Leadership – Singapore Rising

Allen Pathmarajah

This week the title of our show is, Leadership Rising, featuring Allen Pathmarajah. As Singapore celebrates it’s 50th anniversary our show will feature an engaging conversation with Allen J. Pathmarajah. He’s the executive chairman of AJP Advisors; business advisors who focus on organizational transformation through leadership development, strategic and financial management, and business thinking.

He is an adjunct professor at the School of Business at SIM University and has extensive consulting experience in England, Sri Lanka, Singapore, and Malaysia. Allen speaks on leadership and management throughout the region, so you really are going to get an interesting international flavor.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: We are going to learn a lot more about how coaching works in the Asia-Pacific region from Allen. One of the reasons why I really wanted to have Allen on the show today is because in addition to celebrating the 50th anniversary, you are going to hear about what is going on in that region. As we know, it is really booming. It is a gateway to many of what we think is the future of not only coaching, but technology. So we have a lot to learn today.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Allen is the executive chairman of AJP Advisers. Cathy, tell us about how you met Allen and got him for our show.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Well Allen will have to chime in here in a few minutes and correct me, I’m sure. I recall meeting Allen in a very pleasant way at a place called Canyon Ranch in Tucson, Arizona. Of course everybody knows Canyon Ranch is one of the premier resorts in that area and for the United States. It specifically addresses better health, well- being and overall fitness. Allen was a guest and we met mutually through Dr. Dan Baker when we were working at the Life Enhancement Center there and finishing our book at the time, called What Happy Companies Know. Allen is a great host in Singapore. He has a great rapport with industry leaders there at AJP Advisers and he hosts wonderful thought leaders like Marshall Goldsmith, Noel Tichey, and I’m very honored to be a friend and business partner now of Allen’s since about 2005.

We are about to go back again this year in November to do a series of programs on the new book Fearless Leaders: Sharpen Your Focus. So, it’s a delight to have Allen with us today.

Allen, welcome to the show. How are you?

Allen Pathmarajah: Well I’m delighted join both Relly and yourself and I’ve heard much about what you are doing and hope many of the things that you are doing can be translated and implemented in this part of the world.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Allen, we always start off by getting a little inside look into who has influenced you the most professionally?

Allen Pathmarajah: I think…may I just give you my background before?

Dr. Relly Nadler: Yes, please.

Allen Pathmarajah: I was born in Sri Lanka. I went to do my professional studies in England. Qualified as a chartered accountant and went into development banking in London. Then I went back to Sri Lanka. I moved to Singapore and joined the largest Chinese bank called The Oversea Chinese Banking Corporation. I headed the consulting arm of the group and I then subsequently became Special Assistant to the Group Chairman, Tan Sri Tan Chin Tuan—Tan Sri is a title given in Malaysia in the old days, it’s like sir—he was chairman of the bank and he was chairman of about ten public companies in all types of business; financial services, banking, and property. During the time I worked with him, initially as his special assistant, and subsequently when he retired in ’82, he remained chairman of the largest life insurance company of which I became the Chief Executive Officer.

During this time I learned enormously from him. He was one of the people who influenced me enormously because he taught me all aspects of business in a very practical way. In fact, I always tell people that he taught me more finance than I learned as a charted accountant in England.  Although he hasn’t been to a university, it’s very practical, very incisive, and very comprehensive. So he was the man who influenced me the most in a professional manner.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg:  So how did you go from that CEO position of a major organization to AJP Advisers?

Allen Pathmarajah: When the chairman Tan Chin Tuan retired, having worked with him for almost a quarter of century, I decided to step down. I was very passionate about helping the small and medium enterprises. In Singapore, any enterprise under $100 million is a small or medium enterprise. 99% of all businesses in Singapore are SME’s. You call it FNB’s I think in America and I think in every country, more than 90%, are SME’s.

So I was passionate because I found that most of these people, the companies that started, a very large percentage of them failed because they were very good in the business, but on the business. They were good in the technical side but they did not have the ability to run strategic development, human capital development, and leadership management and financial management.

So we started focusing on them. This was a great thing because we had been able to help a large number of companies and help them to move through the very difficult corporate life cycles to become successful and listed on the stock exchange a few companies and we continued work with them. That is the reason I started AJP Advisers.

Dr. Relly Nadler: I see here that you have Business Thinking Systems? Is that part of AJP or how does that fit in?

Allen Pathmarajah: Business Thinking Systems works from the concept—it’s an Australian company where I entered into a joint venture—which helps companies to engage the staff in the organization. The best ideas in the company come from the people. If you can obtain the ideas in a non-confrontational manner, then the commitment is high and the results are high.

We started doing this and recently I came across a company in Australia called TenX. TenX is a company which is very, very focused on SME’s; small and medium enterprises. What we do in SME’s, and we have just launched it in Singapore, is it’s about the power of the mastermind. Coaching, training, and connecting the SME’s enabling them to get that Xfactor into their businesses. The power of the mastermind.

Dr. Relly Nadler: TenX was a company that developed extraordinary intellectual property and then they got into some partnership issues. My friend in Australia, who I’m associated with, bought the company. TenX is about coaching, training and connecting SME’s, enabling them to get the Xfactor into their business. As I said, it uses the power of the mastermind. TenX is about helping SME’s to help themselves to mastermind groups which we call coaching camps.

We can facilitate them by expedient, accredited coaches, who understand business and have been there, and done that. The peer group accountability makes the SME’s who are lonely to achieve much greater heights. The TenX program has been mapped in such a way that those who go through the program, even the SME’s, are eligible for an Australian business. To summarize it, TenX systemizing and simplifying the complex issues of business with strategic planning, marketing, selling, human capital, and all that to make it so simple that it can be integrated in the groups. If any of them lacks the knowledge, they have access to the intellectual property and have access to the knowledge in a simplified form on all aspects of business, which is very, very powerful.

It has created enormous success to my mission and passion for helping small and medium enterprises.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: That’s really fascinating. I have to say Relly and I very much appreciate masterminds. We did one last year at Miraval which was very well received. We are going to do one again this year. Allen, it sounds like we are going to be doing one together in Singapore in the near future. We’ll keep the audience on standby.

So tell me a little bit about the Asian region of Singapore. It’s known as the Gateway to the Future. Can you provide some insights on that?

Allen Pathmarajah: I’m now a Singaporian and came in the 70’s. Singapore achieved independence in 1965, but per capita income was 1,500 Singapore. Last year our per capita income was 54,000, US dollar 38,000, which is one of the highest in the world. The reason it was transformed from a third world country to a first world country is because of the first Prime Minister, the late Lee Kuan Yew and his team who moved the country from absolute where we had nothing; no water, no agriculture, no animal husbandry, nothing, into truly a very advanced first world country. All this was done with good leadership and good team work. The population then when we were independent was 1.8 million, today it’s about 5.4 million. This is considered a remarkable transformation of a country with absolutely nothing. We’ve got in Singapore, all the international companies.

We started off with low cost manufacturing. Then when that became expensive, we went into higher value manufacturing. Then we went into information technology, IT. Then we are now in biotechnology and we are going into more advanced areas.

So the transformation was only because of good, effective, and honest leadership.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Fascinating. I just want to ask you a question. When you think of all of the things that have been going on for the last 50 years, what do you think has made the most impact? Is it training or coaching?

Allen Pathmarajah: I think both training and coaching because one of the things when the country became independent—I came in the 70’s—is the government focused on training and coaching people. As you know, the world is over-managed and under-led. So therefore we focused on leadership development.

People like Noel Tichy, Cathy Greenberg, and Marshall Goldsmith, and many others have come to impart their knowledge. I’m a great believer that the world needs not just leaders at the top, but leaders at every level. This is the thing that I’m passionate about, so even in SME’s, small and medium enterprises or larger companies, one of our focuses is moving people from being technical to becoming managers, to becoming leaders and ultimately, great leaders.

This is one of the factors that contributed to our success in this country and will contribute.

You can listen to the complete interview above.


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