Speech By Mr Kon Yin Tong, Managing Partner, Foo Kon Tan LLP, At SIM University Convocation 2015 (Session 4) On 8 October 2015, 2.30pm, The Grand Hall Of SIM University
Professor Aline Wong, Chancellor, SIM University;
Professor Cheong Hee Kiat, President, SIM University;
Ladies and gentlemen;
- Good afternoon. Thank you for inviting me to join you on this special day. Convocations celebrate your hard-earned mortar-boards. I congratulate each and every one of you for a job well done. You have had the courage and determination to see this through and it is my privilege to share in your success and to speak at this joyous occasion. All the more as UniSIM celebrates its 10th anniversary, a significant milestone. UniSIM has excelled in creating lifelong education through uniquely-designed programmes to prepare their graduates to be game changers in the highly competitive world of business, commerce and industry. I understand these courses emphasise work-based examples and industry linkages wherever possible, allowing students to immediately hit the ground running. This is great news for employers, and provides opportunities for mature students to develop themselves further.
UniSIM a ‘Game Changer’
- The theme of the convocation is ‘Game Changer’. UniSIM is a ‘Game Changer’. UniSIM has given graduands a second chance. So graduands, grab it, embrace it and make good use of it. You did not walk on this journey alone. Many people have stood by you and supported you throughout this journey and they share in your success today. They are your family members, friends and the dedicated team at UniSIM. They have been game changers by walking with you. Please join me in showing our appreciation and thanks by giving them a warm round of applause.
What is a ‘Game Changer’?
- The phrase ‘game changer’ implies change so we must welcome and savour new experiences, learn new things, fine-tune current processes and procedures. In short, you must not be afraid to challenge the status quo – to change from within, to better the lives of your families, your loved ones, and for the betterment of your workplace and society. I will not dwell on the concept of change. Instead, I will mention the ASEAN Economic Community or AEC, as well as share with you some personal anecdotes and five lessons that have helped me in a small way to be a game changer.
ASEAN Economic Community
- The AEC is about a single market and production base for ASEAN. There is an ASEAN free trade zone planned for this year end. The Thais have learnt Bahasa Indonesia, not necessarily because they love Indonesia, but because they are interested in the Indonesian markets. Their products have Bahasa printed on the labels. They are prepared. Indonesia is approximately 43% of ASEAN. They have a large domestic market, and perhaps a bit complacent. I do not believe they are prepared for it. Change will come and we must be prepared for it, like the Thais.
You are ready to be game changers
- All of you are ready to be game changers. You are working adults. You juggle full time jobs together with studies, and some have family commitments too. You have had a lot on your plate, but you have seen it through with grit and determination. It does not matter which programme you undertook at UniSIM. Your passion and perseverance to better yourself are admirable. These qualities are essential for game changers. I take my hat off to you.
- Game changers do not need do something earth shattering. Sometimes, it is the simple things that make a difference as I trust my sharing will show. Different people will have different takeaways from these stories but I hope all of you will benefit in some way.
Share if you can
- As they say, sharing is caring. So number one is share with others if you can. It is a simple thing to do. That is what your mentors, lecturers and faculty at UniSIM have done. I am told that a teacher finds greatest joy when the student exceeds him. It is probably true. You will find joy when your efforts, however small, benefit others. So, share if you can. That is number one. On to number two.
Walk with others
- My wife is a chartered accountant. She is also a self-taught playwright. While her plays have been staged locally and in London, she is now at cross-roads where she needs to improve her craft through structured learning. So she is considering applying for a one-year master’s programme in creative writing in Swansea, Wales. I must confess that when she first broached the idea, I was hesitant. But on reflection, I realised she had already said the biggest ‘YES’ to me when I asked for her hand in marriage many years ago. She walked down the aisle with me. That was a game changer for me. So I knew I had to say ‘YES’ too. People grow old when they stop chasing their dreams and I don’t want my wife to grow old. It helps to keep the peace in the home too. That is very important.
- There is an African saying “If you want to go fast, run alone. If you want to go far, walk with others”. So number two is walk with others. Walk the journey with them. Support them in their dreams so that they may in turn pay it forward and support others. It is a privilege, and it is also fulfilling.
Continue to improve yourself
- Number three follows from the same anecdote. Continue to improve yourself. If you stand still, you will regress. Albert Einstein said that “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” It may be difficult but you have done it before. Your current achievements are just another beginning; the journey does not end here. So continue to improve yourself.
Get up after being knocked down
- Next, number four. I have been introduced as managing partner of Foo Kon Tan LLP. Not many of you know this but this is my second stint as managing partner. I was ousted once before. When I shared this news with my family, my younger son asked me to challenge the primary instigator of my ousting to a duel. Let me tell you that I did give it some serious consideration. What he said made me laugh but it also taught me a very important lesson. And that is – difficult situations can be salvaged with the right attitude. A heavy dose of humour helps too. My family is my safe harbour from the storms and vicissitudes of professional life. They walk with me. That was number two. But number four is this. Get up after being knocked down. The Buddha said “No matter how hard the past, you can always begin again.” Each time, we must come back better and stronger. According to a Japanese proverb “Fall seven times get up eight”. If others see you do it, it inspires them to do it too. It is a virtuous cycle. Do it and you will inspire others to weather their own ups and downs of life.
Ethical conflicts and dilemmas are real
- And lastly, lesson number five is about ethics and integrity. Behaving ethically or in accordance with upright or conscionable principles is difficult even in the best of times. I would like to share a two-part anecdote that involves my wife, again. She is an ethical shopper. She will not buy products that contain unsustainable palm oil, to help fight the haze, or those that have been tested on animals. At this juncture, I would like to introduce a term called BEPS or B E P S, an acronym for base erosion and profit shifting. In layman’s terms, this refers to the negative effect of MNCs’ tax strategies on local taxes paid, and its consequent impact on the development of the local economy and people. My wife does not support companies in the BEPS list. A few months ago, I was in Penang with her as my father-in-law needed a procedure on his heart to implant a device to give him the best chance. The device was manufactured by a company in the BEPS list. When I pointed this out to my wife half in jest, her retort was swift and sharp. She said “I don’t care. My dad’s life is more important!” So much for ethical buying. The message in the first part of this anecdote is that you will face real ethical conflicts and dilemmas in life. You have to make the right choices. Ethical behaviour and integrity are key if you want to be a game changer, otherwise you might not be in the position to be one as the second part of the anecdote will show.
Maintain your ethical standards and integrity
- Together with a colleague, I recently had the opportunity to interview a prospective fresh graduate hire. The interview was a two-way process in that the interviewee had the opportunity to ask questions. We decided to give her an offer after the interview. However, when we subsequently found out that she had interned in the firm previously, we were rather disappointed, not because HR did not tell us about the internship but because during the course of the interview, and in her application papers, there was no indication of any internship. She gave both interviewers the impression that she knew nothing about the firm. Accountants pride themselves in telling the truth, and that to us was far from truthful or upright behaviour. Obviously, no offer was made. Integrity is important at the workplace, and all of us need to maintain those high standards. So number five is this - maintain your ethical standards and integrity. They are paramount. Otherwise, the consequences could be adverse, as the prospective graduate hire found out.
Unethical behaviour can have destructive consequences
- Before I finish, I would like to share one more story to demonstrate how destructive unethical behaviour can be. This is about the Blue-eared Kingfisher, a rare bird in Singapore. This bird burrows to build its nest that is similar to termite mounds. It is rare to be able to photograph such a bird because their numbers are small to begin with. If you are able to take a photograph of this blue-eared Kingfisher building its nest, you become a member of an exclusive club with its associated bragging rights. There was a photographer who was presented with this opportunity who after taking the photo, chose to cover the nest with mud, so killing the bird inside it. This was to deny other photographers the same opportunity to be part of this exclusive group. The bird was simply collateral damage. This behavior is destructive and disheartening. Unethical behaviour can have destructive consequences. So you must choose properly.
- To conclude, I hope you have taken something from my sharing, and enjoyed listening to it as much as I have preparing it.
- Once again, my heartiest congratulations to each and every one of you on your achievements. Well done, have a good afternoon and thank you.