Dr John Wong on trying different things in your career

(photo courtesy of Dr John Wong)

Dr John Wong is a performance coach and speaker who has helped organisations across the region achieve tangible improvements in sales and team building by more than tenfold. He regularly coaches (both English and Chinese) insurance agents and leaders, financial professionals, real estate practitioners, military and government officials in communications, sales, leadership, EQ, Sun Tze Art of War etc. Clients include Prudential, Great Eastern, AIA, NTUC Income, Tokyo Marine, C&H, Shenton Group etc.

He is effectively bilingual, both written and spoken, with strong experience in “live” translation for China and Singapore officials and business leaders. He has interviewed more than a hundred senior executives on their success stories and strategies for financial TV program and magazines. Officially anointed trainer in writing for Singapore academic institutions, he is also the adjunct professor for China Renmin University.

1) Share with us the activities you partook in during your time in NTU where you studied accountancy. Why did you choose to study accountancy?

I was in the Union Ball committee. Sadly, I didn’t devote too much time into school activities then as I was taking on three jobs at the same time. I was hosting a youth TV programme, “We Are Young (我们正年轻)”, doing lots of emceeing for events, and part-time DJing at FM 100.3.

The fun thing was: most of my close school friends got to appear on TV at least once since knowing me. I “forced” them to be my guests every now and then, so much so that even our professor asked me at one time how come he saw many of us on TV.

2) What made you decide to further your studies in Masters of Art, Contemporary China (MACC)? What fuelled your interest?

I have always loved China, be it her history, economics, culture, people etc. I was contemplating on doing a masters back then. There were so many choices. My first choice was taking up an MBA. But a fellow TV journalist suggested that there were simply too many MBAs around. MACC was unique then so I went for it. And I never had any regrets pursuing that. It’s probably the best investment I have made in my pursuit for knowledge.

3) What drove you to take on a PhD in Public Policy and Administration in NTU and later at Nanyang Executive Education in Mergers and Acquisition?

It was the Masters programme that got me addicted to studying. I never really liked studying. But I realized postgrad is so different from undergrad.  It’s much more analytical, less right or wrong (which I get wrong most of the time), and a lot of looking at things from different angles.

I think there’s something more important than academic qualifications.  It’s the desire to continue learning at all times. Now, I invest more than $50,000 every year to learn from various teachers in China every year. I think my wisdom truly grew from my frequent stays in various parts of China, be it through conducting my own courses or attending courses. For instance, the way FinTech has developed in China has far surpassed that of Singapore or even any other country. I use my WeChat wallet everywhere I go. I seldom carry cash these days.

Similarly, when it comes to blockchain, people from all walks of life are talking about the technology and the theories. In China, people are applying it to generate huge income. Very application based. That’s why recently I have been invited to give talks on blockchain and the pragmatic aspects of it, as I had the opportunity to experience it in China in ways that people outside China could not even imagine.

4) How was it like studying in University of St Gallen?

Spectacular. It’s a totally different culture. I loved to mingle with the Germans, French, Russians etc. I was always the only Chinese amongst the group. Today, 20 years later, I am still in close contact with my German buddy.

5) What is your greatest takeaway from school or educational life?

Every time I pick up new knowledge, I think of how to apply it. If I can’t, then I discard it. I only retain knowledge that can be used.

This is what I teach: Wisdom is to discard all unnecessary stuff and retain only what’s useful, then take massive action.

6) Share with us your time at Mediacorp from 2000 to 2007? Why did you choose to join Mediacorp? What were some of the highlights and learning points?

I joined Mediacorp when I was still a full-time student. They offered me a contract I couldn’t reject. Hence, I had to juggle well (not too well frequently though).

My first task was to host City Beat. It was a popular programme though a dying one as Kym Ng and Bryan Wong had done so many seasons of it. Well, I still undertook the assignment with pride. Managed to interview so many business people who eventually formed a solid network for my career many years later.

Biggest learning: All hard work you put in privately will eventually be rewarded manifold. Only persist.

7) Why did you transition to SMRT later on? What were your responsibilities at SMRT? Share your insights working with them with us.

During an interview with the CEO then, she was impressed with the ease which in I could switch between English and Mandarin. I was offered a role to head corporate affairs. It was a tedious role and my first shot in the corporate world. But I loved it as I got to host visitors from around the world. We had interesting people like the CEO of Chicago Metro, CEO of HK MTR, Ministers, China government officials too.

I was also involved in the first million-dollar tunnel TV project in Singapore which has 360 strips of LED panels linking from Newton MRT to Orchard MRT and that was where commuters get to watch a 15 second commercial from it. I also got to participate in the first subway opera venture between Singapore, Shanghai and MDA. It was a 50-episode TV series aired only on the subway screens. That was a major project back then.

8) How was your experience like working in Beijing, China at Biosensors International Group?

I was headhunted due to my immense knowledge of China and financial media background. That was my major breakthrough in the corporate field. As head of investor relations, I got to represent the Company to speak and present in investment conferences organized by Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan, Citibank, Credit Suisse, Cowen, UBS, Everbright etc across New York, San Francisco, London, Zurich, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, KL and home. My perspective changed so much after lots of exposure each year.

I was also involved in a Medium-Term Note programme where we raised US$500M within 2 days. It was a very exciting project as I was in London at a Nomura conference when it took place and had to coordinate the entire project while acting like nothing was going to take place in 12 hours’ time.

I also did the privatization buy out project by CITIC PE and learnt so much about how these big guys work behind the scene.

9) How was it like working in UK PR firm? What did you learn and do there?

Seeing my track record at Biosensors, UK’s then-largest PR firm headhunted me to join them to head their financial PR. Being the only Chinese partner in the predominantly British environment was interesting. My views on China were taken very seriously. I was glad they realised the significance of the potential of China relatively early.

I did a couple of IPOs while I was there. It was an eye opener: to be exposed to so many different industries at the same time. Most of the clients liked my financial experience in Biosensors and felt very strongly that I value added to their business. I have since become close friends with some of these bosses.

10) What is the inspiration behind your books “Turn Stones Into Diamonds” and “Wisdom to influence”? Would you be keen to pass us some of your books to giveaway to undergraduates?

Turning stones into diamonds is a Chinese branding book, written for the China market. It was written because I realised China has been exposed to much branding teachings which are not only dated, but also no longer pragmatic. Being a practitioner, I wanted to help them see what’s going on in the world where they supposedly received the teachings from. The truth.

Wisdom to Influence is based on my life experiences. I have been through so much vicissitudes in life that I wanted to share how my life turned around from the bottom pit of near bankruptcy in my failed business in China. And that how everyone can achieve a life they so desire. It has been blessed with inputs and comments from some of the top entrepreneurs in Singapore like Douglas Foo (Sakae Sushi founder), Claire Chiang (Banyan Tree founder), Dr Ng Chin Siaw (Q&M Dental Group founder) etc.

Sure, I would be happy to sponsor some books on “Wisdom to Influence” to undergraduates who write to the editor and best elucidate how they felt this piece has inspired them.

11) Did you have a role model you looked up to while growing up? What is one quote you live by?

I had many role models! I admired the spirit of the late founding father of Singapore Mr Lee Kuan Yew. I met him twice during events. While I did not get to speak to him personally, I could see his seriousness wrapped with tolerance in the way he conducted himself. I also marvel at the impossibility of wisdom of Mr Mao Tse Tung. All odds were against him but he was able to turn the tide around with his wits and endurance. And of course, my dad. An amazingly hardworking man who loved his family above all things. I think my love for family and dislike of night entertainment were truly influenced by him.

My quote: Do your very best always but with a shalom peaceful heart.

12) What is one advice you have for young undergraduates who are still looking to find their purpose in life?

Go try different things out. Daring things. Interesting things. You have nothing to lose when young. Then, as you gain more and more experiences, you will start to become clearer on what you might be looking for. In contrast to what a lot of “gurus” or coaches will tell you, to be fixated on your goal and never blink, the truth is, many people, even in their 40s, 50s or 60s, are still wondering about their purpose in life. Hence, don’t worry, start moving.


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