It all came as a shock to many when in 2014 Jeffrey Chew left a highly successful career in banking to take up the position as the Group Chief Executive Officer at Paramount Corporation which was an investment holding company that holds interests in completely different sectors: property development and education services.
The move was surprising as Chew had spent most of his 32-year career in the banking sector, half of which was with Citibank. Always up for new challenges, the 53-year-old Chew was up for a new challenge at Paramount.
For inspiration, he loves a quote from Alibaba Group’s co-founder Jack Ma, “When you have $1 million, that’s your money. When you have $10 million, you start to have a problem. When you have $1 billion, that’s not your money, that’s the trust society gave you.”
On reflection, how did you strategise your first 100 days as Group CEO of Paramount Corporation to be most effective?
My first task was to validate the perceived problems and challenges faced by the company, while my second was to assess the leadership bench strength. Finally, I sought to understand the aspirations of the shareholders, especially the majority shareholder. Never change anything major within 100 days in office. Don’t even announce any changes. This will limit the options available later should the situation or environment shift within six months.
What do you regard as the crucial factors for you to stay on top of your game?
Being an avid sportsman, I like drawing lessons from sports that can be applied to business. Firstly, focus on performance and milestones. One cannot just turn up at a race and do well. We need to train months before. And if we don’t hit our milestones, it is good to reflect on what needs to be fixed before the next race.
Secondly, discipline helps us persevere no matter how much pain we are going through in a race or during training. We can meet our goals or, at least, gain a better outcome if we don’t give up. The third lesson that one can glean from sports is that it helps build teamwork. When working with people, more can be achieved as a team vs working solo.
What do you foresee are the game-changing challenges facing your industry and how do you propose to overcome them?
Digital transformation in the business landscape is inevitable and, to stay ahead of the game, Paramount has embarked on a digitisation journey to futureproof the company. One of our first steps was to relocate some 200 employees from our property division into a co-working space at Sekitar26 Enterprise, reducing office space by two-thirds. Along with this, we are using technology to optimise resources, increase productivity and build greater connectivity amongst employees as well as with the larger co-working community.
Moving forward, we will cascade and apply these processes to our customers, suppliers and partners. With these in place, we expect to improve cost efficiencies by up to 50 per cent and be more sustainable over the long run.
Single out a leader in the corporate world you wish to emulate.
I try to learn from many global corporate leaders but have no ambition to emulate anyone. However, I have learnt a lot from the thinking and value system of Jack Ma, and respect his ability to walk away from Alibaba at its current peak.
Why do you think CEOs need a dose of James Bond in their lives?
The way James Bond as a character has been portrayed over time likely has cultural significance – Roger Moore’s 007 differs greatly from Daniel Craig’s – and I think the film series’ continuing popularity is due to it matching changing times and trends. Personally, I do not have any affinity with the character but, as a CEO, I believe it is imperative to embrace change in our fast-moving, increasingly technology-driven world.
As Group CEO, what excites and worries you most?
Like many corporate leaders, hitting new record highs in profits, closing a mega deal and, perhaps, winning awards is incredibly exciting. However, what excites me more is seeing someone whom I have mentored or worked with in the past moving up the corporate ladder and achieving success.
People often worry about things they can’t influence. For me, I don’t worry about things beyond my control because it will not change the circumstances. I just do my best and leave the rest to God.
Why is trust considered a powerful currency of the CEO?
As a CEO of any organisation, one needs to create the awareness of his ability to lead and contribute to the company. But awareness of a person’s ability is not enough. A CEO needs to win the trust of their subordinates, board of directors and shareholders in order to rally people and push things through. Beyond trust, CEO also needs to lead and guide the organisation to adopt and adapt to new processes, markets and opportunities.
It is said that CEOs are lonely at the top. What do you think a CEO must do to overcome this loneliness?
It is crucial to have a network of good friends and business associates to share frustrations, thoughts and, of course, simply chill out. Personally, I am very grateful to have my spouse, who is also my best friend.