There are leaders in every field and although the nature of the trade might differ vastly, each leader shares a common set of traits, such as perseverance and innovation. These similar characteristics and beliefs are what bond entrepreneurial leaders – they understand the importance of seeking opportunity amid uncertainty, building a network, going beyond the call of duty and empowering with their vision.
Today’s society has developed in such a way that it encourages us to be who we want to be, offering us various platforms to showcase our talents, especially in the virtual world of online communities. However, at the same time, today’s society is increasingly turbulent and competitive; hence it is vital to hold on to your goals and keep the motivation strong.
Last week, I had the opportunity to listen to four professionals in their own fields from the public sector, academia, music and environment:
1) Professor Hum Sin Hoon, NUS Business School deputy dean
2) Ms Susan Chong, CEO of Greenpac Singapore
3) Mr Quek Ling Kiong, Associate Conductor of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra
4) Minister Chan Chun Sing, Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sport; and Minister of State for Information, Communication and the Arts
Held at the University Cultural Centre at the National University of Singapore (NUS), this “Mastering Entrepreneurial Leadership” seminar was organised by the PMET Division of the People’s Association (PA) and the NUS Business School’s Centre for Strategic Leadership and attended by 150 people.
Between the four of them, the emphasis for successful entrepreneurship was on collaboration, innovation, education and adaptability.
1) Zheng He’s Art of Collaboration – Understanding the legendary Chinese admiral from a management perspective
Associate Professor Hum Sin Hoon, deputy dean of NUS Business School, gave us a brief introduction to Zheng He’s Art of Collaboration (the book he authored) and how we can draw management lessons from the Chinese admiral. He specialises in operations and supply chain management, and mathematical analytics, thus he was initially hesitant to engage in research on Zheng He when he was approached to write a book about the Chinese admiral. However, after doing some initial read-ups on Zheng He, he was fascinated by how he managed to communicate with his massive fleets and troops in the old days where there weren’t technologies like walkie-talkies or handphones.
There is a lot of existing literature material about Zheng He’s voyages – historical, cultural, diplomatic aspects – but what Prof. Hum did was to go in dept into Zheng He’s mission’s objectives and strategies employed in the direction of management and applying it to the business context of today’s society. He then applied his research findings in business affairs and extended Zheng He’s spirit of good faith and co-operation to develop a concept of Art of Collaboration (AoC) in contrast to Sun Zi’s Art of War (AoW).
Business leaders used Sun Zi’s AoW about warfare to overcome competitors or enemies with deception, aggression, antagonism and colonisation, resulting in a win-lose situation. Zheng He’s AoW however, pursues peace and a win-win collaborative paradigm – a modern approach to doing business in today’s 21st century. As an alternative to the aggressive and antagonistic mindset inherent in Sun Zi’s AoW, AoC is more of “Know your collaborators, know yourself”, rather than “Know your enemies, know yourself” in AoW.
2) Eco-innovative Solution and Services
A knowledge-based company specialising in re-engineering, designing and distributing innovative, environmentally-friendly packaging and products, Greenpac Singapore was founded in 2002 by Ms Susan Chong and has since grown into a multi-million-dollar business. CEO Ms Chong’s husband was in the packaging line and many felt that it was a sunset industry. She however, saw something else that the rest didn’t and her think-out-of-the-box creativity led her to today’s success.
Constantly innovating, she stresses how it is important to keep re-designing and re-engineering to suit the changing preferences and needs of the world. Her green formula is simple and straightforward – To increase eco-efficiency, increase economical value and reduce ecological impact. In basic terms, it is value creation in increasing benefit and reducing cost. Applying mathematical regression to her green solutions and products, she has helped large multi-national organisations save cost and at the same time contribute to environmental sustainability. Innovation is a necessity she reiterates, a requisite for progress and not a luxury.
3) Learning Journey of Traditional Chinese Music – Belief in Art Brings Good and Joy in Sharing and Learning
Mr Quek Ling Kiong, associate conductor of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, conductor for the Singapore Youth Chinese Orchestra, artistic director of the Percussion Assembly and adjunct teacher at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, believes strongly in the value of art in education. Having received the Young Artist Award by the National Arts Council in 2002, Mr Quek is actively involved in nurturing the younger generation with music.
Art is a way of reaching out to people and a recent project he piloted was by using Chinese drums to help a group of autistic youths. Revealing that he was a rebellious child as a student, he credits Chinese music for getting him back on the right track, leading him to help youths of today. His experience and transformation for the better serve as a motivation for him to connect music with therapy and use it to give back to the society by helping the behaviour of others as it saved him.
During the question and answer session moderated by Richard Avery, head of the NUS Business School’s Centre for Strategic Leadership, Minister Chan elaborated on the leadership our Government requires in balancing the pressures of the ‘here and now’ with the concerns of the future. To maintain its relevance to the rest of the world, especially the huge cities with long established histories, Singapore can be a connector, a hub that offers new dimension. Not seeking to conquer, Singapore is not a threat to anybody but instead aims to be a marketplace of ideas.
In closing, Professor Bernard Yeung, the dean and Stephen Riady distinguished professor of NUS Business School, pointed out how the speakers of the event all possessed one thing – curiosity. It is this inquisitiveness that drove them out of their comfort zones, out of familial areas to do the things that they did and achieve success as a result.
Although the speakers come from backgrounds that I am not all that familiar with, their spirit and mindset are definitely applicable to me in life and work.
For photos of the event, view the album on the PMET Network Facebook page here.