TL;DR: The “Why” is more important than the “How” and “What”.
Keng Leong works as the Deputy Director of FairPrice Online during the day but wears another hat outside of work.
Apart from fulfilling his daddy duties to his six-year-old girl, he also volunteers as a mentor for the Young NTUC Youth Career Network (YCN) mentorship programme because he strongly believes in “paying it forward”.
Recently, Keng Leong helped a young millennial, Jack Yeu, by connecting him to his former Chief Technological Officer (CTO) from his previous job.
Today, 24-year-old Jack has launched his own startup named Switcheo Network that deals with blockchain technology. Together with Keng Leong’s former CTO, the duo successfully raised USD 8.5 millions worth of funds.
All it took was a connection and Jack is now on his way to building his dreams.
I was curious to find out what inspires Keng Leong to sacrifice his personal time to do something altruistic as this so I decided to drop by his office to have a quick chat with him.
How did you find out about the YCN mentorship programme?
I got to know it via LinkedIn. I saw the initiative on Young NTUC’s page and I thought, hey that’s not a bad idea. I was previously helping out at Meet the People’s Session and a part of me tells me that I need to give back regularly. Given limited time and resources, I try to explore ways and means to make maximum impact.
What was your first impression of Jack?
He is very driven and mature.
How was the mentorship journey like with Jack?
Jack wanted options and I tried to point him in the right directions. I suggested to introduce him to my former CTO since he was interested in the data analytics space.
You barely knew Jack. How do you feel about putting your name out there and recommending people you’re not very familiar with?
I told him bluntly that I am not so concerned about my reputation per se, but I will hold him accountable to pay it forward if something good comes out of it. I would narrate the same thing to my friends who would have dealt with Jack. Perhaps that approach would provide some reason for my friends to chip in, in their own small ways.
What’s the one piece of advice that you always tell your mentees?
You need to know who you are and what you stand for. Some career guides may, more often than not, talk about industry specific topics. There’s nothing wrong with that but I am of the view that, that’s the “how and what”. There’s a broader question at hand and that’s the “why”. Why do you feel excited about certain things?
Why is that important?
Passion is the result and if you don’t understand what is that thing that converts what you do into passion, then the flip side is stress. You need to take three steps back and ask yourself what went through your mind when you felt that passion. I am not here to give them answers but to offer them questions, mess them a little bit and help them stay focus.
How do you get your mentees thinking about what they want out of their career?
I always used this story for the first “speed dating session”: I spent a few months in this company where there’s a 50% turnover rate. Unfortunately, the regard for you as an individual in the company is not ideal. You will hear stories about senior management abusing their staff and how the company has no regard for family. If I pay you X dollar and you accept my money, then you do your job. Otherwise, that’s the door. In a nutshell, you’re treated as a commodity.
This story resonates with the people I meet because it further reinforces who you are and what you stand for. Can you imagine staying in a company where in order to survive, you need to backstab, play politics and do a lot of things you’re not comfortable with? But under the name of survival, you do it and you run the risk of turning into a different person you may not like.
In your definition, what’s a good career?
Don’t chase the rabbit. When I graduated in 2004, investment banking was the thing. The flavour of the year changes. Then came aerospace, pharmaceuticals and now the buzz words are digital marketing, data analytics etc. You need to figure out who you are, what you stand for and what you’re really passionate for. Don’t let the flavour of the year define you or else you’ll end up chasing and become Jack of all trades.
Some millennials don’t enjoy networking at all. Do you have any advice on how they can overcome this hurdle?
You just have to recognise that we’re still human beings and the need to interact exists. There’s a social skill that we shouldn’t forget. Do we need to know everybody in the networking session? No. My own preference is just to have a good conversation with two to three people. Don’t expect anything out of it because the moment you have an agenda, people will know. Anything that happens is a bonus.
Do you agree that it’s not what you know but who you know?
I don’t agree but I have another version. Knowledge is not power but applied knowledge is power. We are in control of our own actions and attitude.
About the Youth Career Network Mentorship Programme
Young NTUC’s Youth Career Network is a support network consisting of volunteer career coaches and career guides. The YCN mentorship programme aims to help graduating students and first jobbers better navigate and plan their career paths.
According to Keng Leong, the way in which mentors and mentees get to know each other is akin to “speed dating sessions”. There will be a few rounds of breakout sessions where mentees can seek work-related advice and mentors will share their work experiences.
At the end of the session, mentees can then approach the career guides and ask them if they are willing to be their mentors.
Click here to find out more on how you can help millennials navigate their career paths.