Kean Lau

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“Why do you think it’s the right time to complete an MBA programme?”

I was asked by the Career Consultant, Ceri Willmott, during my Global Online MBA interview. I replied that the right time is always “now”.

Over the last decade, I have had an exciting career path, which led me from one place to another. I started my career as a field engineer, based in Saudi Arabia, before moving to into an operation management role.

I spent half a decade in the location, before being offered for an internal transfer to join a management consulting business unit, where I stayed for three years. Although I was officially based in Singapore, my responsibilities covered South East Asia, which allowed me to travel within the region frequently. Later, I moved on to pick up a role as an account manager in Malaysia. After that, I joined another European Company to work in regional sales for another two years.

I am currently a product manager of a paper manufacturing company, a multi-billion dollar private company. My portfolio covers global product management, positioning and strategy, my role requires intensive travelling across Asia, and Middle East countries.

I always knew that my career goal is to manage a P&L (profit & loss) business portfolio. Despite the years of working experience, I recognised an opportunity to further elevate my career towards my goal – and it was to attend a formalised and structured education system.

Studying the Imperial Global Online MBA programme allows me to achieve that without compromising my career progression. The programme comprises all the good factors about receiving a world-class education. It allows me to attend my modules at any location and any time, hence, it suits anyone with tight schedule perfectly. It has on-campus electives where I can expand my network worldwide, and not just limited to the region I reside in.

Beyond the core and electives modules, the Business School has a dedicated Careers team to support its students for any career-related enquiries. The programme also provides career development courses on emotional intelligence, personal branding and more, which I find interesting and useful.

My Interview a Leader Project

On the Personal Leadership Journey which is part of the Careers module, the Interview a Leader Assignment provided me with a platform to have a formal discussion with Mr Bey Soo Khiang on the topic of leadership. Our conversation has changed my perspective on the definition of success entirely.

I chose to interview an industry leader who I would benefit from the session, on the leadership topic. Mr Bey, as many would describe, kind and willing to spare an hour, from his tight schedule for the discussion.

Leadership lessons with Mr Bey Soo Khiang

“Do you want to be significant or to be successful?” I was asked by Mr Bey. It was the feedback I received when I sought career advice during our leadership interview session for the project. From his point of view, “success” is merely a by-product of being significant (to the society and people around us) first.

Mr Bey was a military veteran turned successful business senior executive. He started his career with the Singapore government military. In his 26 year career with the government, he held the position as Chief of Air Force and Chief of Defence before he moved to the commercial aviation industry. He spent about a decade with Singapore Airlines, held senior management positions before he moved to RGE Group, a forestry company, as the Vice Chairman (and Chairman of APRIL Pte Ltd, a subsidiary company of the RGE Group).

Leadership starts at setting the right vision. It follows with series of actions, to ensure the right resources (both in capacity and capability) deliver within the targeted timeframe. It does not end at setting a vision, but action follows. Unlike the role of managers, leadership often embraces change.

The five core ‘C’ values

One of the big topic, which Mr Bey is working on, is overseeing a Corporate Social Responsibility project. Community, Climate, Country, Customer, Company are the five core ‘C’ values his team hold close to heart in delivering the project. Under his leadership, he often challenges the project team on the net gain value. Will this option produce the maximum net gain value? Was the selected channel aligned with the company’s objective?

For one project under his large portfolio, the decision on fund allocation for community was based on controllability and visibility of the implementation. “We choose to fund local community projects because we can oversee the implementation throughout, ensuring every penny is spent wisely and brings real impact to the community… we do it at a town level,” he said. By going to the ground level, the allocated resources could be managed better to ensure effectiveness and efficiencies in converting resources (funds and allocated manpower) to optimum returns, including building schools, enhancing community environment, creating jobs, etc.

Secondly, his effort also includes public communication. Contributing to society via five Cs framework may not be the best framework, from a public communication point of view. With the current Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) framework adopted by many global organisations, it is wise to align with a known framework. KPI, work scopes, the depth of work, etc. are standardised, it eases communicating with the other parties. Hence, streamlining the five Cs effort into the SDG framework would enable common understanding and transparency.

“Leaders are scarce these days”, says Mr Bey. While a few multinational companies were discussed, Mr Bey views that some are well managed yet lack leadership. He said some are ruled by fear, instead of motivations. A well-managed company could do well in the commercial world, but with the right leadership in place, the company is set to go further. Good leadership is crucial in any organisation and it is to set the corporate culture. You do not want your employees to come to the office because they have to. You want them coming to the office because they want to because they have a purpose.

As Mr Bey has worked with a government-linked organisation, a multinational company and now with a family business, he views switching industries during the career journey as not as tough as it appears. “Adding value is the key, we should not be concerned about being niche or not,” he said while discussing if switching industry during mid-career is a good idea. He argues it is about the value we could bring to an organisation. As leaders are scarce, the value right leadership brings will not be limited by being niche in an industry.

At the end of session we exchanged views on topics beyond the discussed above.

Mr Bey Soo Khiang is definitely an experienced leader in both how he described it, in commercial and non-commercial industries. I am thankful that I was given this opportunity to have a fruitful conversation with him.

Lau and Bay

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About Kean Mun