Taking on the world
Hear from Singaporeans who have broadened their horizons, stretched their skill sets and transformed their careers through international roles.
Trust your gut, enjoy the journey and remember that every (global/regional) work experience enchances your competitive advantage.
Jojo Ow Ze Rui
Analyst, Treasury Strategy and
Advisory Primary Debt Markets
Mizuho International PLC
(United Kingdom)

If at first you don't succeed, apply until you do. Numerous rejections didn't stop Jojo Ow. Neither did the greater disappointment of being shortlisted twice, flying to London for interviews and evaluation exercises, only to get rejected. If anything, they spurred this self-confessed risk-taker on.

"Giving up was never an option. I have always accepted that pursuing my goals involves taking risks and there is always a chance of failure. But I chose to look at every failure as an opportunity to learn, rather than a setback," she said. "I prefer to focus on preparing myself for the next opportunity, staying determined and maintaining a positive mindset. This allows me to live life on my own terms, pursue my goals and have no regrets."

Jojo started her hunt for overseas work opportunities during her final year at the Singapore Management University. Her perseverance saw her knocking on doors of firms in London, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Hong Kong for jobs in capital markets, investment banking and asset management. In 2016, the 27-year-old accountancy graduate landed the role of her dreams as a Treasury Strategy Advisory Analyst for Debt Capital Markets (Financial Institutions) with Mizuho Bank (London).

"It was definitely not easy to get here. But I've always aspired to work overseas. It's rooted in my passion for travel and meeting people from around the world," she said. "I also believe I can realise my full potential only if I stretch myself beyond my limits and step out of my comfort zone to take on new challenges that drive my personal growth and development, especially during the early stages of my career."

And getting the job was just the first hurdle. As she was new to London's banking scene and the industry, the learning curve was steep. She said: "The team was newly formed and had a lean structure, so it was necessary for me to innovate and build new databases, streamline processes, multi-task and stay organised to ensure top quality output, while acquiring as much knowledge as possible in a short time."

She wanted a challenging career with ample opportunities for growth and that's exactly what she got. The international exposure has added tremendously to her knowledge, and working alongside a diverse group of ambitious, high-calibre individuals has given her fresh perspectives.

"Living overseas forces you to adapt to a new way of life. You will encounter cultural differences at work and outside of work, so you need to be flexible, resourceful and determined. It will make you more open-minded and also strengthen your communications skills because even if everyone seems to be speaking the same language, you have to appreciate the nuances of different communication styles. This will improve your standing in the eyes of a future employer."

Jojo's visa allows her remain in London for five years. Her medium-term goals are to deepen her knowledge and improve her skill sets, while continuing to strengthen her professional relationships. She also intends to go back to school at some point to add a Masters degree to her résumé, which already includes passing all three examinations of the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA).

"Success to me is achieving my goals, no matter how big or small they are, or how long the journey may be," she said. "And it's not just my career aspirations, but also my personal goals of exploring the world and living life to the fullest."

To that end, she has visited 15 cities (and counting) across Europe in 2017. Skiing and foreign language lessons are on the cards too.

Her advice to anyone thinking of venturing abroad is to jump right in, no matter how daunting it may seem. She said: "Decide what kind of life and career you want, and make the best decision you can with the information you have. Trust your gut, enjoy the journey and remember that every work experience enhances your competitive advantage and career."

For a list of programmes that can help you get up to speed on the skills required for an international role, click here.
The experience working overseas has certainly honed my people skills and widened my professional network. Having spent over 10 years in China, I am now able to adapt to new environments and respond to challenges confidently.
Mae Ng
Assistant Vice President
Franchise and Global Operations
The Ascott Limited
(China and United States)

She has worked in China for 10 years, moved across cities including Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Shenzhen, and is effectively bilingual.

Mae Ng, 37, is Ascott's Assistant Vice President for Franchise and Global Operations.

Mae graduated with a double degree in Business and Hotel Administration from Nanyang Technological University in 2001. In 2003, she enrolled in the Ministry of Trade and Industry's Asian Business Fellowship (ABF) training programme and was offered an overseas work opportunity with Ascott China. What was to be a two-year stint turned into 10, and changed her life beyond her imagination.

Overcoming challenges with help from local friends

When she first relocated to China, Mae was unsure if her command of Chinese was sufficient to get things done in a business setting. To her relief, most email exchanges were in English. She soon learned she needed her Chinese colleagues as much as they needed her. She helped them draft English emails, while they helped her vet Chinese legal documents. These colleagues soon became her friends and were valuable in helping her settle down in China. Her ability to converse in English and Mandarin clearly gave her an edge over others.

"Being overseas can be fun, but also very challenging. Being clear of your objectives will help you approach the experience with a positive mindset, and make the most of living and working in a foreign land."
Developing useful skills for the future

Mae confesses that the sheer magnitude of China's size was beyond her expectations, and she felt overwhelmed at the beginning. Over the course of time, she expanded her social network, and friendships she built with the locals helped her see things from their viewpoint. She added that each new city she visited gave her new perspectives, and all these experiences helped her better understand the inner workings of the country.

Mae's China experiences taught her to manage difficult scenarios with ease and confidence. As the lead, she's expected to manage different stakeholders to ensure projects are on track. Her experience managing different stakeholders served her well when she was tasked to drive Ascott's entry into the US in 2017. "Being in China gave me a strategic view and taught me to always be sensitive to the needs of the local community," she says.

Knowing what lies ahead

She highlighted that working overseas can be an enjoyable experience, but is not without its challenges. It is therefore important for individuals interested in regional or global careers to do thorough research before making a decision.

Looking back, Mae sums up her overseas job experience as one that strengthened her ability to adapt and cope with change, as well as honed her people skills and widened her professional network.

For a list of programmes that can help you get up to speed on the skills required for an international role, click here.
I am confident that with my keen interest to grow professionally and the skills I have honed while on the job in Myanmar, I am able to propel myself towards even bigger opportunities.
Priyanka Jain
Trader, Valency International Trading Pte Ltd

Challenges faced while working in emerging markets are different from those in established economies. Such experiences, however, sharpen one's problem-solving skills and build resilience. For Priyanka Jain, setting up shop in Myanmar helped her overcome unexpected obstacles and taught her to embrace jugaad – thinking out-of-the-box for creative workarounds.

"In a developing country, there is no other choice! Either we find a way to make things work, or nothing gets done," said the 28-year-old who splits her time between Yangon and Singapore.

As Head of Operations at Valency International Trading, an international trading house headquartered in Singapore, Priyanka oversees the firm's offices in Djibouti, Ethiopia and Sri Lanka. Since 2016, she has also been in charge of steel, sugar and fertilizer trading in Myanmar, as well as strengthening ties with local players and sourcing for new avenues of growth in the country.

Overcoming all odds

"The toughest part of my job is leading the business in Myanmar, where government policies can change quickly for reasons not immediately apparent, and working in an environment where contracts, legal frameworks and trade terms are not standard practice," she said.

She came face to face with one of her "most challenging moments" when a regular customer called to renegotiate the terms of an already-signed contract. His reason? He had no idea what he signed.

"That was an important learning experience and it came as a bit of a shock as the goods were of relatively high value and had already been shipped," said Priyanka, who joined Valency as a Steel Trader in 2010, upon graduating from the University of Bristol with a Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Economics and Mathematics.

Taking small steps and getting connected to the world stage

Up to that point, her only introduction to commodities trading was a short stint as a trainee at Valency, between completing her A Levels and enrolling in university. She did administrative tasks and documentation for trades, so becoming a full-fledged trader was a big leap.

"It took me awhile to get the hang of it, build my knowledge in global demand and supply trends, and learn the finer points of maintaining existing relationships, as well as forging new ones," she said. But her perseverance and enthusiasm soon paid off when steel distribution in Asia and Africa was added to her portfolio.

And just as she had hoped, her portfolio was further expanded after she completed a Master of Business Administration at the Instituto de Empresa (IE) Business School in 2014. The qualification also made her a prime candidate for the Myanmar opening which came two years later.

Although she knew running the show in a new market was a big ask, she jumped at the chance. This leap of faith served her well; the Myanmar posting is a career development milestone and has positioned her for greater career advancement.

"Working here really broadens your mind. You have to adapt to their ways of working and learn to accept the culture. You also need to be circumspect and agile in identifying ways to minimise risk. But these challenges also help you realise you can make the impossible possible. And that is inspiring. It gives you the confidence and motivation to do better and do more," she said.

"Working here really broadens your mind. You have to adapt to their ways of working and learn to accept the culture. You also need to be circumspect and agile in identifying ways to minimise risk. But these challenges also help you realise you can make the impossible possible. And that is inspiring. It gives you the confidence and motivation to do better and do more."

"It's been incredibly exciting being based in Myanmar. It is one of the last frontier economies today and the prospects are phenomenal. I intend to expand my product portfolio and expertise in supply chain and I am confident with this mindset and skill, I can propel myself towards bigger opportunities," she added.

As Valency operates in 38 markets worldwide with plans to expand into more markets and ramp up trade volumes over the next few years, her timing couldn't be better.

For a list of programmes that can help you get up to speed on the skills required for an international role, click here.
Being more culturally attuned to the diversity of opinions and experiences is a necessity to succeed. Opening your mind to other perspectives allows you to think about problems more holistically and find creative solutions to solve them.
Julia Leong
Director of Business Operations
(APAC and China)

At 39, Julia Leong, Director of Operations of LinkedIn (APAC, China) leads a very fulfilled life. She juggles between a demanding job, hobbies and community service projects.

Based in Singapore, she is charged with driving business strategies at LinkedIn in Asia Pacific and China.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained

Julia believes in "Being bold and courageous", taking a quote from American writer, H. Jackson Brown Jr. "When you look back on your life, you'll regret the things you didn't do more than the ones you did."

Julia worked for five years in sales at CNN, Singapore. As her experience grew, so did her desire to move into a new role to grow new skills and develop strategic thinking abilities.

When the opportunity for a role in global strategic planning in New York surfaced, Julia stepped forward. Julia has always been open about her desire to take on a strategic role and work overseas, hence she was awarded the job. During her three-and-a-half years in New York, she acquired a broader perspective on various issues, largely through her experience of working with a global team.

She was involved in developing global digital strategies, and this paved the way for her next role. In 2008, Julia was asked to return to lead the Asia Pacific digital sales team in Hong Kong for CNN.com, a role she held for four years.

Making friends everywhere you go

Julia's stints abroad were not without challenges.

"I had to learn many new things and adapt to new cultures. This included things many of us take for granted in Singapore, like having to communicate in English with a storekeeper who only speaks Cantonese in Hong Kong. This is when you have to turn to others for help and these people end up becoming your friends."

Improving job prospects through overseas stints

Julia shared that her experience working abroad has helped her to better understand and appreciate different perspectives and cultures, opening up her mind to think and do things differently.

To her, there is no question that having overseas work exposure will increase one's job prospects. When hiring, Julia is always on the lookout for candidates who are open-minded and willing to embrace different markets. "Especially for regional or global positions, you need to be sensitive to nuances of different cultures in different cities."

Understand the environment and plan ahead

Prior to working in New York and Hong Kong, Julia travelled to these cities numerous times on work trips and had some basic understanding and familiarity with how things are done, and this helped her plan for her potential move.

For those with young families and are undecided about working overseas, Julia recommends planning ahead to ensure there is a strong support network. She feels that working abroad is also a good opportunity to expose young children to a different environment.

For a list of programmes that can help you get up to speed on the skills required for an international role, click here.
Spending time in the market helps me appreciate how cultural differences impact the way we conduct our business. I find these experiences to be invaluable and applicable for other functions.
Damon Wong
General Manager, Airline Development
Changi Airport Group, Airport / Aviation
(SEA, North Asia, Middle East and Africa)

Damon Wong, 39 is quite the jet-setter. As General Manager of Airline Development at Changi Airport Group (CAG), his work requires him to travel frequently in the region to build client relationships.

Damon's team is responsible for strengthening Changi Airport's air connectivity within Africa, the Middle East, North Asia, and Southeast Asia. This means he has to have his pulse on international markets.

He is required to travel most frequently to China and Indonesia, the group's two major markets. He attends industry conferences, participates in trade missions, and conducts product roadshows. "A lot of our work involves interacting frequently with airline representatives based in headquarters, as well as those sent to represent their operations in Singapore," says Damon.

Growing the airport's connectivity has led Damon to become increasingly connected on the global front, and the international exposure he gets as a result allows him to acquire new skills and experiences.

For example, he has the valuable opportunity of engaging people from across the world. "This diversity makes our job both interesting and challenging at the same time. I find spending time in the market, meeting our business partners face-to-face, and having regular internal sharing on cultural sensitivities most helpful."

He adds that knowing the local language is very beneficial. While most of his business associates speak English, being familiar with their lingo goes a long way. "It helps us build rapport with them, and establish relationships quickly."

"Some of us in the division have gone through, or are currently taking lunchtime courses in business Bahasa Indonesia, Chinese and even basic conversational Russian," he adds.

His frequent business dealings overseas have also broadened his world view. "I have seen how changes in international relations can impact business decisions, and this exposure has given me the confidence to tackle future challenges in my industry."

While Damon enjoys his globe-trotting career, it has not been without challenges. He recalls: "It wasn't easy in the beginning. I had to seek my wife's understanding because my travels straddle weekends, public holidays, and important family celebrations. We've also had to adjust our work arrangements as my wife and I are expecting a baby soon."

Damon also serves actively in his church as a cell group leader, and needs to ensure someone covers his duties whenever he is away. He is grateful for the support of his family and employer. "It certainly helps when my family understands that my work requires frequent travel," says Damon. CAG has also supported his work with travel allowances and day-offs in lieu of affected weekends and public holidays.

He adds that he is open to exploring new roles within the organisation over the next few years. "CAG offers its employees opportunities to rotate across functions and business units. These range from what I am doing today, to managing the different aspects of airport operations, to growing our retail business," he explains.

"The experiences I've gained from my current role are valuable and relevant to many of these functions. I am open to deepening my current expertise, and exploring rotation within the organisation to broaden my skill set."

For a list of programmes that can help you get up to speed on the skills required for an international role, click here.
I'm in charge of bringing Singapore brands into China using the Kinofy platform. Using the cross-border method, I'm able to help more companies register three times more products in China, particularly in the health and beauty industry.
Zara Lin

"E-commerce strategist" is a term that perfectly describes Kinofy's manager, Zara Lin.

Kinofy is a cross-border e-commerce platform, a subsidiary of Kino Biotech. It was set up after Kino Biotech used cross-border e-commerce for its own Kinohimitsu products in China. Bypassing traditional trading models sped up how quickly its products are sold in China. Having achieved success with its house brands, Kinofy now helps Singapore brands break into China quickly and effectively through the seamless e-commerce platform.

At Gateway 2017, Alibaba's CEO, Jack Ma shared: "China is moving from exporting to importing. China is going to be the world's largest consumer market and this engine will drive the world economy." Hence, it's not surprising many businesses are targeting the Chinese consumer.

Creating a one-stop platform for the clients

The 35-year-old e-commerce strategist's role extends beyond meeting merchants and doing administrative work. It includes liaising with multiple stakeholders like lawyers, media production houses and logistics partners to ensure the entire eco-system is constantly enhanced.

Growing her career at the speed of light

All participants in the fast-paced digital space must think on their feet and have a "willing to learn" mindset. Zara believes the demands of her job hone both her digital retail knowledge and her ability to manage people from a foreign market.

Translating Kinofy's operating manual from English to Mandarin and vice versa has expanded her e-commerce vocabulary and improved her communications with the China team.

Being based in Singapore meant she had to rely on social media apps like WeChat to communicate with her counterparts in China. Because face-to-face interactions are not possible, she has to take extra care to ensure that her requirements are communicated effectively and that she is easily understood.

Zara says China's e-commerce space is very dynamic and is at least five years ahead of the rest of the world. In China, mobile phones have become increasingly cheaper and it is a lot easier for people living in remote areas to access the web today. China's highly-developed domestic logistics networks have facilitated mobile e-commerce in China.

As the strategist linking Singapore businesses with China partners, Zara is constantly tested on her responsiveness and this excites her. Beyond that, she is thrilled to see Singapore businesses catch up with e-commerce in China and enter into fruitful partnerships with their Chinese partners.

"I derive great satisfaction from seeing my clients break into China's e-commerce space successfully."
For a list of programmes that can help you get up to speed on the skills required for an international role, click here.
Always be open to new ideas, changes and different perspectives. By doing so, you'll be able to adapt to new and different situations in a global workplace.
Tan Tu Jin
Trader, Light Distillate

Tan Tu Jin (TJ) "delivers" oil to clients around the world, but does so without leaving Singapore.

As a global oil trader specialising in light distillate at BP, TJ's trade knowledge and deep understanding of global oil and gas sees him moving energy across the world; from India to Mexico to Mozambique for use in transportation, heat and even manufacturing of daily necessities like clothes.

A day in the life of a global trader

Due to the demands of his job, TJ speaks to at least 10 people from different countries and nationalities on an average day.

His dealings across disparate cultures means he needs to tweak his conversations to suit different people throughout the day, to ensure his message gets across effectively. It also means learning to deal with many different markets at the same time, being aware that each has different needs and requirements.

Working across different time zones, languages, backgrounds and lacking face-to-face contact has its challenges, says TJ. But being open to different perspectives and communicating clearly and regularly will help overcome cultural differences within a global team.

The job of a trader might seem easy, but in reality, a trader has to ensure the littler parts within the entire complex business system flow seamlessly. This is not a simple and straightforward job, but one that requires a lot of patience and attention to details.

Early development of a global perspective

TJ graduated from the National University of Singapore (NUS) with a Bachelor of Business Administration and was part of the University Scholars Programme.

His tertiary experience exposed him to people from all backgrounds, interests, fields of work and research. This exposure helped him see situations from different perspectives and heightened his awareness of how one's background colours how decisions are made.

Upon graduation, TJ worked in the regional head office of a company in Malaysia, managing business development plans for Indonesia. As a Singaporean sitting in a foreign country and managing business expansion in a third market, TJ had challenges with language and culture.

TJ's exposure to such diversity served him well, however, especially for a job where calculated decisions are required for managing a company's risk, all while being mindful of the complexities of individual countries and customers.

Being part of a team that keeps the world's energy moving and getting it to where people need it gives TJ a sense of fulfilment.

In TJ's opinion, the best traders are those who possess a constant sense of curiosity for how things work, while changing and improving things from there. Key traits needed for a successful trader includes curiosity, adaptability, resilience, passion to learn and team spirit.

For a list of programmes that can help you get up to speed on the skills required for an international role, click here.