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Thandar Soe, Director of Camford International College

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Thandar Soe’s humble beginning lead her to running her own school in Singapore.

What’s your story?
I am a teacher, an educational management leader and a change catalyst. Despite my humble beginnings, I managed to get an education and a job as an English teacher in Singapore in 2009. With my hard work and dedication, I was promoted to Principal in 2010. In 2012, I took over the school. While the risk was high and the opportunity was full of uncertainties, I perceived it as a significant step to build my dream school, where I could re-establish the school system to foster innovation, and raise the bar in educational, operational efficiency.

What excites you most about your industry?
As an education entrepreneur, I make a difference in the lives of hundreds of students. Being a foreigner myself, in a multicultural city, I relate to how they think and feel and understand their unique cultures. I give them the gift of education, skill and knowledge without the burden of high cost through flexible payment plans. It is not about granting certifications, but about creating a platform for them to grow, become resilient, and build the right mindset to face life. The values I instill in my students give them the courage to succeed beyond grads and thrive beyond education and become lifelong learners.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in Myanmar the land of the extensive coastline, culture and ancient dynasties. I value the Asian values, exceptionally hard work, respect and harmony. I am also fascinated by our history as a continent. There is no significant event in history; we did not have a vital role in. I am connected to the heritage and spirituality as well as the modern day economic system. Through my school in Singapore, I learned about the business, the education system and all applicable laws and regulations and I have built my professional network of like-minded entrepreneurs.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore and Myanmar are great cities to establish a business.
The government in Singapore created a welcoming atmosphere for businesses to thrive with the flexible administration and regulations. Also, companies have access to great talent and a highly qualified workforce.

In Myanmar there is an excellent opportunity for growth. Despite the underdeveloped infrastructure, the need to revamp the business environment is increasing, giving entrepreneurs the chance to build innovative businesses.

As I am interested in starting a business focusing on moving existing businesses/corporations to the digital world, converting traditional processes to software-based processes, I see both cities as welcoming grounds for my ideas.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
The best advice I received was from my mother: “to give it all.” She encouraged me to pour my heart and soul into whatever I am doing and never look back. To succeed, I learned that I needed to gather all my strength and emotional power and never look back. When things move slowly, I ask myself, “is there anything else I need to do?”, and when things move fast, and I doubt my ability to manage, so I pause and think of all the hard work I did and I only allow myself to feel grateful.

Who inspires you?
Chong Phit Lian inspires me. She is one of the wealthiest and most successful women in Asia. Despite her early struggles in life growing up in her small city in Malaysia, and her labour work as a child in a rubber plantation, she managed to turn her life around. I appreciate the fact that we both share harsh beginnings, she insisted on getting an education. The support she received was limited, especially after her father died and later when her brothers died. Chong achieved her success with the hard work and determination and goal-orientation. I believe she is a great role-model.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
The power of global education and how it can make people understand each other and live in harmony. I was recently introduced to the principles of global education and creating global education opportunities for students all over the world through innovative educational technology and methods. The initiative received considerable interest and recognition in many countries such as Canada, Egypt, New Zealand and other countries. With the complexity and inter-connectivity of our world, we need to teach students to learn from and interact with different groups around the world, to equip students with new skills to fit the changing job market and the shifting economies due to globalization.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I believe that things happen for a reason, and I did everything I could. I am a firm believer in taking risks, and this is what I did, I seized every opportunity that came to me. I maintained my resilience as much as I could. However, if I had the chance to live my life again, I wouldn’t have stressed so much at those times when money was scarce. I would have told the people I love that I loved them, and expressed my feelings more often. I would have felt more joyful and enjoy the little pleasures in life.

How do you unwind?
With all the stress in my daily life, I learned different ways and methods to unwind and maintain internal peacefulness. It depends. Sometimes, by simply staying at home, preparing my favourite tea and decompressing by watching some funny show on the TV. I also love to cook and experiment with new flavours. I believe the delicious aroma of feed ignite our emotional memory and makes our minds wander to happy places from the past. Swimming is another activity I love. It does not only pump blood through my veins, but it also keeps me healthy and strong.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Bali is by far my favourite destination. I believe Bali is a heaven, with fabulous beaches, golden sands, and endless beauty. I love the unique bamboo houses and hotels that make you part of nature. Food also is another thing I like about Bali. I like to enjoy the many flavours and the romantic atmosphere in restaurants.

Everyone in business should read this book:
I recommend the book “Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work,” by Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal. I recently read the book, and I am amazed by the idea of building a “flow state” in teams, using positive psychology.

I am trying to apply some of what I learned in this book, especially experiencing consciousness and mindfulness in my everyday life and stepping beyond oneself. I believe any entrepreneur needs to maintain his/her mental, emotional and physical wellbeing and this book is full of stories and examples of ways to do so.

Shameless plug for your business:
At the school I run, we have the vision to become the best school in Singapore and my team, and I work hard diligently day-in and day-out to achieve our vision. We instill a great value-system in our students’ hearts and ignite their courage to succeed in life by becoming lifelong learners. We challenge poor performance by empowering students and provide them with flexible financial plans.
I also focus on operational efficiency as well as the quality of education, because at the end of the day I run a business and carry a considerable responsibility towards my students as well as my business partners.

How can people connect with you?
I value the power of social media. Social media opened new global platforms for all business people from all over the world. Professional networks, especially LinkedIn is an excellent platform for professionals to connect. As a universal education enthusiastic leader, I am convinced that the internet has revolutionized the work.

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

Elizabeth Wu, Co-founder & COO of Trehaus

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Elizabeth Wu is making work-life integration a reality for working parents in her new family friendly coworking space.

What’s your story?
I co-founded a coworking space in Singapore that comes complete with a child-friendly facility. We’re the first of our kind here and we’ve been making work-life integration a reality for working parents since we opened.

What excites you most about your industry?
We are the first of our kind, and there’s no other coworking space like us. Sure, there are plenty of coworking spaces in Singapore, but we are the pioneers of championing ‘BYO-kid’ to work by creating a conducive workspace and enriching kids play, all under one roof.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and bred in Singapore. I’m a local through and through.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore, of course! It’s safe, well-regulated and has a diverse community. Barriers to entry for starting up a business is low, and generally there is good support for small to medium enterprises and startups, which is great.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Life is short. Do stuff that matters.” I think I decided to do “stuff that matters” a long time ago and that’s why I became an educator. When motherhood beckoned, I decided again, to do “stuff that matters” by staying home to be with my kids. Then, I began to desire a meaningful career while raising my kids. So, I decided to take the plunge into entrepreneurship, because I am governed by wanting to “do stuff that matters!”

Who inspires you?
So many people inspire me. My members at Trehaus inspire me with the things they do and the changes they make. But if I have to pick someone, it would be Elim Chew, founder of 77th Street; who is a seasoned entrepreneur. She started from humble beginnings, went through setbacks and never said never to new journeys in entrepreneurship. I love that she always looks for ways to give back to society and mentor the next generation with her wealth of wisdom and experiences.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I learned the 5-by-5 rule recently: That is, ‘if it’s not going to matter in 5 years, don’t spend more than 5 minutes being upset by it.’ This helps me puts things in perspective, and I try to remember this every time the urge comes to dwell, to brood, to beat myself up or to sweat the small stuff.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would definitely be more careful with the people I hired to build the team. I’ve learned that it is important to find and build an entrepreneurial team that will plough and work hard alongside the founders. Like Jack Ma once said, “Don’t hire the most qualified candidate. Hire the craziest.” I should have done that right from the start. It would save us so much time and heartache.

How do you unwind?
I take long walks to clear my or I go for a fruitful session of self care, like yoga or a massage.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I really enjoy getting out of Singapore to the outskirts of Bangkok to live amongst the locals. My family of 5 used to do that each December; just taking off to live amongst the locals where street food is aplenty and warmth and hospitality is everywhere. I enjoy their slow pace of life and how simple things can be.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Hard Thing About Hard Things, by Ben Horowitz

Shameless plug for your business:
Trehaus is Singapore’s first ever family-friendly coworking space that lets you build a career while prioritising family. If it takes a village to raise a child, then Trehaus is the modern village where you will find a robust community and supportive ecosystem that lets you be an involved parent – never missing a single milestone in your child’s early years – and at the same time do efficient and productive work. We’ve made magic happen in what we’ve created!

How can people connect with you?
[email protected]

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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Mark Winterton, General Manager of InterContinental Singapore Robertson Quay

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Mark Winterton has dedicated his life to achieving unparalleled and extraordinary guest experiences in the hospitality industry.

What’s your story?
I’m a seasoned hospitality professional with over twenty years international experience launching luxury brands, repositioning existing brands and driving innovation for some of the world’s most successful hotels.

As General Manager of InterContinental® Singapore Robertson Quay, I’m responsible for the strategic positioning of the property as the next generation of the InterContinental hotel brand and have been spearheading the hotel since its opening in October 2017, with the goal of achieving a unique and unrivalled market positioning as Singapore’s most luxurious residential hotel.

I started my career with InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG®) in 1995 and have since been dedicating myself towards achieving perfection. I find immense fulfillment in leading my team towards achieving extraordinary and unparalleled guest experiences.

What excites you most about your industry?
The hospitality industry boasts an extremely dynamic landscape, and we are always seeing new hotels opening alongside the entry of burgeoning brands. This growth has, over time developed positive competition and generated positive driving forces that have elevated the overall standard of the industry in Singapore. The industry has a dynamic landscape. There are many opportunities to bring the right people together and create amazing teams to launch or reposition hotels. The process of creating teams, inspiring individuals and then working together to bring a project to life is where I find the excitement lies.

What’s your connection to Asia?
The lure of Asia has always been very strong for foreign economies and companies, with great accessibility to new opportunities, customers, consumers and clients. My first foray into Asia was back in 2007, when I launched Crowne Plaza Changi Airport in Singapore. Following that, I was also based in Bangkok for a couple of years for the rebranding of Crowne Plaza Bangkok Lumpini Park. Over my years in Asia, I have had the opportunity to truly immerse myself in new cultures, establish new connections with key counterparts and friends; and these have further solidified my interest in and strengthened my connection to Asia.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Definitely Singapore. Commonly known as the gateway to Asia, we’ve been blessed with a stable government, a sound political economy and a comprehensive infrastructure for reliable business operations. With tremendous efforts put in by the Singapore Tourism Board towards elevating the city as an attractive venue for visitors, the growth of Singapore as a key MICE destination, coupled with a cosmopolitan pool of talent, Singapore remains my favourite city in Asia for business.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“You can never be 100% ready for a new role.” I believe that there will always be room for growth and learning on the job. As long as a person is 80% ready for a new role, the opportunity should be extended. I am a strong believer in the development of people and the grooming of talent, and this piece of advice has allowed me to take more chances on people I’ve worked with and developed over the years.

Who inspires you?
Simon Sinek, a speaker with TED Talk.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I don’t think I can pinpoint just one lesson learnt recently, as learning is an ongoing process. No matter how small a piece of knowledge may seem, it should be valued. Everyday is a journey of learning and development.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing at all. I don’t believe in regrets and everything that has happened thus far, has had a part to play in who I am and where I stand today.

How do you unwind?
Spending time with friends over relaxed conversations and wine or working my green fingers in my balcony garden.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Bali. It’s one destination where I’ve always returned to, simply because it offers me the same level of comfort and familiarity each time I return. It’s where I can feel most relaxed, yet still be able to enjoy the vibrant dining scene.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott.

Shameless plug for your business:
Officially opened on 12 October 2017, InterContinental Singapore Robertson Quay is the first international luxury hotel brand situated at Robertson Quay. Set amidst a dynamic, sophisticated neighbourhood along the Singapore River, known for its dining options and arts houses, the luxury residential-inspired hotel has been carefully curated by world-­class designers, architects and culinary purveyors. Located minutes away from the CBD, the hotel still maintains a stylish but laid back, relaxed feel in the leafy, upscale neighbourhood of Robertson Quay. The hotel offers 225 luxurious studios and suites, including an expansive Penthouse, which has unparalleled views of both the Singapore River and vibrant city via floor-­to-­ceiling windows.

The residential-­inspired property combines elements from Robertson Quay’s industrial and intriguing past with sleek contemporary finishes whilst seamlessly blending into the residential surrounds. Light-­filled room interiors have been designed to magnify the familiar comforts of home where guests may enjoy bespoke amenities such as a specially designed in-­room cocktail kit.

Established as part of a holistic dining and lifestyle destination, the hotel boasts a wide range of restaurant and bar concepts. Flagship restaurant Publico, representing the central core of Italian culture, is a multi-­concept dining destination comprising a variety of Italian experiences under one roof – a neighbourhood deli and bar and a ristorante with adjoining terrazzo by the river. Other highlights throughout the hotel include New York institution Wolfgang’s Steakhouse by Wolfgang Zwiener, and a bar and dining concept from the team behind Izy Sushi. Over 40 other dining options await at the hotel doorstep, in The Quayside precinct.

How can people connect with you?
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/markwinterton1/

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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