The accidental entrepreneur


  • Education
  • Sunday, 30 Oct 2011

LOOKING back at the last nine years, here are the hard facts I have had to face:

1. Before SPM, I was too lazy to study hard as I knew I had the financial backing of my parents. I never thought about how lucky I was, or how much they sacrificed to put me through college;

2. I finished SPM with dreams of being a hotshot engineer in Silicon Valley riding the dot-com bubble. Of course, I knew shockingly little about what any of those things really entailed; and

3. Up till recently, my knowledge of the world – its problems, its people, and its culture – was severely lacking as it was shaped by commercialised Western television and the Internet. Although I grew up in Malaysia, I had little exposure to folk from other social classes.

My journey began at the dawn of the millennium when I completed my A-Levels and went on to pursue an engineering degree at Northwestern University in Chicago, the United States (US). It was very, very cold there – minus 20 degrees Celsius at times.

Three years after starting college, I was a radically changed person. I realised that my true calling was to devote my life to work that was meaningful to me, and that I did not enjoy engineering in its traditional sense, although I graduated with a Bachelor in Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences.

Upon graduation, I was determined to find employment in the non-profit sector and secured an internship at an organisation that provided food to the homeless in Chicago.

Although I enjoyed my work immensely, I was not able to remain employed there due to my US work visa situation. I had to decide if I was to return to Asia to work in the development/non-profit field, or pursue a corporate career in the US, which was the only way to secure a work visa at the time.

The allure of a large pay cheque, sharp grey suits and expense accounts eventually won me over and I accepted a management consulting position in Philadelphia. I worked there for two years and went on to become a manager at a global pharmaceutical company in Princeton, New Jersey, making more money than I ever thought possible.

Fortunately, throughout my corporate career, I focused on learning from my work environment and saving as much money as I could while pursuing other interests after work hours.

After three years in my cubicle, I left the corporate world and began to work on my own entrepreneurial ventures in Philadelphia and other cities. I wanted to be a small business entrepreneur because it would allow me to live a lifestyle that I cherished. More importantly, I would be able to pursue work that would be meaningful to me – personally and professionally – without being held accountable to someone else’s whims or the profit motives of owners or investors.

Over the years I discovered (due to a combination of part-time work and meeting new people) that my passion lay in “social business”.

This is the model of running profitable, successful companies which at its core takes into account the 3 P’s – people, planet, and profits.

This effectively combined my interests in the traditional business world with providing a social benefit to the communities I worked in.

My entrepreneurial ventures include partnering with an experienced real estate investor on low-income housing in Philadelphia. I also developed an education consulting business where I worked as a career counselor for 20-somethings who were trying to find their place in the world. Most importantly, both endeavours were entrepreneurial in nature and very meaningful to me as they met the objectives I wanted to achieve in my professional career.

After spending close to 10 years in the US pursuing further education and work opportunities, I recently decided to move back to Asia.

Spending time with my family, pursuing meaningful business ventures in Malaysia, and exploring and enjoying my native land was a calling too strong to ignore.

I intend to continue my work in real estate and career guidance here, but also focus my energies on other business ventures including sustainable tourism, fitness, and nutrition – all passions of mine.

As I pause midway through my life and look back at life after SPM, I realise that the road I took was one that I never expected to be on, but I am eternally grateful and humbled by the opportunities I have had. I intend to live the rest of my life building upon that foundation.

I constantly remind myself of my primary goal – creating positive change in the world. All great journeys start with small steps, and I hope anew everyday to have the courage to take them.

● Finishing school is a fun time but for most of us, it is a time for some serious thinking about your future. The Star Education Fair’s Options After SPM talk is a good place to help you make your choices easier. This story is published in What’s After SPM? available at MPH Bookstores.

This story is published in What’s After SPM? available at MPH Bookstores.


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