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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

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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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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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