Navigating Life’s Waters

Chief Investment Officer of CapitaLand Limited, Mr Olivier Lim, presents his unique perspectives on life and serendipity

Issue: Apr 2012

Chief Investment Officer of CapitaLand Limited, Mr Olivier Lim, presents his unique perspectives on life and serendipity
Chief Investment Officer of CapitaLand Limited, Mr Olivier Lim, presents his unique perspectives on life and serendipity

“Life is more like sailing a yacht than driving an F1 race car. You navigate through wind and waves, and it doesn’t always face the direction of your destination. But at the end of the day, you get there. So don’t get too uptight if things don’t go your way at times. There’s a rhythm to life. When the tide is with you, swim hard. When it is not going your way, don’t fret or fight it. It will pass.”

That is the life philosophy of Mr Olivier Lim, CapitaLand Limited’s Chief Investment Officer. He shared this at the second session of In Conversation with CEOs series, a series of talks organised by CapitaLand’s Organisational Development team for CapitaLand’s senior management to share their wealth of experience, life lessons and triumphs with Gen Y employees in an informal setting.

As the self-confessed introvert addressed a crowd of 80 CapitaLand participants, it was clear that Mr Lim had overcome his shyness. At ease and in control, he was candid, charming, and, according to those who know him, characteristically witty. He regaled the crowd with tales of his childhood and background, mapped out his career and relationship choices and dispensed lessons drawn from his life while endearing himself to the crowd with wisdom and humour.

A Life of Lucky Leaps

Under the theme of “lucky leaps”, Mr Lim shared events and episodes in his life that had contributed to the man he is today. Many of these events, he acknowledged, were the result of chance and serendipity and he had tagged each event with an interesting insight.

A confident Mr Lim regaling a crowd of 80 CapitaLand employees with candid anecdotes of his life
A confident Mr Lim regaling a crowd of 80 CapitaLand employees with candid anecdotes of his life

For example, his grandfather survived the Japanese Occupation because on one critical occasion, sensing something was amiss, he slipped away when he and some other young men were rounded up by the occupying soldiers. He did not see those other young men again.

“Trust your instincts,” he said of that piece of family history, adding wittily, “My life would have been very different if my grandfather had not survived that episode.”

His grandfather went on to become a successful businessman and sent his son to the United Kingdom to further his studies even though the latter had wanted to go to China. That decision made a great impact on the family’s lineage as it was in the United Kingdom that Mr Lim’s father met his Swiss mother and got married thereafter. Having his son marry a Swiss lady was the last thing his grandfather expected but he could not object. According to Mr Lim, that turn of events was a fine example of “you can’t control your kids' lives”.

Another turning point in Mr Lim’s life came as a result of a setback. After he failed his Chinese at
“O” Levels at a time when passing the second language was important for admission to the local university, his parents sent him to Cranleigh School, a boarding school in the United Kingdom.

“I learnt about independence, interacting with different races and cultures, emotional quotient, communication, adaptability, and leadership. It was a life-changing experience. I found my voice, my character and my personality [when I was in the boarding school]. Failing my Chinese exam was a blessing in disguise,” he recalled. Even his wife, Natasha, found him to be a changed man when he returned from his time at boarding school.

“She thought I was very boring when we first met a few years before boarding school and had no interest in me,” he recalled. They met again after he went abroad, and the relationship blossomed. They were married seven years later. He added that it was ironic that “I was able to connect with my wife and soul mate because of the consequences of failing Chinese. You can’t plan life.”

Mr Lim found his time at his boarding school, Cranleigh School, to be life-changing
Mr Lim found his time at his boarding school, Cranleigh School, to be life-changing
Photo credit: www.prsarchitects.de

Eric Duan, Assistant Manager of Business Development at
The Ascott Limited, intrigued by Mr Lim’s glowing praise of his wife of 22 years, inquired about his advice on marriage.

“If you can, marry your friend. Make your wife number one, not your kids. A happy household begins and ends with a happy marriage. That is the best way to put your kids first,” he said.

But Mr Lim also talked about how he learned to give his wife the space and freedom to pursue her dreams career-wise and how their marriage has become stronger because of this.

“Don’t chain yourself to each other. Live life through each other. Our lives are so much richer now because we see experiences through each other and it strengthens our bond.”

Despite graduating in 1989 with a First Class Honours in Civil Engineering from Imperial College in London, Mr Lim sought a job with several banks because he was interested in business and finance. At that time, few corporations wanted to consider the young man since he did not have a relevant degree. Eventually, he managed to land a job at Citibank which believed in recruiting people with different skill sets.

“People are not their degrees,” said Mr Lim of that period in his life. This is precisely what he tells himself when he hires people these days. “I hire for attitude, not aptitude.”

Learning to Take Control: Mind Over Matter

But lest participants went away with the idea that he was a lucky drifter, Mr Lim devoted the second half of his talk to the values and philosophies that guided his life choices and motivated him.

One major turning point was precipitated by a career switch when he was 36. That year, he left Citibank to strike out on his own. Within six months, though, he realised that the small start-up he had with his venture partner was not going to work out. He left the company but his partner stayed on for another two years before folding the company. The takeaway from that episode for him was “if you are going to fail, fail quickly and move on”.

Although he did return to his old job at Citibank, he changed his approach to things.

The new Mr Lim saw life differently. “Life is not a constant stream of hurdles to overcome. It is a wonderful array of puzzles to be solved. I love puzzles." This "reframing" was powerful and life changing according to him. He added, "And the two tools to solving these puzzles are empathy - knowing and understanding people, and communication - connecting with people rather than manipulating them.”

But at times there are some things you cannot change, he said. Then, you have to go with the flow. “You cannot control your life and career. You have to push boundaries, accept new challenges, and embrace change.”

It was with that in mind that he left Citibank to join CapitaLand. “I have only had two employers in 21 years,” Mr Lim quipped.

In the last five years, Mr Lim has become increasingly interested in understanding the mind and how to harness its powers
In the last five years, Mr Lim has become increasingly interested in understanding the mind and how to harness its powers

In the last five years or so, Mr Lim has become increasingly interested in understanding the mind and how it works with a view to harnessing its power. He credits his initial interest in the mind to his mother who brought him to a three-day course called "alpha dynamics" during his teens which introduced the power of both the conscious and sub-conscious mind.

He sees a common thread running through the many disciplines today that are drawing on improving the understanding of the mind, and they are rooted in the way the brain has developed over the course of evolution. "Our brains are efficient, but imprecise. We have a rational part of the brain and a reactive part of the brain,” he commented. This has led to the cognitive biases that are at the forefront of some areas of study in economics, finance, and human behaviour.

His interest in the mind has focused on harnessing its power to increase the probabilities of influencing the direction of his life to achieve self-defined goals.

“Everyone is born with two gifts – time and your mind. Time is raw wealth and your mind is the wealth definer,” he said sagely, “Be the CEO of your mind. Define your wealth and purpose in life. It is your framework to filter all of life’s inputs.”

In his view, learning how to manage one's mind is the most critical skill one can develop. Do this well, and your mind can be tuned to become an "attractor" to all the things that will help you achieve your goals.

Making a Difference

Another motivational force behind Mr Lim’s life decisions is the desire to make a difference in whatever he does. That was another reason why he left Citibank to join CapitaLand in 2003. “I wanted to help build a business rather than just chase deals and make money,” Mr Lim explained.

Wanting to make a difference is also why he serves as a board member of Sentosa Development Corporation and is the non-executive Chairman of its subsidiary, Mount Faber Leisure Group Pte Ltd. Being in a position to help guide and influence the strategic vision of the organisation are areas which he has enjoyed. "When I am lying on my deathbed and thinking about the things I’m proud of, that would be one of the things.” he said.

Mr Lim’s lively talk attracted a host of questions from the audience that had definitely enjoyed the session
Mr Lim’s lively talk attracted a host of questions from the audience that had definitely enjoyed the session

Inspiring the Young

Mr Lim’s unique insights inspired many of the young CapitaLand employees.

His candour about overcoming his introversion struck a chord with Management Executive, CapitaLand Limited, Leong Chew Ming, “I am also an introvert by nature. [Seeing how] he can now speak so confidently has inspired me. I also learnt to just go with the flow and embrace the changes.”

For Nicholas Lee, Management Executive of CapitaLand Limited, this In Conversation with CEOs session was his first encounter with Mr Lim. “What impressed me most about him was how clear his thoughts on various issues were and how articulate he was in expressing them,” said Mr Lee.

Summing up his approach to all the things he cares about – his work, his family and his contribution to society, Mr Lim concluded, “When preparation and a primed mind collide with opportunity, serendipity happens.”


Comments
User Victor Yeo
111.65.28.X | 2012-04-08 13:49:30
I couldn't agree more with Mr Lim's perspectives and approach to life - having a primed mind, an attitude to want to make a difference and an acceptance that you cannot control your life - allow oneself to push and find its own level, and yet value adds to the society the best he/she could. I have learnt this the hard way.
Write comment
Name (required)
E-mail (required, but will not display)
Comment
Irrelevant or inappropriate comments might be edited or removed.
By subscribing, you consent to the collection, use and disclosure of your personal data in this form by CapitaLand Ltd, its related corporations (collectively ‘CL’) and its authorised service providers for the purposes of sending you the Inside e-newsletter, related updates and other e-mail updates which may be related to your subscription with us.
 

Please input the anti-spam code that you can read in the image.



Follow us on:

  • twitter
  • instagram
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • google+
  • pinterest
  • flipboard