Straight Talking – My Success Formula
Yes, I acknowledge that I have made my mark in the design trade on 3 counts.
Firstly, attaining certain measures of financial success through my unique design consulting business model. Secondly, having personally groomed more than 30 staff to become owners of their own agencies who went on to become my direct competitors. Thirdly, able to successfully transformed my career from a swimming coach, designer, designpreneur and now an educator.
I have often been asked to share my secrets on how I made it? Despite the odds that were stacked against me, I was able to overcome these challenges and at the time, rise up from the ashes and turn the tide over.
Let me be candid and share with you some tips on success.
Environment Was a Plus Factor
I must admit it was the environment then that shaped me to be what I am today. I was born poor and started working since age 7 during every year-end school holidays. Poor may be a relative term to many. To cite a reference, I don’t own a bed till I was in secondary three or age 14. Academically, I fared poorly too. In school, I was in the last class of my entire cohort and in the third position from the back. I was always regarded as useless and an outcast.
In school and my young adult life, I suffered from an inferiority complex when I compared my academic achievements with my schoolmates. I have to work as a production operator, lifeguard and a contract labourer before I was enlisted into the army. Thereafter, I was working as a menial worker in a timber yard, encyclopedia salesman and lifeguard. However, deep inside me, I was rebellious and craved to outshine all the people who think they are better than me. This harsh environment which I was brought up made me a more determined person.
Moral of my story
I dislike the idea of being poor for the rest of my life. I was relentlessly searching for a breakthrough until I chanced upon this blue book called ‘7 Laws of Success.’ It taught me that no one owes me a living and God only helps those who help themselves. It also gives me a clear direction and taught me valuable lessons on how to become successful. Outside school, I am very sure of my own likes and dislikes. I take it upon myself to make things happen. I was a scout patrol leader with eight scouts under my charge. I was adventurous and an extrovert. With little financial means from the family, I think out of the box to find ways and means to find money to participate in outdoor activities, including hiking, mountain climbing and camping including a hitch-hiking trip from Singapore to Malacca with only S$1.
As an individual with a strong personality, I have to be resourceful to solution-finding. In one of the scout camping trip, I was the patrol leader and we have no money to buy utensils. So we used bamboo to create bowls, cooking pot, ladle, spoon, table and chairs. If I need a new pair of shoes or slipper, I will go around the neighbouring housing flats looking for shoes or slippers that were left unattended. I love sports, especially swimming. I am an accomplished swimmer, certified lifeguard, licensed open water diver and a Class One swimming coach. As a coach, I practised what I preached. I was a demanding, nasty and well-liked swimming coach all at once. I trained alongside with my charges, approximately 50 to 70 of them. My regular warm-up routine was 30 laps of the butterfly stroke. Few people could match my toughness.
Swimming is an individual sport abielt a boring one. However, it instilled in me the focus (seeing the black titles on the pool) and it cultivated my discipline and inner strength to better my last performance. I always swam with my students to demonstrate my commitment. I counted every stroke of each lap to better my last performance and listen to every breath I took. Excellence in sports instilled discipline and increased my competitiveness. In the seventies, Singapore was undergoing industrialisation. Studying Engineering was the preferred choice of study. In contrast, studying arts was deemed unseemly. Due to my poor financial background, I started working full-time at the age of 16, with the exception of two years in the army, holding different odd jobs. I had wanted to pursue arts for my study but didn’t meet the minimum academic entry criteria. Undaunted by the setback, I attended evening classes and retook the exams as a private student – with the singular aim of passing the required academic subjects. Over the span of three years, I failed not once but thrice and the entry to an arts institution continues to elude me. Eventually, my persistence paid off. The dean of the design school took an empathetic view and accepted my application. From then on, I never looked back. I was 24 then and 27 when I eventually graduated with a diploma.
I started a design agency with $2,000. Working from home, I made countless calls to introduce my services. The design trade, at that point, was saturated with many established players. I was a nobody. I have no network, no relevant work experience and staff. I struggled but I stayed very motivated. I knew my end game – I wanted to build Lancer Design into a first-class agency. I recognised management skill will be crucial when the business grows. So I went back to school again – evening classes.
Moral of the story – Start with the end in mind. It narrows your focus and increases your concentration.
I enjoy design and I like people. I have a natural instinct to connect with all levels of people. Though I am a demanding leader, I am reasonable. I pay my staff fairly but treated them superbly. I treated everyone well and was respected by many. Rolex watches, winter holidays, bonuses and incentives were a rarity but the staff enjoyed all of these. My design business, with the support of a strong cohesive team, flourished. My business managed to outlast that of many of my strong competitors.
Moral of the story – Good personality sells. If your client likes you, they will find a way to work with you even if your creatives suck.
Over the years, I have built a strong portfolio of clients and many of them have become friends. My reputation in the industry is well regarded by both my clients and my competitors. None of my competitors can fault my business integrity and honesty. That’s how I built my reputation and had kept it that way.
Moral of the story – Build and guard your reputation as a dependable, reliable, trustworthy, honest, and sincere person.
My focus has shifted from design practitioner to educator. Starting a school is no laughing matter. The school sells hope – design as a career – and I am very confident I can deliver. This path is a natural progression because I can put all my business wisdom and industry experiences to good use. I design my career pathway and I enjoy every minute of my waking hours, thinking about how my clients – my students – can better learn and experience.
Moral of the story – If you enjoy your work, work is no stress but fun. Your workplace becomes your playground – the place to have fun.
My success formula revolves around these key events. My strings of personal quality traits were also honed over these struggling years which have directly increase my PhD (passion, hunger and discipline) and shaped my attitude towards life. It is my hope that my painful lessons can serve to shortcut your learning experiences and provide you with the necessary guidance towards becoming a successful designpreneur too.