Mr. Thomas Wai, former Committee Member and Assistant to the Chair of the premium APEC CEO Summit Organizing Committee, now leads a regional role, a position which he took up in early 2010. In his current position as senior business analyst for Talent Plus®, an international management consulting firm based in Lincoln, Nebraska, Thomas serves as a leadership consultant to work with international clients to select leaders and their members, as well as providing in-depth analysis and leadership consulting based upon The Science of Talent®.
One of Thomas’s responsibilities is assisting organizations to create cultures that develop and retain leaders for the future, partnering with them in their journey to become Talent-Based Organization®. “At the same time, we also work with organizations to analyze top performers to define success criteria, scientifically measure an individual’s talent against industry and corporate benchmarks, and predict an individual’s potential to perform a specific job with excellence.”
Some of the brands Thomas and his team work with include Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Ferragamo USA, Mercedes USA, Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, Royal Canin and The West Paces Hotel Group, the developer of the ultra-luxury Capella Hotels and Resorts, just to name a few.
Since being featured in the Harvard Business Review, April 2007, in his article “A Global Challenge, A National Priority: How to manage an ageing workforce effectively?”, Thomas says the focus of his work has moved away from studying how to fix one’s weaknesses to an emphasis on studying the key traits of why successful people succeed. “People excel when they are spending most of their time using their strengths, so it is essential for leaders to realize the importance of building on people’s strengths instead of fixing their weaknesses.”
Since his graduation from School of EEE, Thomas has spent a lot of time overseas. He has worked in China, Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, and the United States. When asked what the key challenge was for organizations to succeed in Asia, Thomas shared that organizations will continue to face added responsibility for a more diversified workforce and sophisticated competitions. “Truly understanding the local culture, language and business ethics are very important to succeed. Recognizing that talents are their only sustainable competitive advantages is the first step.” Thomas continues, “Selecting the right people for the right roles, right from the start, is the key to success. And after you have identified your best performers, you need to “re-hire” them every day!”
Since Thomas is currently not in the engineering sector, how did the education in EEE benefit him in his career? You would ask.
Even though Thomas does not use his technical knowledge on robotics & automation or digital signal processing in his work, the multi-disciplinary education offered by School of EEE helps to prepare him well for today’s knowledge-based economy. Thomas added, “For instance, the comprehensive training in the engineering field, hands-on courses in the humanities and social sciences, and international exposure offered by the International Student Exchange Program (INSTEP) have broadened my training beyond the purely technical aspects of the business world and equipped me well for positions of management in an international environment. In addition, the breadth and depth of the education provided a solid foundation for me to navigate in an integrated and dynamic business arena today.”
It is worth mentioning that Thomas has not only graduated from B.Eng with his EEE Color Award, he has also attained his M.B.A. from our Nanyang Business School, which was ranked #27 in the 2010 Financial Times World M.B.A. Ranking. In particular, he was placed on the Dean’s List of his cohort for being one of the top graduates in the class. One may be interested to know if he thinks a M.B.A. is necessary for an engineering graduate in order to compete successfully today.
In fact, Thomas does not think that a M.B.A. is a prerequisite for success, although he agrees that the Nanyang M.B.A. compliments his engineering study well. “Learning both the technical and business aspects prepares one to meet the challenges and rigors of the new marketplace. The comprehensive education is very helpful. However, it will be too simple to say that attaining a M.B.A. is the paramount to be successful. In my opinion, one of the best ways to become outstanding is to study outstanding people and discover what makes them outstanding. This is a very long journey.”
With regards to his learning journey, there are two people who have influenced and motivated him the most. The first person is Ms. Chong Siak Ching, President and CEO of Ascendas. She is also the Deputy Chairman of Spring Singapore and one of the three Singapore’s representatives for the APEC Business Advisory Council. Thomas had the honor to work and report directly to her from year 2008 to 2009. She has been a huge role model and Thomas expressed, “I just have so much respect for her. As a mentor, she taught me how to lead a business discussion, plan and execute a complicated business project, and challenged me to take major responsibility in demanding tasks.”
The second person is Ms. Kimberly Rath, Talent Plus’ President and Managing Director. She also serves on the board for Nelnet Inc., one of the leading education and finance companies in the States. She has great personality and excellent business acumen. “I am very fortunate to work directly with Ms. Rath on several international projects. She provides executive management consulting and training to organizations worldwide, including the Estee Lauder Companies, Mercedes-Benz USA and Microsoft Corp. Her strong commitments to clients and genuine interest in giving back to the society have sharpened my thoughts and skills in multiple ways.” Thomas continued, “She coaches me to develop as a competent international leadership and management consultant. In addition, she always encourages me to develop my talents, so that I can stretch on my strength to work towards excellence consistently.”
Besides his outstanding academic and professional achievements, Thomas served as the Committee Member of the Nanyang MBA Alumni Committee from year 2008 to 2009, and he has been the President of Strategy and International Management (SIM) alumni association “SIM@Singapore” since two years ago. This association is supported by the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland, and they work very closely with the Swiss House of Singapore. Furthermore, Thomas also represents his class and help former EEE classmates to stay connected to one another as a Class Agent and volunteered his time as a NTU mentor, to assist his juniors in exploring their career options.
Lastly, we asked Thomas if he has any words of encouragement for his juniors. He replied, “Working with people across the globe, I have come in contact with many individuals who have achieved an incredible degree of success. I found that every successful person has encountered at least one individual who has built the kind of relationship with that person that identified his or her true strength. This positive relationship shapes a person’s perspective and encourages them to think big, work at their best and deliver excellence.”
“As people work day-to-day with others, I hope that young talents will invest to build a positive relationship with each person and enable them to become their best. In return, we will realize we can develop new skills and competencies through the building of relationships as well.”