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Chris Kim, Founder of Zen Freediving

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Working ringside at the most influential internet companies wasn’t enough for Chris. A preference for his passion led this young entrepreneur to his own freediving venture.

What’s your story?
The short version: I’m a recovering lawyer, a freediving instructor, competitor and traveller.
The long version: I spent 20 years as a lawyer in the consumer internet space. During that time I had the unique privilege of working in the legal departments of Yahoo!, Google and then finally, Facebook. It was an amazing time to watch the development of the Internet ringside at the most influential companies in the space.
Then last year I decided to follow my passion for freediving to see where it would take me. I founded a freediving school in Singapore and have been teaching and competing around the world since. In the past year, our school, Zen Freediving, has become the top-rated freediving school in Singapore. I’ve competed in two competitions and also had the opportunity to catalog mantas off the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, cave dive the Cenotes on the Yucatan Peninsula, and dive with tiger sharks, bull sharks and blue whales. It’s been an amazing year!

What excites you most about your industry?
It’s an amazing time to teach people about freediving since the sport is young and growing. There are many misconceptions about freediving (the largest of which is that it’s a dangerous extreme sport) so it’s exciting to talk to people and see their perspectives and attitudes change. It’s also really cool to watch our students exceed their expectations of their own abilities. It’s like showing them they possess a secret super power they never knew they had. Ask someone how long they can hold their breath and most will say something like, “30 or 45 seconds” when in fact most people, with a little instruction and coaching, can hold their breath for 2 minutes or much longer.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I grew up in Canada and worked for over 12 years in San Francisco but as a Korean Canadian, Asia has always held a special place in my heart. As a kid I spent many summers with my extended family in Korea. It was during the 70s and 80s and Korea was a very different place compared to the ultra modern urban country it is now, but it left an indelible impression on me. I knew that I wanted to live and work in Asia at some point in my life so when Facebook offered me the opportunity to relocate to Singapore in 2012, I jumped on it and haven’t looked back.

zen white with light blue

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Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
LOL. I am biased but I would say Singapore! My friends are always accusing me of being a total Singapore fanboy, but I really do admire what has been built in our fair city state. Transparency, ease of business, low taxes, and a world-class airport are high on my list of why Singapore rules for business. One thing I really wish Singapore had, better water conditions. While we find the waters around Singapore just fine for training and teaching, it would be great to have better visibility so we could enjoy the reefs and sea life that are there, but hidden. Luckily, there are many wonderful locations to dive that are only a short flight away and Changi is an amazing airport to fly in and out of.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Several years ago I asked a good friend of mine what he would do differently if he were me. He said, “Chris, you are great and you have your work life together, but who are the eight people in your life that are family outside of your family?” What he was pointing out by this somewhat cryptic question was that it’s important to take time to invest in and cultivate key friendships and make those friends a core part of my life — like my immediate family. That advice really stuck. I’ve tried my best to follow it and invest in deep, meaningful friendships. Today “my family outside of family” is my support group, my lifelong companions and they make my life richer and more connected.

Who inspires you?
Mark Zuckerberg. I worked at Facebook for eight years and had the opportunity to watch him work and grow over almost a decade. He’s the real deal. Some things have changed over time. He has become much more comfortable in his own skin, more articulate and polished. Some things will never change. He is super intelligent, never afraid to question assumptions and maintains the strength of his convictions while also being willing to change direction in the face of strong data. I honestly believe that he is trying his best to make the world a better place and he has only just begun.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
One thing that the ongoing US election has demonstrated to me, much to my chagrin, is that in an Internet-enabled world, truth is less relevant and opinions are much more extreme. This really blew me away. Having spent my entire career in the Internet space, I’ve always assumed (as did all those around me) that the Internet would be a force for good. It would allow everyone to share information and views so that common consensus and truth would prevail and that people would be brought closer together. However, it seems to be having quite the opposite effect. By allowing people to select the information and news they consume, they are only surrounding themselves with the sources they agree with. People are creating an echo chamber of opinion where their own views become more and more strident and extreme and facts become less and less important. Nowhere is this clearer than in the ongoing US elections where dogma has trumped reason (pun somewhat intended) and where insults and lies have replaced informed opinion. It’s a sad realization.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
To be honest, I’m not sure I would do anything differently. I love my life and feel extraordinarily blessed. Where I am now is the result of the decisions I’ve made, including (if not especially) the mistakes. I’d rather consider what I would do differently going forward by applying what I’ve learned.

How do you unwind?
Two ways. I meditate in the mornings which helps to clear my head and start the day right. It’s a great way to relieve stress. Secondly, I train five to six times a week and luckily for me, freediving is very relaxing. Long breath holds and long underwater swims slow your heart rate and make you feel calmer and more relaxed.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Tough question! I would say right now Lombok, specifically Selong Belanak, is top of my list. It’s a direct flight, only a few hours, plus a very short car ride so it makes a great short-trip destination. The beach is beautiful and there is great surfing. For freediving, you can head up the coast a couple of hours to the Gili Islands. Perfect!

Everyone in business should read this book:
One of my favorite business books is “Good to Great.” I say business book, but the principles described are so fundamental they apply to anyone who is trying to build something great. “Good is the enemy of great” and this excellent book explains how to think about transcending the huge gap between those two standards. A must-read!

Shameless plug for your business:
Freediving is more than just a sport. It’s an attitude, a discipline and a lifestyle. It brings together mind and body, offers endless challenge and opens up experiences to you that only a tiny fraction of the people in the world will ever be able to enjoy. It can change your life. We at Zen Freediving (www.zenfreediving.org) would love to open that world to you — it is our passion.

How can people connect with you?
Best way to reach me is by email at [email protected].

Twitter handle?
Not a big user of Twitter. I did work at Facebook for eight years so colour me biased. You *can* find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ckim.

This interview was part of the Callum Connect’s column found on The Asian Entrepreneur:

CallumConnectsCallum Laing invests and buys small businesses in a range of industries around Asia.  He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is the founder & owner of Fitness-Buffet a company delivering employee wellness solutions in 12 countries.  He is a Director of, amongst others, Key Person of Influence.  A 40 week training program for business owners and executives.

Take the ‘Key Person of Influence’ scorecard <http://www.keypersonofinfluence.com/scorecard/>

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Get his free ‘Asia Snapshot’ report from www.callumlaing.com

Callum Connects

Denise Morris Kipnis, Founder & Principal of ChangeFlow Consulting

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Denise Mossis Kipnis’ curiosity in people and the world, lead her to set up ChangeFlow Consulting.

What’s your story?
I’m driven by curiosity. Having been the only one in a room who looks like me for most of my life, I developed a curiosity about who stays, who leaves and who thrives in minority/majority situations including when and how connection and collaboration happen. I was a systems thinker long before I knew what that was, always asking why and so what; and seeing the pieces, the whole, and the places in between. So helping people and organisations move through the complexity of transformation feels natural to me.

What excites you most about your industry?
I see change and inclusion as two sides of the same thing; I don’t practice one without the other. Some people see change as death, as loss, as exhausting. And it can be. But I see in the work I do as an opportunity for something new or hidden to emerge. When an organisation understands that it is first a group of people, who themselves represent and belong to groups of people, and it begins to tackle what it would mean to understand and learn from all that talent, all that diversity, to have them all working for and not against the organisation, to truly unleash all that their people have to offer; that’s magic.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Change and inclusion are personal values as well as professional strengths. For me, living and working outside of the States was a bold experiment to see whether any of the stuff I’d learned about change and inclusion would work outside of the US. My husband and I targeted Asia specifically: it would be the greatest contrast, culturally speaking, for me; and a unique career springboard for him.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Although I’ve practiced in other cities, I am biased towards Singapore. In some ways it’s what Los Angeles is to the rest of the United States, a microcosm of sorts. The regional/global nature of it means that so many different nationalities and cultures are represented. As a result of this mix, you never know what you might get. In some situations, cultural dynamics are obvious, sometimes subdued. The variability is compelling.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Never ask anyone to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself.” Michael Rouan.

Who inspires you?
Often it’s a “what” not a “who.” I can get inspiration from a passage in a book or a situation in a movie, as well as a turn of a phrase or watching people interact. I often make the biggest connections between the various threads I’m working on when I’m sitting in someone else’s event.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’m honestly not blown away by much. Instead, I’m struck how circular things can be: ideas often come back around with a slightly different twist and I watch the way it shakes things loose for people. I recently sat through a workshop on Self as Instrument, and despite being thoroughly versed already, I learned something. In preparing for a panel on design thinking, I unearthed a new language to describe things.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
You’ve caught me at a good time. I’m sitting in appreciation and gratitude for all my experiences, because I wouldn’t be who I was today if all that has happened, didn’t. And yet one thing comes to mind: It wasn’t until I redesigned my website two years ago (shout out to Brew Creative!) that I realised I hadn’t made explicit agreements with my past clients as to what I could share publicly about our engagement, or whether I could use their logos in my promotional materials. In my business, confidentiality is so important, and yet I need to be able to talk about the work as reputation and experience leads to the next success, and so on. It turned out a lot of the contacts I had known had left the organisations where the work was done, so they couldn’t help at that point. So the practice I’m carrying forward is to get those agreements up front, and to make sure my relationships in client systems are broad as well as deep.

How do you unwind?
Science fiction, puzzles, wine.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Home. I don’t travel to relax, I travel to learn and explore.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Built to Change, by Ed Lawler and Chris Worley. To my knowledge, it’s the first pivot from advising organisations away from stability and toward dynamism, from strategic planning to strategizing as an action verb; to blow up the traditions and rigidity that impede organisations from developing change capability.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re taught that there are two kinds of people: those who see forests, and those who see trees. There is a third type, my type, and we see the ecosystem. Worms, climate, birds, the spaces in between. This is the perspective organisations need to be successful in solving complex problems and thriving in change.
ChangeFlow uniquely blends four disciplines (two of which are multi-disciplinary in themselves): organisation development, culture and inclusion, change management and project management.

How can people connect with you?
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ChangeFlowConsulting/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dmorriskipnis/
LinkedIn Company page: https://www.linkedin.com/company/4862954/
Email: [email protected]
Website: http://www.changeflowconsulting.com

Twitter handle?
@ChangeFlow

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

Agnes Yee, Legal & Compliance Recruiter of Space Executive

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Agnes Yee started Space Executive in Singapore, which is a hub for businesses in some of the world’s fastest growing economies.

What’s your story?
After graduation, I joined a design media company as a Business Development Executive, during the era when ‘reading a magazine online’ was unheard of. I believe that laid the foundation for being unfazed by rejections.

I fell into recruitment pre-GFC and rode the highs and lows in the early years. A decade later, I decided to set up my own recruitment company, partly because I could. I’m acutely aware of the face that being an Asian female in Singapore is sometimes a privilege, and that many women in the world are living a very different existence.
Thereafter, we joined Space Executive as part of a merger. I am currently the Partner of Space Executive, a recruitment company focused specialist disciplines, including Legal, Finance, Digital, Sales and Marketing and Change. We also run Space Ventures, a venture capital business, which invests in seed and pre-series A businesses.

What excites you most about your industry?
On a daily basis, we’re influencing how one spends a third of their day. It is interesting how the Internet has transformed the industry, and I’m excited to see how we can harness technology to bring us to the next phase of this business.

The VC is an extension of applying our skills and experience in reading people. We very much invest in the people as much as the idea. Being a native Singaporean, it’s been exhilarating watching Southeast Asia becoming a hotbed of ideas; and young entrepreneurs simply daring to dream.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’m a born and bred Singaporean. I love that I speak both English and Mandarin, grew up playing with Indian friends and eating Malay food.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore for the low barriers of entry to set up a business, but has to be China (and Hong Kong) for their hunger and constant innovation.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
青春不要留白 which translates to ‘Don’t waste your youth.’

Who inspires you?
Anyone who has gone against the grain.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
It wasn’t recent but reading the article on https://waitbutwhy.com/2015/12/the-tail-end.html never fails to blow my mind how little time we have left. Charting our lives in weeks, and realising I only have enough time left to enjoy 60 Christmas turkeys, read 300 books (all if I’m lucky); and mostly, I’m left with the last 5% of the time that I spend in-person with my parents.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I’m cognisant that every decision I made in life has brought me to where I am today, and I wouldn’t change one thing. But I’d really like to have had more time to travel.

How do you unwind?
Exercise and wine.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Trekking any mountain in Asia. It brings us back to the most basic. To overcome elements of nature and our own mind.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Start with Why, Simon Sinek

Shameless plug for your business:
Space Executive started in Singapore, a hub for businesses in some of the world’s fastest growing economies. We assist organisations in accessing a targeted and specialised, and often times transient talent pool.

Out of Singapore, we have recruited across 14 countries; and have embarked on our global expansion plans with offices in Hong Kong and London this year, and US, Japan and Europe in the following years.

Space Ventures provides funding, management and financial guidance to young businesses with original ideas. We have invested in peer to peer lending platforms, credit scoring, social media education, and other start-ups spanning diverse industries. We are always interested in hearing more about new ideas.

How can people connect with you?
https://www.linkedin.com/in/agnesyee/

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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