I want Singapore graduates to experience the same empowerment that I did when I was exposed to foreign cultures, and to know that there are no limitations when you make the world your business platform.”

Sowing the seeds for stronger alumni participation

Lee Keng Leong (BBA Hons 2004)

lee_keng_leongLee Keng Leong is proud to be an alumnus of NUS Business School and recognises the advantages of having an old school network to fall back on and a resource for graduating students to reach out to.

So he took the initiative to form the NUS Business School Alumni Youth Initiative (BSA Youth), along with buddy Ronald Wong Longfa (MSc Management, CEMS MIM 2012). Their goal was to create the “Harvard of Asia” – to make the business school alumni a close-knit community to which alumni can turn for career advice, mid-career switches and networking opportunities, and where students can access internships, obtain career advice and find mentors.

Trying to engage over 30,000 alumni on limited resources was a challenge. So Keng Leong adopted the 80/20 rule. “We didn’t have resources to connect to 80% of the alumni, so we focused instead on the 20% that we thought would be grateful to engage with fellow alumni and pay it forward,” he explains. The idea of BSA Youth is for alumni to pay it forward. “Our attitude is, ‘I don’t need anything from you. If you have benefitted from our meeting, then pay it forward to the next guy.’”

The easiest way to grow roots was to connect with existing students and encourage them to take up the baton when they graduate. “We develop the youth, pick out people who are willing to get involved and bring them into the Exco,” Keng Leong explains. “We have also formed a Facebook page and that’s a fantastic platform that enables everyone to stay in touch and make new connections.”

The Connexxions events, held two times a year, have proved a great platform on which BSA Youth can engage and bring on board new students. These events consist of a talk by a guest of honour followed by a Q&A session, before participants get into mixed groups of alumni and students for a one-hour focus group discussion. In this session, alumni give advice to the students and pass on their experiences. “We did it this way because we believe that alumni are more likely to be honest and give real and useful advice in small groups than they would be on a public podium,” explains Keng Leong.

“This last event in January was the highest attendance we have seen so far, so it’s definitely growing as intended,” he says. It is his firm wish that at some point, BSA Youth will come to a “tipping point” and become a fraternity that graduating students will be dying to join.

Over the years, BSA Youth, now 300 strong, has become self-sustaining, entirely run by the students and mentored by the alumni. “I am pleased to say that I have been able to pass the baton over to Year 2 student Charles Tey Wee Chow,” affirms Keng Leong. “Now I just offer my services as I am needed but the ball is in Charles’ court to keep the momentum going.”

“I got involved when BSA Youth taught me how to network,” says Charles. “I realised after a few sessions that networking wasn’t so scary. It is really just like making friends. And these friends can open doors and create connections for you.”

But first and foremost Charles says he has benefitted from the knowledge he has gained from networking with alumni. “I’ve met alumni from many diverse industries such as Banking, IT, Sales. Over the sessions, I have explored such industries, and from alumni’s feedback I am more aware of the types of career that would suit my personality,” Charles explains. “Without this type of networking, this is something I would never have known without going out into the marketplace and perhaps making the wrong career choice.” Charles was also lucky enough to be offered an internship at one Connexxions event by an alumnus who wanted to give back. And for Keng Leong, that is what BSA Youth is all about.

Making the second half count

Han Kiat Lee (BBA 1982)

 

han_kiat_lee
Han Kian Lee (BBA 1982) is a man whose success follows two tangents. On one hand, he is the ASEAN Vice President of Sales for IBM; while on the other, he is the CEO of Halftime® Asia, an organization with the unique mission of inspiring business leaders to utilize their time and energy to contribute to meaningful pursuits in the second halves of their live.s

Learning about life and business
While Han Kiat may not remember every little event that took place during his days at NUS Business School, he fondly remembers many valuable experiences that affected his later life. He particularly remembers the enjoyment he had running a small t-shirt printing and men’s swim wear business and providing photocopying to his classmates. This entrepreneurial experience taught him much about the importance of maintaining good customer relationships.

However, the friendships that he gained at NUS were much more memorable. As a young man who ran a business in addition to attending school, Han Kiat often faced instances when he couldn’t make class. Thankfully, he had many friends who gladly shared their notes with him and kept him up to speed with any classes he could not make. “I learned the importance of having good friends, as they make tackling life’s challenges a little easier,” related Han Kiat.

Overcoming the challenges of a demanding career
The path to career success was anything but easy for Han Kiat, as his first employment opportunity saw him working a sales job at the information systems giant, IBM. “I remember I had to study much more than I did at NUS to pass the examinations set by the company,” states Han Kiat. In fact, he often related to his training manager that if he had put in the same time and effort into his university studies that he put into this company examinations, he would have received all A’s.

Despite the demanding requirements of the company, he persevered through many hardships to develop a prosperous career, learning much from his seniors within the company about what i takes to be successful. “You need to identify what you do not know or cannot do well, and then you put in the effort to learn and choose the right role to match your interests and strengths,’ advises Han Kiat.

A different kind of success
At about the time he had reached his 25th year at IBM in 2007, he was faced with profound realization that his time was now more precious than ever. Han Kiat asked himself, “Beyond my career and financial success, what else is important to me for the rest of my life?” In 2009, this question was answered when he attended a three-day workshop help by the Halftime® Organization. Through the workshop, he was able to gain clarity on his passions and his strengths, his capacity to give in terms of time and money, and where he could serve to have an enduring impact.

Taking the workshop with other like-minded professional who were asking themselves the same profound question of “what else?” stirred him to make the transition from questioning to action. Determined to bring about the completion of his transition, Han Kiat took a year off to get in touch with his own identity, detached from the identity associated with his professional career. In the course of his journey, he came to the conclusion that he should help others with their transition as well, and chose to serve at Halftime® Asia.

Helping others make the most of their “second half”
According to the Halftime® Organizations’s founder, Bob Buford, “Halftime is a pause in the middle of the game of life to reflect on our first half and who we have become, to decide what will matter in the end and to redirect our time and resources to the second half.” With this idea in mind, Han Kiat sought to encourage more Singaporeans to use their “second half” to enrich the lives of others. While philanthropy is seen as one part of this equation,  he believes that using your competencies and skills to enlighten and assist individuals is equally important.

“Writing checks to fund charities is a great thing to do, but giving your time and talents in the areas associated with your passions will give another level of personal satisfaction,” reflects Han Kiat. He believes that by applying your passions through volunteer activities where you “dirty your hands” in delivering the assistance to those less fortunate, you will learn more about “who you really are” and “what values you truly have in your heart.”

What are you doing with your “second half”?
By taking the time to converse and share his experiences with others who have wondered about what to do during the second half of their lives, Han Kiat hopes to help them find their passions and discover how they can best serve others. At Halftime® Asia, he continues to dedicate his time towards helping to convert the latent energy of Singaporeans into active participation in activities that will bring significant to the second half of their lives journeys.

“The average life expectancy of Singaporeans is 81 years, and we are much healthier, more educated and better connected globally. There is a need to channel Singapore’s pool of time, talent, and treasure to address social causes. When we do, we will live out the most meaningful part of our lives in the second half,” states Han Kiat. With many more Singaporeans starting to venture into the second halves of their lives after long, successful careers, this may be the time when they begin to make the transition from “success to significance”.

Having The Passion To Give

debbie_seah

Debbie Seah (BBA 1989) is by all accounts, the apex of the successful NUS Business School greadute who went on to achieve a prosperous, high-flying career. What makes her story different is that she chose to apply her knowledge and skill to lead an organization that is not in the business of making money, but of granting happiness.

Gaining the knowledge to succeed
Debbie counts her experience at NUS Business School as being one of the most significant and memorable stages in her life. Like many other students, she enjoyed the freedom of being able to engage in extracurricular pursuits such as hockey, squash, and Chinese Dance and actively participated in the Bizad Club. Fascinated by marketing and finance, she studied eagerly, waiting for the opportunity when she would get to apply her knowledge in the business world.

After graduation, Debbie found that opportunity at DBS Bank Ltd, where she began a successful career, rising to the position of Vice President, Branch Manager. However, this did not satisfy her definition of success. “To me, success is being content, and contentment is not possessing everything, but giving thanks for everything that you possess,” believes Debbie.

Realizing you can do more
Eleven years into her successful career at DBS, it seemed like nothing could change the professional track that she was on. However, that changed in 2003 when she read a newspaper article about a six-year-old girl who was suffering from leukemia. The article chronicled her ongoing struggle with the illness and her wish to meet the Power Puff Girls, a trio of child superheroes who fight crime. Reading further, Debbie came to know about the Make-A-Wish Foundation® (Singapore) Ltd, a charitable organization that focuses on granting wishes to children afflicted with life-threatening illnesses.

As a mother, she was truly moved by the Foundation’s compassion in fulfilling the wishes of the young girl. “Granting her wish was a wonderful thing to do for this little girl who was in need of much happiness amidst the difficulties and pain she had to endure,” explains Debbie. As she read on, she saw that the Foundation was also calling for volunteers, as it was still a relatively new organization in Singapore at the time. She signed up on that very day with the intention of bringing joy to the lives of children who suffered from serious afflictions.

Choosing a focus
Debbie became actively involved in the activities of the Foundation, taking part as a wish granter, fundraiser, event organizer and administrator. For three-and-a-half years, she dedicated immense time and energy outside of her everyday duties at DBS to further the Foundation’s efforts. In 2007, her career was at a crossroads, as the Foundation was looking for a new CEO and considered her for the position. However, her job at DBS complicated the matter. Passionate about both her job at DBS and her volunteer work with the Foundation, she struggled with her decision, but a choice had to be made.

In the end, she chose the greater of her passions, and decided to make charity a full-time effort by becoming the Foundation’s new CEO. However, there were some initial challenges to be faced. “I had no experience in running a charity, so the learning curve was steep. I primarily relied on courses provided by the Social Service Training Institute (SSTI) and through self-learning on charity and CEO leadership skills,” related Debbie. She more than made up for her lack of experience in running a charitable organization with her compassion and strong corporate experience.

Making the change
Debbie’s extensive corporate experience came into play almost immediately, as she was tasked with establishing, formalizing and implementing many internal processes, and planning the Foundation’s strategic thrust to grow the charity’s presence in Singapore. However, her job entailed more than just being the brains behind the organization, as she had to utilize her extensive people skills in a variety of contexts.

This included regular coordination with the Board administrators and staff involved with fund raising and marketing, community and public relations, program and service delivery, human resources and financial management. In addition, she also became the leading voice of the Foundation, taking every available opportunity to establish greater awareness of the Foundation’s efforts. This included developing partnerships with corporations, institutions and other charitable organizations across Singapore.

Gaining support
Transitioning from a banking career at DBS to being the Foundation’s CEO was challenging, but what enabled her to make the change from volunteer to CEO was the support of her family and her loving husband Edmund Siah (BBA 1991), who encouraged her to apply her finance, management and business development skills to the Foundation.

“Giving joy, hope and strength to children with life threatening illnesses through a wish is indeed a magical act, as the granting of these magical wishes provides a positive impact in their lives,” says Debbie. Driven by the many smiles of children who had their life-long wishes fulfilled, she continued to spread awareness of the Foundation’s effort, reaching out to local companies and corporations to raise funds.

Encouraging others to give
Debbie urges her fellow alumni to give back to society. “If you are ever presented with an opportunity to help a less fortunate person with time, talent or money, do not hesitate, because it is your chance to make a difference in that person’s life,” advises Debbie. “After all, it is always more blessed to give than to receive.”

Age is Just a Number

Yang Tseng Pu (APEX-C MBA 1999)

yang_tseng_pu_croppedMr Yang Tseng Pu is proof that age is only a number, not a barrier. Born in 1946, he obtained his Asia Pacific Executive MBA (EMBA) from the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Business School in 1999 at the age of 53.

Never too old to continue your education
An entrepreneur, Mr Yang sought an EMBA in order to become a better-rounded businessperson. He was a mechanical engineer at the time, but realizing his limitations, he signed up to take up a course at NUS Business School when it took in its first group of students.

That experience gave him a hunger for more education, and he decided to take up the EMBA course in 1998 as part of the second batch. Initially, it was very tough going for Mr Yang.

“Recalling the period I had to pick up my books to study again, especially after not studying for over 20 years was tough, but it was a worthwhile effort!” said Mr Yang. He believes that the course helped him ride out several rounds of financial crisis, economic turmoil, and a tsunami safely.

Education helped him go farther
His education also helped him with his business efforts in China. His visits to China have made him realize many of his weaknesses, and he understood the importance of relearning. After graduating from the EMBA course, with a new mindset and innovative vigor, he continued to develop his businesses in Singapore, China, and Taiwan, and even set up several new companies.

His businesses have prospered. One of his companies, Shanghai Troop Industries (STI), was awarded “China’s Best Autonomous Innovation Enterprises” in 2011. STI was formed when he was working on his EMBA in Singapore. Mr Yang was also awarded “China’s Excellent Innovative Entrepreneur 2011.” Demonstrating his clout in the mold and die industry, Mr Yang is also the Managing Director and Vice Chairman of the Shanghai Mould Industry Association and the Vice Chairman of the Shanghai Invention Association.

The company’s products have a large market in Southeast Asia. They are also very popular in Japan, Korea, and Europe. Currently, the company plans to bring some of the products now being made in China, back to Singapore for research and production.

Helping alumni and the community
Mr Yang received the NUS Business School Eminent Alumni Service Award for his many contributions to the school and its alumni network. He was also instrumental in setting up the Eastern China Alumni Network (ECAN) in Shanghai, and was elected to be its first chairman.

Under his leadership, ECAN managed to locate other Shanghai-based alumni and encouraged them to join. In addition, he helped to set up the Suzhou Alumni Network and the Jianghuai Alumni Network.

While he is no longer Chairman of ECAN, he still serves on the ECAN Advisory Committee. He also attends alumni gatherings often, and donates generously to the Hope Primary Schools on behalf of NUS Business School Alumni.

In his spare time, he enjoys a leisurely round of golf with friends, and invites alumni members to call him up for a round when they are in Shanghai – that is, if they also happen to play golf leisurely.

Despite his busy schedule, he is a devoted family man who ensures that he always has time for his loved ones, especially his three granddaughters.

To learn more about Yang Tseng Pu, click on the following link:
mms://live-vip-49.nus.edu.sg/ALL_NMG/0000271d/80/00/25/25.wmv 

From A Big Dram Comes “Little Man”

Alicia Ong (BBA 2005)

aliciaong

While many of her fellow graduate schoolmates were busy attending job interviews with financial, human resources, or consultancy agencies, Alicia Ong (BBA 2005) had set out to carve a name for herself in the fashion industry. This led to an initial stint as a freelance designer for brands like DKNY, JCrew, Wykidd Song and Club 21. However, she felt she wasn’t growing professionally, and decided to leave Club 21 for greener pastures.

This led to her first business venture in the creation of the Al & Alicia brand, which was a venture between Alicia and Ian Yeo, founder of JIAN Associates, an architecture and interior design agency. Her unique creative style, which she describes as a “slightly tomboyish look”, would grace stores in both Singapore and abroad. After years of hard work and determination, she embarked on a second successful business with the establishment of the multi-brand concept boutique called ‘Little Man’.

Redefining fashion
It all started after graduation, when Alicia pursued her passion in the fashion industry. Working and learning from renowned fashion houses, she was soon ready to open her own store and display her work. Armed with a government grant from DesignSingapore Council and a headful of ambition, she embarked on her dream. Occupying the top floor of a three-storey shophouse among Bukit Timah Road, Alicia opened her first business venture and quickly made a name for herself with her fresh, chic clothing designs.

Meeting the needs of her neighborhood
When the tenant of the first floor of the shophouse moved out, the young entrepreneur decided to take over the unit and start her second business venture. Having lived in Bukit Timah for more than ten years, Alicia knew that there was a lack of shopping malls in the area and decided to operate a business that would go some way to plugging that gap. With proceeds from her core business, her own personal funds and funds from her business partner, and supported by the experience gained from her first business, Alicia started ‘Little Man’ in December 2011. A one-stop retail lifestyle store, ‘Little Man’ carries everything from clothing to home accessories, books and magazines to fashion accessories, catering to people of all ages in the neighborhood. It even has home-made popsicles! While not long open, ‘Little Man’ has fast become a regular place for families in the Bukit Timah area to shop.

Overcoming uncertainty
Starting out was not easy. In spite of her great determination and talent, Alicia was initially very nervous and apprehensive about running her own business. “There were too many things to consider”, she recalls, “such as capital, sustainability of the business, feasibility…the list was too long.” Drawing on the skills garnered from her degree, particularly its Finance component, Alicia pored over business plans, did countless break-even analyses and considered potential problems from every angle. “Planning and strategizing are very important, and one must look into the long-term future of at least five year ahead,” she advises. “For those starting out, I would say, when you make mistakes, learn from them and don’t be afraid or you’ll never get far.”

This entrepreneurial spirit she took from her father, also a businessman, who shared what he could of his experience to help her realize her dream. Strong support from the rest of her family and her friends also contributed to her eventual success.

An on-going challenge
Even now, with two successful businesses, Alicia still faces a multitude of challenges daily, one of which is hiring people for ‘Little Man’. She is finding it hard to recruit Gen Y, who look for the challenging combination of high pay and short working hours, but endeavors to find staff by investigating different avenues through which to attract the right people.

Alicia is also faced with the tiring task of sourcing for new items to stock her shop with. “Seventy per cent of my products are imported, so I have to spend hours on Skype and browsing Web sites to select the best merchandise,” she explains. For her local items, she meets up with vendors, participates in trade shows and attends exhibitions as a buyer to source the best and most interesting brands and products. With so many things on her plate, Alicia does a great job of juggling it all by practicing good time management, another skill she picked up in her NUS undergraduate studies.

But her greatest worry is marketing her store and creating awareness. “Even though I have a steady stream of customers, I still want to make ‘Little Man’ known to more people”, she explains. Currently, besides the shop’s Web site (http://www.shoplittleman.com) Alicia has been employment the use of social media such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to spread the word around. ‘Little Man’ has also been covered by the media and the press through write-ups, and her loyal customers contribute through word-of-mouth.

Looking forward
Alicia has big plans for ‘Little Man’. She hopes to strengthen the brand name and be able to extend its influence past Bukit Timah. In the shorter term, she hopes to expand the current shop so that she can offer more products, and the long-term plan is to expand Little Man globally.

Life’s Learning Journey

 Linda Loo (BBA 2000)

lindaloo

As an alumna from BBA 2000, Linda Loo’s working life since graduation has been an inspiring journey but not because she overcame hardship to attain financial success as a bank executive as she originally intended. It is inspiring because she overcame a life-changing health crisis that challenged her perception of “well-being”, leading her down a new path in life and inspiring her to start her own company called Light, Love, Laughter Academy.

An early working life
Linda has been independent ever since she left home at 14 after her parents’ separation. Her situation gave her a desire to achieve success through a strong education. However, with little money to support her studies, she worked to earn what she could from any part-time job available to students, as she related: “When I knew there was no money to support me in my studies at home, I made up my mind to work for it myself.” At NUS Business School, she could work during the day, study all night, take examinations and then go to work afterwards. Work helped her pay for books, food and lodging.

Focused on attaining financial success
Her desire to be financially successful led her to conduct Internet searches on which industry had the highest-paying jobs, which was the banking industry, and this influenced her to enter the NUS BBA program from 1997 to 2000. Upon graduating, she began work as a bank executive and within three years, she was making three times the income of her peers.

Life in the fast lane
Linda finally had the money and lifestyle that she could only dream about as a young teen. Money brought shopping excursions, expensive meals, hard alcohol and anything else she desired.

Her working life was equally excessive, as she would go without sleep for days while sustaining herself on cigarettes and junk food. When the stress of her job and life eventually caught up with her, she would drink hard liquor every other night she didn’t work.

Health crisis due to a fast lifestyle
When Linda turned 26, she became sick not just on a physical level, but on an emotional one as well. Her lifestyle led to problems with her menstrual cycle. After being prescribed hormone pills for her condition, she developed eczema, a persistent skin condition that made her life insufferable. “The rashes were a source of torture and agony through many nights,” Linda recalls, “and not long after my diagnosis, I learned that I had liver damage as well.”

Just as she had researched which profession to pursue, Linda investigated the relationship between beauty, skin health and internal health to find answers for her condition. Her research led her to the conclusion that diet played a key role in beauty and health.

The epiphany
She discovered the concept of “living” or “raw” foods, which are fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds that are uncooked, leaving their full nutritional value intact. Adopting this diet, she noticed that her skin improved, her hair was more lustrous and her energy level was higher. The diet also improved her mental clarity and consciousness.

The health “alarm bell” that rang during her health crisis led her to discover raw foods, but it also reminded her of the health dangers she averted. “I am saddened to say that I have friends who lived the hedonistic lifestyle”, Linda says, “who are now battling life-threatening diseases like cancer.”

Spreading her health message through business
Raw foods not only impacted her health but her business pursuits as well. She trained as a raw gourmet chef in Boston with Alyssa Cohen, become a raw foods teacher and coach. As she explains: “When I experienced the phenomenal healing that my body went through with living foods, I felt that it would be irresponsible of me to keep the secret to myself.”

Upon coming back to Singapore in 2006, she made it her mission to teach people about the mental and physical health benefits of raw foods. From teaching classes at her condominium to her block neighbors to having celebrities like Wong Li Lin in attendance, her journey has been one success after another.

With the creation of the Light, Love, Laughter Academy, she hopes to grow an entire community of health-conscious individuals who will lead happy and vibrant lives. With a location at Cluny Court and plans for additional locations, Linda is looking ahead to empowering others to take their health into their own hands.

Exhibiting Natural Talent

 

marcus_lim

Marcus Lim Way Voon (BBA 1993) recently held his first photography and digital art exhibition, an event that had its roots back in his childhood. His passion for the Arts emerged in his school days, where he often found himself top of the Art class. But as it came time to select his degree course, his parents wanted him to pursue a broader education than Arts. Marcus enrolled in NUS Business School, his first choice of study. He was able to maintain a tenuous link to his passion by majoring in Advertising and Marketing, where creativity comes into play in branding and marketing communications.

Facing insurmountable challenges
His time in Bizad was one of the toughest periods of his life. When most students were care-free and enjoying campus life and exploring new interests, Marcus had to cope with the terminal illness of his mother. As a result, it was hard for him to give full concentration to his studies or get involved in the normal aspects of student life. He recalls the worst time was during his third-year examinations, when his mother was hospitalized in critical condition. He nearly gave it up. His mother passed on right upon his convocation.

Venturing into business
Following graduation, Marcus took over his family business and converted it into a franchise business, becoming one of the first 100 franchisees in Singapore in the process. The business was later sold.

Eventually Marcus found his way back to working in the creative industry. In 1998, when he felt he had gained enough experience in the field, he combined his love for the arts and the business acumen and set up his own design house, Ease Communications. He feels that his BBA training has given him an advantage. “Many designers go into business but fail because running a business requires more than just being good in one thing.” However he is careful that while he is still running the business, he keeps his hand in the creative side as well.

“Running your own business, you can lose touch as an artist unless you remain hands-on,” warns Marcus. To keep up with the demands of his web and desktop publishing business, Marcus practices many subjects such as photography. “Having the passion and knowledge in photography allows me to explore feasible creative direction for the shoots.”

4 Seasons 5 Elements – A Photography & Digital Art Exhibition
Marcus’ Photography and Digital Art Exhibition entitled 4 Seasons 5 Elements was held at the Japan Creative Centre from 1-15 June 2012. On display were 60 photographs and five digital art pieces. Most of the photos were nature shots taken by Marcus over his many visits to Japan. The message of his exhibition was also one of preservation. “When you look at nature, you see only the surface, not realizing that Earth is sick. Are we giving nature its due attention?” He was grateful to his corporate sponsors and the Japan Creative Centre for their strong support of his exhibition.

Asked about achieving a great picture, Marcus revealed that there is a fine line between being a good technician, i.e. knowing the techniques, and being an outstanding artist, possessing the X factor. For Marcus, having the X factor is crucial, but it’s not enough. You still have to practice your art and be open to on-going learning.

Giving back through education
For Marcus, it’s important to give back through education, which is why he was been an Adjunct Lecturer at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) for the past six years. He is currently lecturer the Arts Education modules with the Department of Arts Management & Education. He was motivated to take up this challenge because he wanted to instill the right mindset in art students so that they can be prepared to face the real world.

Marcus believes it takes years of working experience for one’s artistic skills to mature. “It’s a lifelong learning process really. You must never be contented so that you will strive to do better and to keep up with times,” Marcus adds. His advice to upcoming art students is to have a passion for what you do and this will drive your learning. Marcus’ story is testament to that.

 

Link to his website
http://www.ease.com.sg/4s5e/index.html

Link to his Facebook page
www.facebook.com/4Seasons5Elements#