I was reading “The Edge Magazine” over the weekend and come across an article detailing the speech of Mr. Liew Mun Leong to some 400 NUS graduates. Mr. Liew is the current chairman of Changi Airport Group and ex-CEO of CapitaLand. He is rated one of the most successful CEO in this region. In 2000, he became the founding President and CEO of CapitaLand limited (merger between Pidemco & DBS Land), and later built it into one of Asia’s largest Real Estate Companies.
I had extracted key points of the article as follows, which summarizes Mr. Liew’s advice in career and life for young graduates.
Build Your Core Competencies
“Choose the first job to develop your core competencies in order to build something solid on which you can develop a recognizable strong foundation."
“Don’t immediately think about monetary incentives! They will come your way later.”
For e.g. Mr. Liew is an Civil engineer by training and started his career as an engineer to build camps, infrastructure, airports, apartments, shopping malls and hotels. Later the business community recognized his worth and he became CEO for Real Estate company where his engineering knowledge and management skills is put to good use.
Focus on Job Performance, Not Quick Career Climb – Be Patient
“Be Patient in your job. It is encouraging if you have big ambitions, but take your time. Most of you will have 40 years or more in your working life. Unless, of course you plan to retire very early in your 40s, when you should ordinarily speaking still be peaking. It would be wasteful if you choose to stop work prematurely, since so much human capital has been invested in you. And believe me, you will be bored to death if you let up too early in life. There is no need to rush to peak in your career climb.”
“Life is not about rushing to your final destination and then doing nothing. It is the journey that matters.”
“Take your time, enjoy your work and career journey. I have witnessed many talented people peaking very early in their life and sadly, failing off just as soon.”
“Do not ever take short cuts and always dream or plan how to get the next promotion or become the next CEO. Many times, you will probably end up doing worse or doing the wrong things in life.”
Mr. Liew also advised that in our first job, we should stay focused, learn and perfect our skills. He advocates to create value for yourself and become a competent and capable professional. To add further, he emphasized that we must “always build to invest in our own human capital.”
“Develop strong discipline in whatever you do. I believe you cannot do anything great or achieve much in life if you don’t have strong personal discipline. I have not come across a CEO who has no personal discipline.”
“When I job-interview young people, I find that not many do their regular exercise and they don’t read enough. Many confess that they don’t even read the local papers. No time, no interest, or just no discipline.”
“Only when you conduct yourself with discipline, then you can impose disciple on others…”
Mr. Liew at age 69, still get up at 6am daily to job 5-6km to keep fit and healthy. He also read 2 local and 3 international papers every morning, before going to office.
Adopt and Stick to Your Core Values
“Good core values can serve as a moral compass when you have to make decisions in your job. It is your DNA. When you become more senior in your job, you will have learn to exercise discretion in lots of important decisions, sometimes in circumstances which are not clearly black or white. Your core values should guide you in your judgements and decisions. You will at least know what are the absolute no-nos.”
“Never, never touch money which is not yours.”
“Better be poor but proud” – Philip Yeo (Perm Sec)
Mr. Liew think that universal core value is “High Integrity”. He had seen many bright talents broken down in their career and life, because their integrity is compromised.
Build Your Character, Not Just Resume
Mr. Liew recommended books such as “The Road to Character” from David Brooks, a philosophical journalist.
“You will finally be judged by other people not only on your abilities, which contribute to external success, but also on the worth of your character – ‘Eulogy Virtues’.” – David Brooks
“Eulogy virtues will ultimately define your inner life.”
Your Working Mindset – 5Ps
In Singapore, it is known as Kiasu and Kiasi, which Mr. Liew thinks it is nothing to be ashamed because being paranoia forces him to plan ahead to deal with even the most remotely possible adversity. It also forces him to also foresee unexpected but large impactful events, which economists call “black swans.”
Mr. Liew advised that we should not give up too easily and achievements take time and sustainable efforts.
“I recall being patient in my first job, which was, I must admit, very boring. I didn’t really like doing a maintenance job in Mindef, but I persevered, learnt from it and got promoted and progressed. On hindsight, I did learn something from persevering in the first few years of doing a maintenance job.”
“To me, being a perfectionist does not necessary mean you will get complete perfection. It means striving to get the best results, give the set of circumstances you have to deal with.”
“The question for perfectionist to always ask is whether his work can be improved or can he get an even better outcome. Sloppiness and carelessness have no place in great achievements.”
“If you don’t have passion for what you do, don’t do it. Quit and do something else. If you don’t have passion, you will not be a perfectionist and you can’t persevere.”
“Pragmatism is about finding practical solutions to problems without blind adherence to doctrines, mantra or ideology, and yet be uncompromising in your values system.”
Mr. Liew mentioned both Mr. Lee Kuan Yew and Mr. Lee Hsien Loong have highlighted the need of pragmatism for Singapore to survive.