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Speech by Mr Tony Khoo, Chief Executive Officer, E M Services Pte Ltd, at the SIM University Convocation 2016

13 Oct 2016

Professor Aline Wong, Chancellor, SIM University;
Professor Cheong Hee Kiat, President, SIM University;
Graduands, parents, families, distinguished guests, Ladies and gentlemen.

A very good afternoon to all!

First of all, my heartiest congratulations to all the graduands as well as the parents here today!

Standing here, looking at you brings me back memories some 30 years ago. I will consolidate my 30 years of corporate life into ten minutes and package them into three life lessons for you to take away.

The convocation was a major milestone in my life. I graduated with first class in engineering. I was on top of the world, felt invincible and beamed with energy. In my mind, I could do anything I wanted to. No mountain was too high and no ocean was too deep for me to conquer. I am sure you have the same feeling too here now.

But soon, reality set in. The real world out there was harsher than I thought. Competition was a lot fiercer than I expected. Suddenly, I realised smart people were everywhere.

For your information, I was a Malaysian boy studying in the land of long white clouds, a country where the number of sheep is ten times the population. That country is New Zealand.

When I graduated, the country was in a recession. Jobs were hard to come by and preference was for locals. So, I packed my bag and off I went to chase my dream in another land of opportunity. I landed in Singapore in 1993 and on my very first day, I was offered a job and started work the next day. Singapore has since been my home.

So life lesson one – Be bold. Get out of your comfort zone. Pack your bag and go chase your pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Opportunities don’t come to you.  

I changed job three times since and finally stayed ten years with a company which was called PREMAS when I joined, was renamed UGL when I left and now it has adopted a Christian name called Cushman & Wakefield!

In the ten years, I volunteered myself to all calls of duties and challenges. I was driven by the CEO then, Mr Anthony Seah’s credo of: “If you build something from something, it is something. But, if you build something out of nothing, it is nothing like it!”

In my first role as Deputy Director of Strategic Business Unit, I sniffed out under-value companies to buy. Along the way, I recommended the need to acquire and develop an enterprise IT system for the facility management business. I ended up starting and heading a new IT unit to self-develop the software. Whilst heading the IT unit, I initiated a new energy management business and eventually ran that business unit too. Later, I moved to the corporate marketing unit to penetrate into new and unknown markets and territories. When I thought I was settling down well, I was tasked to take over the engineering business. I finally left UGL as Deputy MD of the facilities management business unit.

So, sometimes, you don’t need to change company to change job.

Those ten years were probably the best management training I could ever have gotten as I was exposed to all aspects of running a business, managing demanding customers and handling difficult people and tricky situations. The holistic on-the-job training really gave me the invaluable experience and set a solid foundation for me as a CEO today.

Like Apple’s Steve Jobs, he was trying out many things before he made it big with Apple. One of those early things was to study the art of beautiful writing and calligraphy. That is why Apple today has such beautiful typography. In his commencement address to Stanford undergraduates in 2005, he said, “Those dots did not make sense at that point in time, but now when I look back, those dots connect and they all suddenly make good sense.”

His key message was: “Stay hungry, stay foolish”. 

So, my life lesson two – Be hungry, be foolish. Try anything, do everything. Don’t be afraid to fail. Someday, it will all suddenly make good sense.

With your new qualification, some of you may be looking at changing job after this. Some of you may want to join a Statutory Board or an Authority. If you do so, be empathetic, be understanding. Some of you may want to join a large company or a multi-national. To your smaller competitors or SMEs, be helpful, be friendly. Some of you will become bosses. Be kind, be generous. Some of you will make it big one day. That’s great!

Remember to be grateful to UniSIM, to your family, and to the society. Most of all, be humble. If you don’t make it, don’t despair. Go back to my life lesson number two – be hungry, be foolish, try again.

So, life is a journey with many destinations. Today, I am CEO of a company and a President of an association. But, I still have much to do and to contribute back especially to the industry and to the society. I should not see only what I am now but what I can be in the future. Then, the journey is more meaningful for me and for all.

Life lesson three – See not what you are now but what you will be tomorrow. And for the better you will grow.

So, to wrap it all up, my three life lesson packages for you to take away are:

Life lesson one – Be bold. Pack your bag and go chase your dream. Opportunities don’t come knocking on you. 

Life lesson two – Be hungry, be foolish. Try anything, do everything. One day, it will make sense.

Life lesson three – See not what you are now but what you will be tomorrow. And the better you will grow.

To all the graduands, my heartiest congratulations again! I wish you all an exciting and successful journey ahead.

Thank you.

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