13th CEO Unplugged – The Way Ahead!

Hsieh Hu Fua, CEO of the Singapore Stock Exchange, and Owen Ow, CEO Yeo Hiap Seng (Malaysia) Bhd, were guest speakers at the 13th Edition of CEO Unplugged at the NUS Business School. 

The 2007 edition of CEO Unplugged may have started off on a low-note, when we heard that Mr. Jonathan Larsen, CEO, Citibank Singapore would not be joining the event, but once things got started, we were completely captivated by what we heard from the other two CEO guest speakers. Everyone in the audience, who I am sure each cherished a dream of becoming a CEO, was all ears.

Mr. Hsieh Hu Fua, CEO SGX (Singapore Stock Exchange), was the first to get unplugged. In case you are wondering about ‘unplugged’, this event was formatted like the Oprah Show. So, it was more of a personal interaction as an individual, than about vision, mission and strategy. Mr. Hsieh started off in a very interesting note about his first class at the NUS Business School long time ago. This was about modeling the entire management theory using cycling as an analogy. His lecturer spoke about balance, coordination, moving ahead and all other aspects, he said. Interestingly, he left his first class with a negative impression of what lay ahead. Mr. Hsieh kept the audience in a lighter mood all the time. He spoke about how critical it is to be a global person and become a part of the global talent pool which is what companies look for these days. While revealing himself as a lazy person who never had a long-term plan for himself, he was being very frank and laid the connecting platform really well. He mentioned that his greatest fear would be letting down people. His experiences during the early days and the struggles he had gone through carried a strong message to the audience as did his firm note on ‘never-say-die’ attitude which he said is needed for any CEO.

Mr. Owen Ow, CEO Yeo Hiap Seng (Malaysia) Bhd, was the next CEO whom we got to hear from. He had an entirely different personality. He never had a tertiary degree which made it an uphill task for him to find a job. He started off as a mechanic and through a contact he got there, was able to break into a job – that of a delivery boy! But once he was in, he knew exactly where he wanted to go. ‘CEO by 35’ was his mission and he went through a lot of experiences in getting to his mission. Nevertheless, he was there by 32. He was always inspired by successful people, he said. He talked not only about his multi-national experiences with Bristol Myers, Sara Lee & Danone, but also about his flash wedding, his family and his children. His message was from the Adidas tagline that goes ‘impossible is nothing’ and his greatest fear was disappointment (in not achieving what he intended to). He spoke passionately about losing battles on the way, which he said was acceptable, but focusing and ultimately winning the war. Sharing incidents like being rejected for a job since he was short and wore glasses, he kept the audience smiling all the time.

There were some good questions from the floor towards the end which brought out specific and inspiring answers from the CEOs. We wanted to ask more and hear more. But we ran out of time. However, we got a lot of ideas that we could think about as we looked at the road ahead. We were more confident about finding the right way!