Playing to Life’s Different Tunes
Be it taking up the guitar, picking up cooking or facing new challenges at work, SVP, Change Management and Business Process of CapitaLand, Mr Benjamin Ng, embraces change and challenges with a can-do attitude
Issue: Nov 2014
Last year, Senior Vice President, Change Management and Business Process, CapitaLand Limited, Benjamin Ng, tried something he had never done before. He performed on his guitar at company’s Dinner and Dance, singing a medley that included two English songs and a Mandarin one.
“One of my staff was in the organising committee and to support her and the event, I agreed to perform,” he smiles.
The guitar man who picked up the instrument during his University days has an eclectic taste in music.
Mr Ng wowed his colleagues with his maiden solo performance where he sang as well
“I listen to all kinds of music – instrumental, songs, jazz, bosa nova, pop, Chinese songs, English, Hokkien, Cantonese and even some Korean ones,” confesses Mr Ng who listens to Cold Play and Eric Clapton with his grown-up sons and a mix bag of artistes including Jay Chou, Tsai Chin, Richie Ren, Wu Bai, Bee Gees, Dan Fogelberg, and the list goes on.
“I don’t have any particular favourites. As long as the melody is nice, I will listen to it and even attempt to sing and play it on the guitar, if I can.”
Mr Ng used to sing and record his songs on a tape for his wife, then girlfriend, when they were courting long distance
“The guitar is the most convenient instrument to learn because it is so portable. Anywhere you go, you can strum it and sing and people will always gather around, and the girls will go: wah!” That was what he told his sons.
That was how he kept the romance going with his then girlfriend and now wife when they were carrying on a long-distance relationship.
“She was doing her final year in Australia and I had come back to Singapore. In those days, we wrote letters and I found it too troublesome to write. So I would record my message to her on a tape and I’d always end with a song that I’d sing and play for her on my guitar,” he confides.
This little-known story sums up nicely Mr Ng’s approach to all things in life – when the going gets tough, the tough finds a way.
“I don’t shy away from challenges. When you are given an opportunity, take it. You will always be able to learn from the experience.”
Choosing to Make the Most of Army Days
Learn was what he did during his National Service.
“Going to the army changed my life. I was a bit timid and introverted as a student but I was forced to take on a leadership role in the army.”
Being in the Army was a defining moment for Mr Ng as he learnt to rise to the occasion, in one way or another, no matter how different or challenging his circumstances were
The Anglo-Chinese School alumnus found himself leading men from totally different backgrounds after he graduated from Officer Cadet School.
“Some were gangsters, butchers and many of them spoke Hokkien (a Chinese dialect), which I did not know how to speak” he recalls.
Instead of being fazed by the situation, Mr Ng found a way to connect with his men. He picked up Hokkien.
“But not the vulgarities,” he assures with a laugh.
“At the end of it, my men told me they respected me because I never resorted to vulgarities to scold them and I talked to them and worked alongside them as part of the team.
People say that the army exposes you to bad things. But there are lots of opportunities to learn good things as well. You just have to have the right attitude.”
Taking on Challenges in University
While Mr Ng wanted to go abroad to further his studies, his family of modest means could not afford the university fees. Once more, he faced the challenge unflinchingly. Mr Ng worked for over a year to earn enough to finance his first year of university study in Melbourne.
During the holidays, he would work to finance the next year’s fees. During school term, he worked to earn his own pocket money.
Mr Ng during his university days; His varied experiences - from waiting at tables, cleaning offices to working in factories - shaped his outlook in life and strengthened his tenacity to handle whatever life deals him
“I did all sorts of jobs – I waited tables, cleaned offices, worked in factories. So I know how the aunties who clean our offices feel,” he shares.
Although his schedule was punishing, Mr Ng never really found things tough. Instead, the challenging years in Australia gave him a different outlook on life”.
“One day, I was waiting on a table after staying up all night doing my assignment and then going for classes the next day. I was so tired, I ended up spilling some drinks down the back of a customer. I expected him to shout at me but he was very gracious about it. He carried on the meal with his friends and even gave me a tip at the end of the night for the good services provided (except for the drinks). That experience changed me and the way I look at people and treat them. I learnt a lesson on graciousness.”
Living abroad presented other challenges as well for the young man who, up till then, only knew how to cook rice and fry an egg. After being laughed at by a female friend for his culinary failings, Mr Ng resorted to make right the situation.
“I went and bought myself a cookbook with pictures and taught myself to cook. And every time I worked as a waiter, I would go to the kitchen to watch the chef at work.”
Today, Mr Ng can cook and also make a good dish of siew yoke(roasted pork belly) and stuffed chicken wings.
As a waiter, it was a pre-requisite for him to pick up Cantonese (which he did by memorising the lyrics of Cantonese songs) to communicate with the chefs from Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur.
When the going got tough, the tough found a way. Again.
Being Versatile with Change at Work
In November last year, Mr Ng joined his colleagues on a CapitaLand staff volunteer expedition to Jihong Village in China, which was devastated by the Sichuan Earthquake in 2013, where he rolled up his sleeves and helped to clean up rubble in order to re-build homes for the villagers affected; (Far right) Mr Ng having lunch with fellow CapitaLand volunteers at a villager’s home
At work, his willingness to take on new challenges has seen him move from audit to operations and back again, from Singapore to China, from the banking sector to consultancy and now to real estate.
“I will persevere and give my best. If I still cannot succeed after that, then I will conclude it is not for me. But I will not shy away from taking on challenges. In life, there will always be changes and challenges. If you are not ready to step out into the unknown, you will never learn to grow beyond the boundaries,” Mr Ng advises.
With this mindset, Mr Ng who joined CapitaLand in 2010, is taking on a new appointment as Senior Vice President of Change Management and Business Process, a job he undertook in September 2014. He is tasked to help the organisation achieve sustainable systems implementation and manage processes and change so as to drive efficiency and competitiveness.
But embracing this new challenge is nothing new to this man who once spent nearly three years in Beijing helping to set up an internal audit advisory service for one of the Big Four auditing firms serving the financial services sector in North China.
Mr Ng (standing 2nd on left, back row) at the Company’s Dinner and Dance in 2013; He makes it a point to spend time with his staff to get to know them on a personal level, by joining them for meals and karaoke sessions
“Relationship management and relationship building is the key,” he says.
“The difficult part is trying to get people to see that there is a need for change and assuring them that the change is necessary and will be properly managed.”
So, Mr Ng is careful to make sure people know how the change can benefit them.
“I tell my IT colleagues to emphasise how change can help in the users’ daily work and not just share about the capabilities of the system. Then people will appreciate the change and be more open to it.”
The people factor is important to Mr Ng in his management of his team as well. An open-door approach is what he favours to draw out the best in his team.
“I encourage them to try. Then I give them feedback on how they have done so they can learn.”
Charging a New Generation to Change
Mr Ng and his family
This is how he raised his three sons aged 23, 21, and 15 as well. All three of his sons play musical instruments including the guitar.
“I always tell my children to try something different and not to just do things that everyone else is doing,” says Mr Ng. You never know what you can do till you try.”
So, instead of working as a relief teacher while waiting to go to the University, his oldest son got a part-time job as a butcher.
Fishing and badminton are other ways Mr Ng spends time with his sons, two of whom are studying abroad
Be fearless in trying new things, face challenges squarely, try and never give up – these are values Mr Ng live by and these will surely help this game-changer effect the improvements that will take the organisation farther.
Asked what other things he wants to try if time permits, Mr Ng says without hesitation, I want to further my guitar skills and taking up a new language – Korean.”