After the RAF, Andrew travelled the world. This led him to Singapore where he set up shop, fell in love and started his business – Asia’s first speaker bureau…

What’s your story?
I was born and raised in Sussex in England and studied Economics at Nottingham University. Then I remembered I had a dream to fly, so I joined the Royal Air Force, graduated as an Officer and started to fly jets. Not so skilfully, as it turned out, so I left the RAF and immediately bought a rucksack and decided to travel the world. I left for a one year trip. 26 years later my mother is still waiting for me to return. So apart from visits, I’ve lived in Asia over half my life, with 22 years here in Singapore.

What excites you most about your industry?
Ever since I was 16 doing A-levels, I have been fascinated by economics, business and international affairs. And for as long as I can remember, as a person, I have enjoyed promoting ideas, doing deals and creating solutions. So, I think running an economics / business-focused  speaker agency is right up my alley! I never intended to specifically join this industry – it just kind of happened! I spent 13 years working for The Economist Group and I saw a need for a new kind of service. Suddenly, I had just set up Asia’s first speaker bureau!  It’s certainly a business which excites me, and I honestly feel very privileged to be working with some incredibly intelligent and interesting individuals, and to then be putting them in front of some of the best companies in the world is highly gratifying.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Well, you can tell I obviously got hooked on Asia — initially from my travels, but then also in work (and in love, of course!). I ‘discovered’ the many wonders of Asia, and the huge business opportunities too. Even though I have incorporated my business in the UK too, I firmly believe Asia will remain its headquarters, no matter what.

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Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
I counted it up the other day; I’ve travelled to 52 countries of the world and worked in 7, but clearly have chosen Singapore as my home and my business hub. I know other Asian cities offer a lot too, but you know, Singapore allows you to have a good base from which to hop off to wherever you need to go within the region and then hop back again to comfort and order … and chilli crab!

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I am thankful for the advice I got when I started out: if you wait until you feel completely ready and for everything to look perfect, you risk finding it just never happens. That’s not to say don’t plan or do your research first, but so much is learnt through testing things out and quickly adapting once you see the results. You learn a lot from mistakes, which is fine so long as you only ever make small mistakes and avoid the really big ones which could be catastrophic and wipe you out. Get on with it and keep improving.

Who inspires you?
Always a difficult question for me to answer! I have huge admiration for the famous names who have achieved greatness.  But while they do obviously inspire, these guys are perhaps too far removed from where you are today. I try to spot very ordinary guys who have started to do something new, bold and successful, who are possibly only a few steps away from where I am now. They tend to actually be the more inspirational, because I can definitely relate to them better than I can to world famous entrepreneurial icons!  

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Something I recently learnt to appreciate is that “you get what you focus on”. Of course, I heard this many times before, but  thought this was simply the power of positive thinking. But it is more than that.  Let’s say you are facing a problem, going through a bad patch and cash is running low. You could choose to worry, cut costs and pore for hours over spreadsheets. Alternatively, you focus on what you are good at and what is at the core of your success — you get out there to network, to pitch, and your state completely changes, and with it comes the positive results.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I spent a long time employed at my last job.  It was a good company, a great brand, surrounded by many talented people, yet was no longer learning anything new.  I had good ideas which no one seemed to listen to, and decisions were slow and tortuous. Setting up this new business has stretched me and kept me keen to get out of bed every morning and I get much more recognition and gratification creating a new business from the bottom up. So my regret, as I am sure most entrepreneurs echo, is why did I wait so long to do this?

How do you unwind?
Strange as it may sound, I ‘unwind’ by furiously chasing a small black ball around a squash court. You can find me most Tuesday and Thursday evenings, as well as Saturday afternoons, at the British Club squash courts, and of course enjoying a beer or two after. Squash is such a brilliant game for busy people; quick to play, intense exercise and an excellent way to mentally focus away from work – just so long as your body can withstand all the strains!

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Holidays were non-existent for a while, as many small business owners can relate to! But the good thing is I have teenage kids, so I feel obligated to take them to interesting places.  We spent last Christmas in Nepal which was wonderful. Over 25 years I have been almost everywhere!  So it’s hard to pick a favourite. But if you said to me, “Andrew! Drop everything and take 3 days off to chill”  I would go somewhere basic, rustic, on the beach and with some cool beers and BBQ fish – like Tioman Island perhaps (which I first visited in 1989).

Everyone in business should read this book:
You mean there are people out there with time to read books? I must admit I struggle to read all my speakers’ books, but thinking about it, I would encourage everyone to pick up “The End of Progress” by Graeme Maxton, one of my top speakers, who is an economist and writer and is currently the Secretary-General of the Club of Rome.  He wrote this rather sobering book to metaphorically shake us all by the shoulders to wake up to the fact that economic growth as we have enjoyed over the past 50 years is simply not sustainable for the world as a whole. Considering demographic trends, climate change, resource depletion and massive financial debt burdens, our entire economic system is arguable broken. We all hope of course that human ingenuity and technological innovations will save the day, but for sure, in a world where growth may naturally tend towards zero, it is all the more critical to think about what you do and how to carve out your own niche to succeed and make money.

Shameless plug for your business:
The Insight Bureau brings insightful and thought-provoking speakers together with senior business executives so that they are inspired and better equipped to lead their businesses forward. We represent a relatively small number of speakers and moderators and work exclusively in the area of economics and business. This means our clients view us as trusted partners because we understand their objectives, are familiar with the issues and provide good advice. It’s a valued service which delivers great results, and reduces much of the time, risk and general aggravation involved for our clients as they are planning their events.

How can people connect with you?
A good way is through LinkedIn, https://sg.linkedin.com/in/andrewvine. If you explain why you’d like to link in, I am usually quite receptive. Or drop by our Insight Bureau website at www.insightbureau.com and you can get in touch there or via my email [email protected]

Twitter handle?
@insightbureau

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

CallumConnects

Callum 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.

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