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’.