Let me tell you how my company started – it was in New York City, with a 3-year-old.
I was babysitting an adorable toddler who was fascinated with where I came from – what Singapore was like, how we dressed, what we ate – and wanted to prepare some Singaporean food for her.
Back home, it would have been a quick phone call to my mum; but when I googled “Can you give a 3-year-old durian,” I realized that these things just weren’t being written about. 6 years later, theAsianparent.com is the largest parenting portal in Southeast Asia.
That’s the first benefit of going out of your comfort zone to better your career:
CHANGING YOUR PERSPECTIVE ALLOWS YOU TO SPOT GOLDEN OPPORTUNITIES
Why spend all day holed up in a room thinking up the next big thing for the Singaporean market, when it may already have been invented somewhere else? There are millions of people you haven’t talked to, so many places that could inspire you, just waiting out there.
When I heard that the NTUC and the Economic Development Board (EDB) joined forces to launch the U Future Leaders Programme with the objective of giving promising Singaporeans international exposure and training, I was ecstatic for the young execs who would be chosen for its pilot run.
I’ve always been thankful that our education system allowed me to learn a lot about our neighbouring countries. I got to travel to Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia through school; thus I felt very comfortable setting up offices in these markets years later.
WHAT WORKS IN SINGAPORE MAY NOT IN OTHER MARKETS
Ouch. That was a tough lesson to learn for a then bright-eyed entrepreneur like me. But I gained SO MUCH from living in Mumbai and Kuala Lumpur for those respective expansions.
You can read as many trend reports as you want, but nothing can replace getting to know a market by being one of its consumers.
Being in the trenches with my team helped me see how wonderfully unique each market was, and these differences most always boiled down to history and culture (both traditional and pop).
This made me see the importance of adapting not just to your local consumers, but also to your local teams. One last lesson:
YOU’RE A BETTER LEADER WHEN YOU COME BACK
Over the years and the many markets I’ve handled, I’ve come to realize that the most important role of a CEO is to mentor and help develop the team working with you – to help stretch them so they can achieve their dreams along with those of the organization.
There’s no one-size-fits-all style of leadership when it comes to running a regional company; and if you think about it, learning how best to communicate with and motivate as many types of people as you can is a skill you’ll find advantageous in any workplace nowadays.
So go out there and meet as many people as you can – learn from them, learn about them, grow with them. See the world and come back a better leader. Can’t think of a more fun way to do it too. #HowIGotHere