Chong Ee Rong: Paying it forward with the Young Business Leaders Network

The head of SBF’s Young Business Leaders Network hopes to change the way leaders and companies approach business in a fast-changing world

The SBF Young Business Leaders Network (SBF YBLN) was launched in September 2018 as a platform for young entrepreneurs, next-generation business owners and corporate leaders to come together and respond to the ever-changing global environment. The vibrant community offers the chance to meet peers, share experiences, and explore partnerships that positively impact society through business.

The definition and qualities of a good leader today have changed inexorably in the past decade. Gone are the days when a leader was defined purely on financial success and shareholder returns. The Business Roundtable in the USA recently redefined the purpose of a corporation going beyond accountability to shareholders, but to all stakeholders. This includes customers, employees, vendors, partners, shareholders and the community in which we live. This move signals a tectonic shift in focus for leaders of today and KPIs for tomorrow.

As the Chairperson of YBLN, Chong Ee Rong wants to offer up-and-coming leaders the kind of guidance and exposure she received as an executive climbing the corporate ladder. In the process, she hopes to fuel a sense of greater responsibility among these next-generation chieftains; something she believes we need a lot more of in today’s continually changing business landscape.

“This generation is at the inflexion point. Business, as we know it, is becoming unsustainable. We are navigating issues of global proportions in this lifetime. We have the largest population occupying Planet Earth with fast-depleting resources, the most economically viable workforce, multi-generational workforce, game-changing technological shifts, greater access to data and the likes,” says Ms Chong.

“If you’re familiar with the Japanese concept of ‘Ikigai’ – which means reason for being – it is about finding the source of value in one’s life, and or the things that make life worthwhile.”

Ms Chong contends that our future depends on our current generation of leaders who are an impassioned cohort of socially conscious individuals. This generation sees themselves as so much more, with a strong sense of purpose and duty to make meaningful contributions. There is an innate desire to continue to build successful and profitable businesses but, equally, re-affirming the role organisations play in improving society and the wider ecosystem for the benefit of all stakeholders. As they say, “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

The group recently launched the SBF-YBLN HOPE Fund, which aims to help promising local enterprises cope with the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak by offering short-term working capital loans for up to 12 months if they are facing cashflow issues.

Ms Chong joined the Board of Certis Group last year as a Non-Executive Director, after an 18-year career across Ogilvy & Mather Asia Pacific, where she last held the position of Group Managing Director of the Singapore office.

Why did you decide to join SBF YBLN?

I sit on the SBF Council, and there was a desire to look at how we could re-invigorate our young business leaders community. I’ve been very blessed in my own career in having people who took me under their wing and mentored me (within and beyond the organisation), and I wanted to pay it forward by helping young leaders have those same opportunities and experiences.

I believe that business leaders today need more guidance than ever in the current uncertain environment (see above).

This generation of leaders faces a different set of challenges from their predecessors. People are stepping into leadership roles a lot younger; some in their 20s and 30s. Beyond just equipping them with the skills they need, it is about exposure beyond the safety of Singapore shores, it is about understanding global context, cultures, responsibilities that go beyond the corporate universe they sit in. Our future depends on more visionary and responsible leaders/stewards who see that in the pursuit of economic development and business success, how we use the profits to reinvest into our communities, who we are uplifting in society, and understanding that the most promising way to build long term value is sustainable business practices.

Sustainable development is a journey. And on this journey, we need stewards. Stewards with vision, determination, influence and resources. The YBLN community has the potential to represent this force for good bringing us into the future. There is an underlying belief that we can bring together our collective resources for a common good.

The YBLN ethos represents the new generation of Singapore leaders who believe that in order for change to come, we must make it happen. The change must come from the ground up, one conversation, one action, one person, one leader at a time.

Who sits in the YBLN Exco?

Our Exco reflects the diversity of our current generation of leaders. Our Deputy Chair is Mark Lee, CEO of Sing Lun Holdings with a diverse range of business interests worldwide, and third-generation business owner who grew his family business when he joined the company in 2009. Today, Sing Lun Holdings has expanded the group’s portfolio beyond fashion retail into industrial, real estate and investment.

Fang Eu-Lin, a senior corporate leader with PwC who has built a stellar 18-year career with the firm, building and leading their sustainable business practice. Currently, Eu-Lin continues to focus on governance, risk and control in both financial services and the government sectors.

Sumitra Aswani, the fourth-generation family member of Tolaram Group who runs the 70-year-old family foundation built on issues related to education, entrepreneurial and vocational training, and healthcare in vulnerable communities. Ishk Tolaram Foundation was started as part of the commitment to a greater focus on philanthropy and sustainability. Sumitra strives to be an advocate for social awareness and responsible giving to business and partners.

Suhaimi Zainul Abidin, CEO of Quantedge Capital Pte Ltd who runs a financial services company and stepped into leadership roles at an early age in 2013. Prior to his appointment, Suhaimi began his career as an advocate and solicitor in Allen & Gledhill LLP and became a partner in 2010. He is most notably known as a leading legal practitioner in his areas of specialisation which include advising financial institution and blue-chip corporations in bank financing transactions.

Theodore Khng, an intrepid entrepreneur who started a Singapore-owned organic skincare range that is innovative, natural, effective and affordable. Theo10 Pte Ltd was founded in 2013 and Theodore continues to venture into pharmaceutical and lifestyle industries with new cures for diseases, advocating a more natural and wholistic approach particularly in both healthcare and skincare.

What do you see as the key benefits of YBLN for its members?

YBLN members enjoy a strong sense of community and bonding, as they are surrounded by individuals who are determined to make a change, leave a footprint and make a tangible difference. YBLN not only leverages SBF’s 27,000-member network and resource bench that is unparalleled in Singapore, but is also an active community itself that helps members to meet, share and partner through a combination of fireside chats, workshops, business missions, and mentorship programmes.

Finally, from a business standpoint, you get to learn from those who were leaders before us. You will be surprised how people are willing to help if you just ask. Our senior leaders are eager to give back.

What is your long-term vision for YBLN?

Our purpose is to ‘Reshape the future of business, one leader at a time.”

We believe that what we do matters. We believe that we can build successful and sustainable ethical organisations, and that our leadership style could become a beacon of hope to the world. But purpose must go hand in hand with action.

If we look to the future, the vision is for our Singapore leaders to be globally recognized as the cohort who started the movement to run business right. Creating, building, managing, growing, and leading companies who represent the gold star of sustainable business practices.

The long term vision is for Singapore to be a beacon of sustainable business, and our leaders are recognised as global stewards.

We rank (and reward) economic, business and societal success equally.

Are you optimistic for the future?

Absolutely! The ambition we have set ourselves is to be change-makers on a journey. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – Lao Tzu. So every day, we take one leader, one step forward.

“Reshaping the future of business, one leader at a time.”

Imagine if we get this right?

What SBF YBLN does

SBF-YBLN’s mandate is to reshape the future of business, one leader at a time, by bringing together Singapore’s leading young entrepreneurs, next-generation business owners and corporate leaders to come together, grow and inspire its community.

Among its activities are dialogue sessions, workshops and networking events that stimulate minds and challenge members to think about leadership and stewardship. The Network also offers members opportunities to meet peers, share experiences, and explore partnerships that positively impact society through business.

SBF-YBLN is also Singapore’s official representative to the ASEAN Young Entrepreneurs Council and Association and represents Singapore’s engagement with other young entrepreneurs’ organisations globally.

You can find out more about joining YBLN here