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Omar Taheri, Founder of Spark Plus

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Omar Taheri recently set up Spark Plus to disrupt the corporate access space.

What’s your story?
My name is Omar Taheri and I am the founder and CEO of Spark Plus. I was born in India to a mixed background family. My father was essentially a refugee from Afghanistan and my mother is a mixed background of Russian and Indian. I moved to Germany when I was 2 years old and lived there until I was 10. Then I moved to Australia for high school and university. I have been living in Singapore for the last 5 years at various financial institutions such as Bloomberg, Eurekahedge, and most recently Swiss-Asia where I grew the hedge fund platform business. I think I always realized that I was a decent networker and wanted to put my skills to use. I had previously already set up a hedge fund networking event that still holds its legacy, and most recently I have set up Spark Plus to disrupt the corporate access space.

What excites you most about your industry?
The most exciting thing for me about my industry in financial services, is that you get to deal with very bright people. I am constantly learning from others and keeping up with the fast paced changes that occur.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I think that my multicultural background of having Asian and Western values keeps me very much in line with what I do. I bring interesting businesses that are listed (usually in the West) and connect them with investors in Asia. Bridging that gap is something that I have always enjoyed doing.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore would definitely be my favourite city for doing business. For one it’s extremely conducive to doing business as people keep a very open mind. Everyone will take at least one meeting with you and hear you out. Another reason is that most of the business takes place in the heart of the CBD which makes the “wasting of time” rather minimal.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Always believe in yourself, and trust your instincts. There is really no better piece of advise that I have received until this date. A lot of people in your journey, be it in life or business will offer you some sort of advice (be it good or bad), but in the end we need to be able to believe in ourselves to get anything done.

Who inspires you?
My father is one of my biggest inspirations. He was able to flee a war in Afghanistan and come out alive. He really worked hard to make a life for our family. Growing up, we never had wealth, but I always had food on the table and roof over my head. He gave me the opportunity to be anything I ever wanted to be, and for that reason alone, he is my inspiration.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
One of the most amazing things that I have learnt recently that has given me extra drive and motivation is to really ignore external validation. The key is to shift from external to internal validation and this will give you a lot more happiness in life.
A question perhaps to ask is as follows:
Would you rather be the most intelligent person on earth but considered the stupidest? Or the stupidest person on earth but considered the most intelligent?
I now keep an inner scorecard rather than an outer one. What is really key is to be happy, so always treat external praise and negativity with compose disinterest and a strong filter.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing at all, otherwise I wouldn’t be learning.

How do you unwind?
I usually unwind by taking my dog to the park and letting her run around, it’s quite a relaxing sight for me seeing an animal run around freely. I also try and go to the gym and just let all the negative energy out through working out.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Bali for sure. It’s one of those destinations where I really feel disconnected from the rest of the world. Just being able to enjoy a nice white sandy beach and feel like you are in a forgotten paradise is priceless. I really enjoy just getting a massage and tuning out, and enjoying the lovely food that Bali has to offer.

Everyone in business should read this book:
“Tools of Titans” by Timothy Ferriss. My favorite book in terms of learning routines, habits and tactics that billionaires, icons, and world performing athletes do to get through their day.

Shameless plug for your business:
Spark Plus brings listed companies to Asia to do a roadshow and meet with investors. We bring interesting companies to meet with family offices, hedge funds, institutional investors and wealth managers. We currently have 40 listed company clients mainly listed on the ASX, TSX, and LSE.
We are looking to work with listed companies and do their non-deal roadshows in Asia. If you want to find out more about our product please visit and sign up on our website www.sparkplus.org

How can people connect with you?
The best means to contact me is via email on [email protected] alternatively please add me on linkedin at https://www.linkedin.com/in/omar-taheri-2bb56725/

Twitter handle?
https://twitter.com/Spark_Plus

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

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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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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