Text: Foo Jie Ying
Empowering herself to empower others
With a flair for physics and mathematics, pursuing engineering as a career seemed like a natural fit for Su Pei Lin (CEE/2001).
Helping to style a friend for her pre-wedding shoot, however, made the civil engineering graduate rethink her career at PUB, Singapore’s national water agency.
Despite a busy work season, Pei Lin was buoyed by that experience.
“It made me sit up and reflect on what made me feel so energised,” she says.
She adds that despite doing well at PUB, where she was involved in mega construction projects such as Marina Barrage, she struggled to find personal fulfilment in the work she was doing.
Eventually, Pei Lin took the plunge and left her job of nine years for the world of image consultancy and training.
Entering a new industry not in her field of study meant that Pei Lin had to take a “substantial pay cut”. While expected, the pay cut meant Pei Lin and her husband did have to be more mindful of their spending habits. Nevertheless, her husband and family remained supportive of her decision to switch career tracks.
To prepare herself for the career transition, Pei Lin enrolled in a course that equipped her with the necessary knowledge and skills needed to deliver workshops on personal branding and building professional presence.
“Like all jobs, a big part of the learning comes from learning on the job when I am out there delivering my workshops,” says Pei Lin, who is now a corporate trainer with image training and consultancy practice Imageworks.
Her degree may seem incongruent with her current job, but Pei Lin feels otherwise: “My training in NTU has trained me to be clear and structured in my thinking and this translates into the way that I conduct my training.”
While she interacts with clients across various sectors, her working experience as an engineer helps her to relate better to clients in the STEM industry.
"Having walked similar paths before, I can empathise with their challenges, engage and relate to them better, and share knowledge, insights and impart skills in a way that is practical and tailored to their work contexts."
The super mum
At the peak of her career as a managing director at an international conference company, Joan Ong (NBS/2000) called it quits.
She even turned down an offer to be the company’s CEO.
The reason? Motherhood. She had just given birth, and didn’t think her jetsetting corporate lifestyle would be a good fit.
“It just hit me that I wanted to spend more time with my newborn,” she says.
Not that it was in Joan’s character to be a stay-home mum. But it did change her perspective of what work should be – something meaningful and something that she could relate to in her new role as a mother.
A year after her son was born, Joan devoted her efforts to raise another ”baby” – a parenting community and platform that encourages raising kids in a healthy, happy manner.
“I grew up in a time where the focus was on academic results rather than the happiness of a child. I also didn’t quite agree with the ‘Asian’ way of raising children,” says Joan, 45, who named her son Kaemon, which means joyful in Japanese.
“I wanted to build a community of parents who advocate the raising of not just smarter but happier children.”
Leveraging her experience in events and conferences, Joan organised her first parenting event in 2012 – a seminar with a bestselling pregnancy book author, who agreed to fly to Singapore on her own dime.
The event drew thousands of parents, and kickstarted her journey of developing a series of programmes aimed at supporting the parenting journey.
The following year, she launched Welovesupermom, which started out as a platform for community groups and in-person events.
Initially, Joan had a niggling worry that her start-up may not take off. Thankfully, her background in accountancy came in handy.
Being constantly aware of the dollars and cents helped her to make prudent financial decisions so the company could operate within its means.
“I was always conscious of cost, revenue, and breaking even. As a result, we never really had an issue with not being able to cover our expenses,” she says.
A decade later, the company has come a long way. Today, it is a parenting community and consumer insights platform driven by artificial intelligence, with 20 million users in six Southeast Asian countries.
The company raised S$8 million in funding early this year, and there are plans to expand into more markets. Crediting her co-founders for the company’s success, Joan says: “I couldn’t have done it alone myself. I needed cofounders to steer the ship. Getting more people on board was the best move for the company and is very important for growth.”
One of them is civil engineering graduate Luke Lim (CEE/1999), another NTU alumnus who has become an entrepreneur.
“I’m business-savvy and that could limit my mindset in the company’s growth because everything was about dollars and cents, whereas Luke’s bold and forward-looking nature helps to balance that out,” says Joan.
Reflecting on the past decade of raising her son and building a company at the same time, Joan realises that there are many similarities between the two.
“You need patience, determination, resilience, wisdom… And it takes a village to do either,” she says.
This article first appeared in issue 3 of U, the NTU alumni magazine.