The Origin of 159

The number 159 is an auspicious one. It was the first commercial conservation shophouse, which I bought in 2002, to house Lancer Design, my first design agency. It was in this very premise that I stamped my leadership legacy with my team of designers and fuelled my dream of regional expansion. It was also the place that sparked the beginning of my personal developmental journey towards becoming an educator.

Along this row of 18 units of shophouses, the First Media group of companies occupied 5, making us one of the key economic contributors to the nearby coffeeshop owners.

159 is also “One Fine Line”

The unit 159 housed the First Media headquarters and the 4 other shophouses, its suite of more than 10 design studios. These numbers 159 were widely interpreted by fainted hearted staff as “one fine line”.  Staff working under this roof toed a fine line between termination and promotion. They were made aware of their employment obligations and my high expectations of their work commitments. Nothing less than their best effort and complete dedication will be tolerated. 

Individuals who survived working in 159 usually possessed the traits of boldness and resilience, with many highly ambitious ones in the mix. To this group of staff, they came knowingly of my trademark as a tough slave driver but would regard this place as a good learning place in which to hone their professional skills to become a successful entrepreneur.

One Year Equals Three

To many, one year of employment in Lancer Design is equivalent to 3 years of employment elsewhere. Under my charge, it was regarded as a highly intense work place and the ratio of designers to projects assigned was approximately 1:8 on average.


24/7 Clock Work Operational Excellence

Designers were not confined to mere designing function alone. Everyone was supposed to take on double or triple roles but of course with just one salary. These roles include project management, client service and that of a businessman. Everything inside 159 was expected to operate like clockwork 24/7. I wasn’t bothered about staff’s work life imbalance then. To me, it was ultimately about the business bottom line, organizational growth and an individual’s personal development to become the best upgraded version of themselves. Every designer was treated as a business unit and measured based on financial rather than creative performances.  All projects were treated as a competition and to me as their leader, each new client must always be better than the one before (meaning pays better). Plus, I always aimed to be the first (best) in this trade because in my experience as a competitive swimmer, no one remembers the runner up.


Eagles and Stallions Are Honed in 159

New staff would undergo the “9 Levels of Hell” during their probationary period; all underwent a 14-day close-observation period followed by another 30 days of scrutiny. By which time, his or her fate in 159 would be more or less sealed. Eagles and stallions were identified and anyone less would be removed. Eagles are leaders and stallions are workhorses.

The staff was put through twice-a-week training classes in all aspects of design entrepreneurship. The eagles were mentored and went on to start agencies with capital funding from HQ while stallions were sent to provide operational support to these eagles. This very attraction of becoming a Designpreneur was what lured many to the battlefield that was 159.


My Work Motto: “One does as one must to thrive”

Unlike many of my privileged peers and competitors operating in the same industry, I do not have doors of opportunities, only cracks. I have to hone my creative talent and business management skills in order to squeeze through these cracks to create windows of opportunities for my suite of agencies. Regional expansion plan was just one of it.

As I often say to them, “Life is never a bed of roses and no one owes anyone a living.” If they choose to walk this path with me, I promise them a journey that is unforgettable. Through their mastery of this trade, they are expected to earn themselves a passport to a well-rewarded career destiny as Designpreneurs.


From One Fine Line to One Fine Life

From “one fine line” to “one fine life”, this is my leadership testament of having honed and mentored more than 30 brave individuals who have more than just survived; they are today managing a thriving design trade as Designpreneurs.