Looking back, my mentoring journey began not long after I started my first job in 1984 at Singapore Airlines. No, I was not a crew member, not cabin crew and certainly not flight crew. I was a programmer and at the time, Singapore Airlines had a joint venture with a Canadian software house named IP Sharp Associates. I was seconded to the joint venture from day one.
I was assigned to handle a project that the company collaborated with a very interesting person – Mr Chris Berry. He was a former professor who had struck it rich in the private sector and had the luxury to pick and choose what really interested him for his next vocation.
Chris disliked flying and one day, I found him with an old 100-foot boat as his means of transport between Thailand and Singapore. He would maintain a permanent hotel room in the Balmoral area. Whenever he was in town, I would be invited for a catch up.
In most mentoring engagements, the rule of thumb is for the mentee to talk more and the mentor to listen. In my case, it was quite the opposite because Chris has such a wealth of knowledge which he openly shared with me. To be frank, three quarters of what he told me just blew right over my head.
The biggest takeaway from him was to not limit myself. Chris encouraged me to take charge and make things happen. At the tender age of 24, he gave me an expense account. The only complaint I got was I didn’t spend enough for I had not thought of all the opportunities that I could possibly create.
What I did, helped the project to generate higher revenue but more importantly, this invaluable mentoring relationship ignited in me the desire to innovate and create. With the encouragement from my mentor, I went on to create new products for the company, earning myself recognition from the head office in Toronto.
The confidence boost has served me well. My experience as a mentee then has also taught me how I can pay it forward. Throughout my working career, whenever I am in a position to share my knowledge and experience, I do so freely and willingly. I have been fortunate to have worked with many people across the world in various forms. Whether you call it a coaching or mentoring relationship, the result is, I now have an invaluable network.
Working with Human Resource & Finance Community (HRFC) has opened more doors in this respect. I met numerous people who see the power of mentoring and how it can help others. The formation of Asia Institute of Mentoring (AIM) is an obvious next step to amplify this.
Closing the loop, 34 years on in my career, now I find myself being a mentee once again. As one of the older entrepreneurs, I am now learning a great deal from my younger business partners at Syner-Catalyst, a company that we co-founded. It reinforces my belief that you are never too old to learn and never too young to teach.
All you need is a willing heart.