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Michael Reyes, Founder of MoneyTree Asia Pacific

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Michael Reyes, the founder and CEO of MoneyTree Asia Pacific Ltd, Southeast Asia’s largest financial literacy training provider, is a serial entrepreneur. Michael had been inspired to start his own business as a child. While he pursued his education in Economics at the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), he had further developed his business acumen by starting his very own tutoring business at the young age.

Upon graduation, enamoured by the advertising world, which offered an attractive opportunity to work with independence, creativity, energy and the appealing prospect to contribute to clients’ business growths, Reyes then joined the quick-paced world of advertising. While Reyes continued to rake in profits for his agency by developing and growing an entire suite of new businesses for his agency, his relentless inquisitiveness about successful business models and fiery entrepreneurial spirit began to prod him to further explore. Armed with the newfound capital and enthused the idea of owning a business, Reyes then returned to advertising, this time with his own start-up. The business flourished and broke even by the second year and grew by the third year.

In 1996, Reyes met a young Polish entrepreneur and following that, was invited to visit Poland. During his six-week stay, Reyes realized that there were tremendous opportunities presented by the emerging economy of post-communist Poland. Reyes had then seized the opportunity to start an import-export business. The business became expectedly lucrative.

In the following year, Reyes’ passion for exploring the underwater world took him to his next venture. He had met an accomplished entrepreneur during one of his diving expeditions, which led to them to partner up to set-up a 3D animation studio. With the partner moving to Australia in 2002 to become a Venture Capitalist in Australia, the relationship now involves them meeting and discussing MoneyTree’s strategies.

In 2007, while the global Recession was beginning to form, Reyes had begun to notice a severe lack of financial literacy in children and youths. News of families who were destroyed because they have lost their homes, and the rampant rise of unemployment had plagued Reyes who had always kept a close eye on the global economy. By then, Reyes had noticed a severe lack of financial literacy in children and youths in education systems around the world. He began to incubate the notion of businesses with purpose; a business that would equip children and youths with the tools and knowledge for a better financial future.

Reyes, with the belief that education has the power to positively change the world, and a determination to create an impactful change for the society, started Moneytree Asia-Pacific in Malaysia in 2008 and subsequently MoneyTree Borneo and Singapore a year later. MoneyTree’s financial-literacy education system was created to address the gap in financial literacy in the education system. Its secondary objective was to gestate the next generation of entrepreneurs who will be engines for innovation, wealth creation and ultimately, sustainable economic development for the communities it serves.

What do you guys do at MoneyTree?

MoneyTree was set up to provide financial literacy amongst school children using the concept of ‘learning through play,’ fulfilling a gap in the marketplace for essential financial education for children and youth for a better future. MoneyTree provides financial skill and knowledge to youths aged 7 – 22 , which would be required to build a career or business, as well as plan for their financial freedom.

How did MoneyTree begin?

The idea was born out of Reyes’ observation of the great need for financial knowledge and boundless opportunities for wealth creation in Asia. Understanding that it would be exponentially more impactful to shape minds of children and youth, rather than adults, Reyes looked towards education as a natural “solution” to address the challenges of a rising Asia.

Could you walk us through the process of starting up MoneyTree?

Three of the original founders of MoneyTree Asia Pacific were in Hong Kong to attend a business meeting. In that meeting, it was decided that a business with a purpose would be started and thus MoneyTree was born with the objective of equipping children with the necessary tools for life by providing financial education that is delivered in a fun manner.

In 2008, MoneyTree Asia Pacific starting intensively testing for the perfect teaching methodology to deliver financial education to children in a way that they could understand, while also teaching them other necessary skills that was crucial but missing from the existing education system such as presentation and public speaking skills. As a result of the testing, the result that emerged pointed unmistakably to the fact that there is one crucial factor that would accelerate a child’s ability to learn. That key component is FUN. Making learning fun then became the criteria upon which all MoneyTree’s content was developed.

To enhance the credibility of the programme, Reyes then sought the validations and certifications from various governmental institutions and leading institutions of higher learning to accredit MoneyTree programmes. The support of the governmental organizations such as Ministries of Education and the partnerships from top institutions of higher learning in would also eventually contribute to amplify the importance of financial education to Asian parents.

Armed with the relevant certifications, Reyes then started gathering the talent necessary to propagate the purpose of MoneyTree forward in the region. Once he had built his team, he then set up MoneyTree Malaysia and Singapore was set up. Three of the original founders hold equity and key positions in MoneyTree Asia Pacific today, guiding the Asia Pacific team to achieve the MoneyTree vision.

How have you been growing MoneyTree?

The fundamental belief has always been that three components had to be in place in order for MoneyTree to grow in the early years:

  1. Purpose – every MoneyTree programme is developed must be a relevant solution to important challenges existing in our communities.

  2. People – the right team.

  3. Partners – the right strategic partners to expand both reach and brand awareness.

In terms of talent, MoneyTree has always focused on eeking out individuals who believe in the company’s purpose as well as possess the drive to increase its reach.

Through the years, the approach has been to grow MoneyTree by aligning the company to top corporate partners as well as governmental agencies which share the vision, mission and market aspirations.

What was the biggest challenge starting up? How did you overcome it?

Because of its unique approach towards talent acquisition, some of the biggest challenges for MoneyTree has always been about hiring the right talent. In its early years, much of the problems faced revolved around having key team members who either worked on a personal agenda rather than advancing the company’s purpose or created conflict amongst team members creating disharmony. Dismissal with compensation seemed the only workable solution.

Also, in the early days, the initial stages saw the company bleeding cash more than having excess.  Working on raising capital by means of injection from shareholders and increasing sales activities were the main approaches employed.

What is one strategy that you believe has helped grow your business?

There isn’t a SINGLE strategy that can be attributed to the successful growth of the company. However, the biggest contributing factor to MoneyTree’s success was the tireless passion and dedication, as well as the bond  amongst the core management team. I also saw that it was important for all members of the management team to trust in each other’s abilities as well as to be open to address the weaknesses that existed.

In what aspect has your business grown most, in your opinion?

Yes, MoneyTree has recorded a revenue of RM10 million for its Singapore and Malaysia operations this year.

The biggest growth that can be seen is in the area of the collaborative effort with key partners. Today, more than ever before, MoneyTree is able to call on and work with different partners from the different but relevant sectors to pursue the attainment of its goals.

Have you developed any industry insights that you could share?

The industry in which MoneyTree is involved is education, in which Financial Literacy remains an key area of specialization. Over the years, what became visible is that there are more people who resist change within the industry than those that promote positive transformations.

In an industry where the main desired outcome is preparing the current generation for an ever changing business landscape that would form their future, resistance to change is a contradictory to the idea, and counter-productive to for its goals.

Hence, one pursuing any ambitions within this industry that involves constant change, must have the patience and tenacity to ride through a long journey of challenges which will arise from legacy systems and legacy thinking.

Do you find the industry is different from the West? If so, how so?

Culturally, it can be said that the target audience ( in this case, children and youth), differ vastly in behavior. Generally, Asians are less expressive, and less vocal than their Western counterparts. In an increasingly globalized arena, it is important to equip the children and youth with the fundamental skills that will increase their individual competitiveness and progress against a fast-evolving business landscape.

In terms of structure, while there remains a lot of similarities in terms of teaching methods and assessments, there has been visible changes in certain Asian countries as Governments start to recognize the need to adapt education systems, content and delivery to meet current market requirements.

What is your approach towards managing your team and human capital needs?

Values, talent and experience are three things MoneyTree looks for when selecting its team members and leaders. Once the right candidate has been selected for the task, the individual must be given adequate support to improving his/her knowledge and some liberties to conduct the job/task as he/she may deem fit.

The team must be operate within a positive environment, therefore a positive attitude from all team members and great drive are musts. Hence when an individual stops displaying either or both, that individual must be removed from the team or not recruited at all.

If you could start all over again, would you change anything about your approach? If so, what?

Yes. The two main things that I would have changed would be my approach towards People and Equity.

In terms of people – in the early years, there was less attention paid to who was taken in as a Shareholders, Directors and Employees. We should have been more selective in our decisions and committed more time to finding the right team.

Also, in the early stages, equity was offered or given out too easily, as such, it was not given the level of appreciation that it deserved. This ultimately led to problems in terms of making key decisions on the direction of the company

What is your thoughts on being an Asian entrepreneur?

Asian entrepreneurs, in the past, had less access to capital. Today, the scenario has changed, as capital is far more available from governments and independent investors.

I think Asian entrepreneurs do not receive as much attention as their US counterparts, and although this is changing, it would still take some time before they will be regarded as ‘equals.’ However, the Asian entrepreneur, if successful, will be regarded as one who stood against the odds and triumphed – and that itself would be an ‘inspiration’.

What is one market trend that really excites you?

Mobile technology, its widening usage and the lowering of access to it. This provides great opportunities for those who wish to learn on the move as well as those who wish to ‘teach’ in a whole new way.

What is one habit that makes you a more productive entrepreneur?

The need to get things done, effectively and within the lowest financial and social cost possible.

Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

I had always believed that the only way to ascertain a great future is to create it.

What do you think are the most important things entrepreneurs should keep in mind?

  1. Opportunities are everywhere. Deciding on which ones you are most prepared to take on at that point in time, makes a world of difference.

  2. No person does it all on their own. A great team brings out the best in you.

  3. Money isn’t everything, but almost everything has to do with money. Ensuring that you have enough to go on at all times, ensures you make the Right decisions most of the time.

  4. Never replace working hard with working smart. They were meant to be compatible, not interchangeable. Hard work is a measure of one’s drive, ‘Smart’ work measures one resourcefulness.

In your opinion, what are the keys to entrepreneurial success?

Having a workable idea that serves an underserved market, that has been carved into a business model that is both scalable and easily deployable, well funded to last the distance, marketed creatively and aggressively to as wide an audience as possible, putting together a team that is driven, progressive and skilled to take the business to greater heights.

Any parting words of wisdom for entrepreneurs out there?

Do what you love because that would provide you with the drive and tenacity to achieve more. But it is also important to remember to not get too attached to a specific business that you can’t cut it loose if it’s drowning you.

What is the future of MoneyTree?

MoneyTree aims to be Asia’s most prominent Financial Literacy education provider that will utilize cutting edge technology to create a learning environment that is true-to-life and absolutely fun filled.

The future of MoneyTree would see more students in different countries being involved hands-on in learning about financial matters as well as creating opportunities for themselves.

 

Connect
Website: http://www.moneytree.asia
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/MoneyTree.Malaysia
Email: [email protected]
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/company/moneytree-malaysia/

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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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