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Chris Burton, Managing Director of Vistra Group

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Chris Burton has enjoyed a life working internationally. He is now Managing Director of Vistra Group in Singapore and Malaysia.

What’s your story?
I am the Managing Director of Singapore and Malaysia at Vistra Group. Vistra is one of the top 3 independent corporate services providers globally. Born and raised in the UK, I was always interested in working internationally. I secured my first role, a junior position in Nottingham with NatWest UK (now RBS Group) in 1982, aged 18. I spent most of my career with the bank, moving from the UK to Gibraltar, to Hong Kong, then Jersey, Channel Islands. I joined Vistra in Jersey in 2010 and have been working for its Singapore office since 2015.

What excites you most about your industry?
Well, on paper, corporate services does not look very sexy! It is an administrative compliance business. Having said that though, appearances can be deceptive. First, there is a huge amount of industry consolidation, acquisitions and disposals. Our own company grew 10 times from 350 people in 2010, to 3,500 people today. There have been ground-breaking industry shifts, such as the anti-offshore backlash after the GFC, the introduction of automatic tax exchange legislation, and initiatives to deter tax avoidance (such as the OECD’s BEPS regulations). All these have had huge impacts on our industry. Now we have digitisation and AI which will massively change the way our services are delivered. Never a dull moment! Although the occasional one might be nice…

What’s your connection to Asia?
I love Asia! Such a fascinating place, so dynamic and full of entrepreneurial people. I have had two spells working here. First, I joined Coutts’ Hong Kong office in September 1996, saw their wealth management business expand massively, against a very volatile macro background (China taking back Hong Kong, Asia economic crisis, Russian debt crisis, Y2k, tech boom and bust). Then came SARS in Hong Kong in 2003: I got the 7 year itch, and went back to Europe. I came back to Singapore in 2015 and am facing another set of opportunities and challenges. Our headcount has more than doubled since I arrived, showing how much potential there is here, and how determined we are to grow our leading position in Asia.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore, it’s the best. The most stable politically, it is transparent, no corruption and it has a strong legal framework underpinning business. Physically, it is small and it is very easy to get around, and everything and everyone are easily accessible: the airport is also a major hub and it is so easy to get just about anywhere. It is always looking to the future, ways to make the island better using new technologies and constantly innovating. We have some great entrepreneurs here backed up by a first-class international professional community. It is the place to start in Asia for companies expanding from other parts of the world.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“There is very little that is pure black or pure white – 99% of the world is grey.” As a young man, I thought it was always important to state my opinion and battle for it if I thought I was right. I felt the pursuit of right-ness was an objective in itself. But I learnt quickly that not everyone wanted to hear my opinion, and whether I won an argument was not really very important at all. It is far more important what others think, when it comes to getting things done. Better to listen to them, steer the discussion, and encourage them to help meet your objectives. Most discussions can lead to agreements that are win-win, or worst case, compromises where no-one loses too much. Of course, on some matters of ethics and legality there can be no movement, but these are the exceptions rather than the rules. Most things can be handled cordially and respectfully.

Who inspires you?
I do not have a single “guru” who inspires me on everything. In this “Twitter” generation, we are all bombarded by multiple flashes of information every day from many different sources. Inspiration can come from anywhere and anyone. I try to read different points of view on the same topic, and make my own mind up. For example, reading the US and Chinese media over the recent trade spat is really interesting, as they obviously approach the issue from different angles. Watching my two sons growing and developing is also fascinating and inspiring. It helps me keep the connection with how young people are feeling about the world.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I am finding the Facebook story mind-blowing. This company has grown from a quaint idea at college to a massive company holding the data of over 2bn people. The well-intentioned vision of the company has been compromised by malicious actors and a lack of maturity on data protection of its users. This has led me to explore how much data about me these large tech companies have collected, and what they are doing with it. It really is quite amazing what they know about us. They say that Facebook knows more about us than our spouses do, after just 300 likes!

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I am pleased to say, nothing. Of course, like everyone, I would love to have invented something like Facebook and be sitting on a nice big superyacht, but that happens to only a few of us. If anything, looking back, a long career in a bank gave some great job security but I missed the chance to take a risk and do something more entrepreneurial when I was younger. Then the family came along, and job security became more important, so by then, it was too late. My advice to budding entrepreneurs is to take your risks while you are young, and can afford to make mistakes as you learn. I have had a great career working in some fantastic locations but probably could have taken even a few more risks along the way.

How do you unwind?
We all have that moment where we just want to be away for a little while from our busy schedule. For me, I hit the gym to decompress and get a good cardio workout. It is important not to let stress get on top of you.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Hong Kong. It seems odd to say that about such a frenetic city! But I do really enjoy going back there, catching up with colleagues and old friends, and hanging out around the old haunts from my time there in the nineties. I find it relaxing because it is the most familiar city for me in Asia outside my home in Singapore.

Everyone in business should read this book:
“Alchemy of Finance” by George Soros. Soros is dubbed as “The Man who Moves Markets” and remains an important actor in the financial community even today. The book provides great insights into understanding financial markets and Soros’ mindset on the world.

Shameless plug for your business:
Vistra is one of the world’s top 3 independent corporate services providers. We provide services to major corporations, SMEs, high-net-worth individuals and any other organisations or individuals that need help incorporating or managing a company in many jurisdictions worldwide. We can help with just about any query around structuring.

How can people connect with you?
If you have interesting industry-related developments or more general articles of interest, see you on LinkedIn:
https://www.linkedin.com/in/chris-burton-vistra/

Twitter handle?
@burto01

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

Callum Connects

Norman Tien, Founder of Neuromath and Early Math Matters

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From a young age, Norman Tien, found his passion helping students as a math tutor and went on to translate that into a successful business.

What’s your story?
From the age of 14, I knew I would be in business for myself and started designing my company logo.

Growing up in a poor family, I worked part time while I was in school. That’s when I started tutoring and realised I had a gift to help students “see” mathematics. I delivered good results, and my students started to love math as well.

A turning point was when I was down with dengue fever and I realised I had to grow my business to the next level. I started a learning centre and that was the beginning of Neuromath. The initial years were tough as costs went up while my personal income took a dive. I almost gave up, but I pushed through.

Today, we have 3 specialty math enrichment centres managed and delivered by my dedicated team of teachers.

What excites you most about your industry?
“How to win” has always influenced how I position myself in the industry. I researched the psychology of learning, why some students are so naturally good at math, while others struggled. I managed to find the connection, and have always sought out niches to position myself so I can win.

In the beginning, I fused academic delivery with psychology to differentiate my services. Now I have a good team of teachers fully equipped with a psychological skillset.

In the next evolution of our business, we will incorporate technology into education in order to customise each student’s learning experience based on his or her needs.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and educated in Singapore. One key driver why I started a business was, as a youth, I witnessed how my dad struggled daily as a taxi driver trying to make ends meet.

That said, I am very blessed to be in Singapore and to be given the right education. I see this as a very important factor to my success today.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore – well, for one, most of my businesses are here. Singapore is convenient for business and is very well governed. There are rules and systems that make the entire entrepreneurial journey more secure here. One big plus is the location: Singapore is a hub that allows us to connect to the world.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
船到桥头自然直 –
There is a Chinese saying that when a boat goes near the pier, it will automatically align itself (with the current). It means we don’t have to worry too much, that things will take care of themselves.

A mentor once challenged me: “But who can guarantee you can even reach the pier?”

It is such a highly competitive world we are in, who can guarantee success? This is the ONE question that has been etched in my mind for decades. The Chinese saying always comes to mind when I am positioning, designing and strategizing for my business.

Who inspires you?
Mr. Lee Kuan Yew – The fact that he started ruling the country just like a startup. With limited resources, he was able to find a strong positioning to differentiate his country from the rest of the of Asia. With hardwork and proper planning, he transformed Singapore from a fishing village to a prominent financial hub in Asia.

Because Mr. Lee Kuan Yew positioned Singapore so well, government owned companies, such as Singapore Airlines, have emerged as the best in the world.

His story inspires me, spurs me to understand that success is not by chance but by design – every little step, all the strategies are all planned out. Not at all by chance.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
My business coach, Marshall Thurber, shared with me the power of the “Trim Tab” – a small part of the rudder system in a ship. This Trim Tab, despite its small size, is able to influence the entire ship’s direction by turning it.

This metaphor helped me see that a man can influence the entire world if the right effort is applied. We are now living in an entirely new world, the way we commute with an app on the phone – that’s the power of the Trim Tab at work.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would embark on the same journey but I would seek a mentor at a very early age.

I have been through many hard knocks along the way, and I definitely could have shortened the learning curve if I had a mentor to advise me on the many aspects of entrepreneurship.

How do you unwind?
Driving down long highways helps me unwind, that’s when I let my mind relax and wander.

I love long distance driving and riding. My wife gave me a Harley Davidson Tourer for my 50th birthday and we intend to embark on riding holidays together in Asia.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Hong Kong – I love the fast pace and the vibrance of the city. I love the cars there and it’s a very unique and exciting experience for me. And of course, I love the food there too!

Everyone in business should read this book:
One Minute Millionaire – this book highlights the mindset of an individual that is the key determinant for success in whatever we embark on. As long as we know we have a very strong reason why we need to do it, we can do it!

Shameless plug for your business:
I am the CEO and Founder of 2 Math enrichment brands:
Neuromath is a Specialist Math Learning Centre that helps students from Primary 1 to Junior College, empowering them with strategies, skills and a strong desire to learn and problem solve. We use technology to train students to avoid careless mistakes reclaiming 30 marks or more in Math exams and achieve their full potential in math.
www.neuromath.com.sg

Early Math Matters is a premier Mathematics and Cognitive Development enrichment centre for preschool children aged 3-6 years old. Through purposeful play and our renowned EMM approach, we help learners build a strong foundation for problem solving at an early age, and instil in them a passion & love for math that will stay with them for life.
www.earlymathmatters.com

We are actively seeking passionate teachers, entrepreneurs and investors who are keen to grow the education business with us.

How can people connect with you?
I speak regularly at workshops for schools, parents and platforms demonstrating the use of technology for peak performance in education.

Do contact me at
www.NormanTien.com

Alternatively, you can connect with me:
www.NormanTien.com/facebook
www.NormanTien.com/linkedin

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Callum Connects

Mikyung Kim, TV Commercial Producer

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Mikyung Kim is a savvy producer who runs her own TV and print production business, based in Hong Kong.

What’s your story?
I am a TV commercial and print producer working with advertising agencies and brands to bring their communication needs to the screen. My background is in film production and I started my career in Hollywood working with Oscar winning directors Michel Gondry and Alejandro González Iñárritu. Before starting my own company last year to produce content directly with agencies and brands, I was with Ogilvy & Mather Hong Kong for nearly five years as the Senior Producer and Head of TV running the film production department.

What excites you most about your industry?
How it’s constantly evolving! Every day is different and it’s certainly never boring. I love that it’s a creative industry and that my job involves talking to people with creative minds on how we can bring a story on paper to life. It’s exciting that the advertising industry places high value on the creativity and effectiveness of content. I’ve produced a few commercials that creatively push the envelope with fun and sometimes wild ideas that have converted into positive brand awareness. Ever heard of KFC Finger Lickin’ Good…Nail Polish that yes, tastes like chicken? https://www.adweek.com/creativity/kfc-just-made-edible-finger-lickin-good-nail-polish-yeah-tastes-chicken-171245/

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in Seoul and raised in Hong Kong until graduating from high school at HKIS. I spent my university years in Boston at Emerson College and worked in Los Angeles at Anonymous Content and Partizan Entertainment. But on a brief visit back to Hong Kong in 2010, I decided to move back and continue my career here, and it was the best decision I ever made.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hong Kong is my home so it will always be my favourite city for business and for me personally. What I love about Hong Kong is that while I am based here, I can actually work with agencies and brands from anywhere in APAC. If I need to attend an important meeting, I can just hop on a quick flight easily. I spent most of 2017 working in Seoul with Korean agency Cheil and Samsung, and currently I am working with Japanese agency ADK and Toyota based in Singapore.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Fake it until you become it,” from Amy Cuddy’s TED talk. Worth a watch. This helped me early in my career when I felt like I was under qualified for the job I was in. I learned to fake my confidence and fake a powerful body language until I truly felt that confidence became something real. It was nerve wracking at first but it worked and now I don’t have to fake it.

Who inspires you?
My friends. Noelle who worked part time jobs while being a full time student to pay her own tuition while we were in college together. Osti who is a lawyer focused on supporting developing nations and a board member of Redress, an environmental NGO working to reduce waste in the fashion industry. Vanessa who runs a real estate company, co-owns the gym Crossfit Asphodel, started a health foods business called Quo and NGO The Keep Moving Project to promote wellness in our community. Cathy who will be the first Asian woman to direct a big budget superhero film starring Margot Robbie with Warner Bros and DC. And too many more to name!

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
5.2 million plastic bottles are thrown away in Hong Kong every day. Plastic pollution is a major issue for the environment and we as responsible citizens can do our small part by reducing our consumption of unnecessary plastic. I do mine by having a water filter at home and carrying my own reusable water bottle with me everywhere I go. I love the brand Hydroflask because the stainless steel material keeps water hot or cold for hours, so I don’t feel tempted to buy a cold water at 7-11 on those hot, humid days we have here.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
About five years ago I purchased my very first stock and put one month’s salary into it, which at the time was a lot of money for me. Knowing how that stock has performed now, I would have put all my savings into it.

How do you unwind?
Exercise is essential in my daily life to help clear my head and de-stress. My go to is a workout at Crossfit Asphodel, running outdoors, yoga and hiking. But a glass of red wine and live music at Soiree in Soho on Sunday night works pretty well too!

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
One of the best trips I ever took was to the island of Lombok in Indonesia. Two girl friends and I did a 3 day 2 night hiking and camping trip to summit the Mount Rinjani Volcano. It was physically challenging but mentally relaxing. There was no cellphone reception, no distractions, we had the company of nature and nights with skies full of shooting stars. It was pretty magical. We then went to the Gili Islands for a few days of scuba diving, yoga and sitting on the beach doing nothing but sipping on coconuts. That was pretty relaxing too.

Everyone in business should read this book:
“Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office” by Lois P. Frankel and “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg. Essential reads for every working woman and/or man who wants to know how to support the working women in their life.

Shameless plug for your business:
I am a TV commercial and print producer that can plug into an existing advertising agency or brand team to produce their communication needs. Many advertising agencies these days are scaling down so they have creative directors and account services but may not have an in-house producer, so I can fill that gap by becoming a part of the existing agency team. For brands that want to produce content directly without involving an agency, I can also bridge the gap by bringing my production knowledge in-house and working as part of the marketing/brand team and liaising with the other departments in the company such as product team and ecomm.

How can people connect with you?
They can email me at [email protected]
or visit my website at mkimproducer.com

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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