An Opportune Time to Learn, Unlearn and Relearn

Chian Lin Chew

I was a decade into my career as a marketer and in the last couple of years, started to have a growing desire to further my studies, especially to deepen my knowledge in leadership development. I have always been keen to develop myself as a better leader, since this was never a subject of focus in school and yet we are often expected to shine the moment we are placed in a managerial position.

Aspiring to put my branding and marketing skills to good use in the area of social entrepreneurship or impact investing, what attracted me to apply for INSEAD’s GEMBA was also the programme’s emphasis on entrepreneurship and sustainability. 

Ready for a new challenge and seeing that this was my window of opportunity before I’m likely to settle down and start a family in the coming years, you could say the stars were aligned. I made the decision to apply for an EMBA before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world, but its occurrence has made this choice an even more pertinent one.

The world has overcome a few health and economic crises, and I’m optimistic that we will also tide through this. However, some of the ways businesses operate have changed and this will become the new normal.

This year couldn’t be a more opportune time to go back to school to learn, unlearn and relearn, to be geared up for a post-COVID future.

The application experience

Thanks to the recruitment and assessment teams (shout-out to Antony Widjaja and Carolina Bouza!), help was always an arm’s length away whenever I had questions about the application process or assessment requirements.

Like many candidates, I was initially unsure if I was ready to take the plunge.

There were considerations needed to be made on multiple fronts - life, career, financial. I wanted to take my time to assess my options so that I could eventually be at peace with the final decision made. Antony gave me a tour of the campus and patiently answered all the questions I had. I met a couple of INSEAD GEMBA alumni through mutual friends to find out more, and everyone I met was extremely friendly and really enjoyed their experience.

When I’d decided to apply for the programme, we were just about to commence the lockdown in Singapore due to COVID-19. It was the first time the assessment and panel interview was conducted online, but the team really took the effort to facilitate a smooth assessment process.

My application experience has been a positive one thanks to the professionalism of the team and their ability to respond to the COVID-19 situation in such a short turnaround time.

Looking forward to the GEMBA

I look forward to learning from the diverse experience of the participants in the EMBA programme, many of whom would have amassed more than ten years of experience in their fields of work.

Despite being younger than the average participating age, I believe that I can also bring to the table valuable insights and thoughtful discussions based on my personal experiences, as well as from the perspective of a millennial. Having gathered my work experience mainly in Singapore, I hope to take this opportunity to expand my scope of work regionally or internationally.

Navigating the current crisis

I believe there will be immense value in being able to apply the learning from class to the workplace in real-time.

The combined experience of all participants across multiple industries and cross-borders in dealing with this crisis will be an extremely interesting and valuable learning in itself. With this knowledge, we will be in a better position to think strategically and offer more relevant solutions to challenges at hand.

Lastly, as we work our way through the crisis, this is also the perfect opportunity to set aside some time for self-development and to gear up for growth when the economy improves.

Crises come and go, similarly for COVID-19 and its corresponding impact on the economy. Rather, it is more important in this period to embrace the new normal, stay open to new ideas, as well as finding new opportunities amidst the chaos.

What the new normal will look like

I came across a meme which said that COVID-19 has been the most successful leader of digital transformation in companies.

How true indeed! Of all the effort organisations have taken over the years to be digitally transformative and progressive, nothing beats having it being the key determining factor of whether one’s business is going to survive in the next six months.

One of the biggest changes in business operations can be seen in the Food & Beverage industry. Offering the option of delivery is no longer a good-to-have but an absolute must-have. Fine dining is out of the window, comfort food is now the rock star. Award-winning fine dining restaurants like Alinea and Noma are now selling beef wellington and burgers to go. This adaptability is how they’re ensuring the survival of their businesses and keeping the livelihoods of their teams, while those who could not respond fast enough have since shuttered their doors.

Having an online presence through digital and social media marketing is now key for top-of-mind recall, reminding consumers to think of them for their next meal. These requirements are unlikely to revert when the pandemic dies off, but rather will be in addition to what was the norm just a few months ago. This will be the new normal for the F&B industry. 

Learn, unlearn and relearn

Learning new knowledge, new skills in order to expand my capabilities. Unlearn inaccurate or unhealthy mindsets picked up over the years. Relearn areas which have “become rusty” since graduation so as to keep up with the times.

Over the past 10 years, I have pursued my passion in branding and marketing in the tourism and hospitality, education and the financial sectors. Upon graduation, I joined a management associate programme with the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and was very fortunate to be able to combine my two loves – branding and tourism, together.

I spent the first three and half wonderful years of my career being part of exciting projects like the Singapore F1 Grand Prix and the Singapore Takeout campaign, where we shipped a mobile kitchen and brought Singapore chefs to cities like Moscow to promote Singapore as a culinary capital.

For the last five and half years, I have been part of the Marketing team with OCBC Bank, starting with a branding and sponsorship role, managing key sponsorship events such as the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Finals and OCBC Cycle. I was then given the opportunity to transition into a segment role, leading the family segment for two and half years where we were responsible for fulfilling the financial needs of parents, and building a strong financial literacy foundation for their children.

I have since started a new role within the same team, focusing on segment marketing and branding for the Personal Banking segment in the bank. 

“When you confront business decisions, you have to stay true to what you believe is right. Really, it’s just about being honest with what moves you.”

This quote from restaurateur Joe Bastianich from his book, Restaurant Man, has stayed close to my heart and aptly sums up not just my approach to work but also life in general. I desire for purpose in my career and find the motivation to excel when I know that my efforts contribute to a meaningful goal.

Out of work, I enjoy a variety of activities though with the current COVID-19 situation, I have been cooking and baking more frequently and enjoying every moment of it.