INTHEBLACK September 2021 - Flipbook - Page 50
// C A R E E R PAT H
STORY GLENN CULLEN PHOTOGRAPHY REBECCA TOH
T H E A B I L I T Y T O U N D E R S TA N D A N D A P P R E C I AT E VA RY I N G
P E R S P E C T I V E S I N D I F F E R E N T S I T U A T I O N S H A S A LW AY S B E E N O F
I M P O R T A N C E T O K O K - C H Y E O N G F C P A – B E I T I N E V E R Y D AY W O R K ,
CAREER-DEFINING MOMENTS OR PERSONAL LIFE.
s a rookie finance manager with the
Singapore subsidiary of Dutch paper
trading conglomerate KNP-BT in the
late 1990s, Kok-Chye Ong FCPA was feeling
Only in his mid-20s at the time, Ong had
solid technical knowledge, but he would be
the first to admit that his “soft” skills were
a work in progress.
“Being the CFO at such a young age, I was
obviously out of my depth and very frightened
with all the responsibility,” recalls Ong.
“This was back in the day when you couldn’t
Google the answer.”
When a minor miscommunication left a
junior staff member in tears, Ong says he
learned an important lesson that still serves
him well to this day.
“It was wrong for me to assume that what
I think will be what the other person thinks as
well,” Ong says.
“It was almost 30 years ago, but it is
still a lesson I remember – don’t jump to
“Don’t assume your way is the right way,
even if there’s evidence to back you up.
There’s always an emotional and human side
to how people see things.”
RIGHT DEAL, WRONG TIME
Ong learned another career-defining lesson
in 2001, when he secured a US$700 million
(A$900 million) syndicated loan to fund
what was then the world’s first and longest
eight-fibre pair submarine fibre network.
At the time in his fourth year with Singtel,
Singapore’s largest mobile network operator,
50 ITB September 2021
Ong had recently been promoted to financial
controller for the C2C cable joint venture
entity. The loan, which he negotiated with a
consortium of banks, was awarded the “2001
Deal of the Year” by the Project Finance
Then, in 2002, with the bursting of the tech
bubble and after a year or so of declines,
investors started moving away from technology
stocks in great numbers. As a result, the C2C
project ran into financial difficulties and had to
restructure the loan facility.
Ong focused his energies on working with
the lenders to continue providing liquidity to
the business during this difficult time. He says
the extreme highs and lows of the C2C project
helped him develop his sense of perspective
and resilience – something that would come
in handy for his first long-term overseas move
A DIFFICULT TRANSITION
Amid the tech downturn, Singtel made a
successful takeover bid for a company that,
at the time, was known as Cable and Wireless
Optus. In 2003, in his early 30s, Ong was
named group finance manager of Optus,
based in Sydney.
“It was a hostile environment, because it
was perceived to be an unequal ‘marriage’,
with Optus being a bigger company,” Ong
recalls. Ong also had the added challenge of
managing people from a range of different
cultural backgrounds while making deep cuts
to the business.
“I explained to people that it wasn’t my job
to be popular – it was my job to be
transparent and fair,” Ong says. After nearly
three years in Australia and, given he is still
in contact with many people there, Ong
considers his tenure at Optus a success.
The move to Australia meant that Ong had
to shelve his plans for further studies, but
when his tenure with Optus was complete,
Ong took a year off to attend the Sloan
Fellows Program at Stanford University in
the US, graduating with a master of science
in management and a certificate in global
management from the Graduate School
Being in the heart of Silicon Valley afforded
Ong extraordinary networking opportunities.
“The connections to me were even more
important than what you learned in the
classroom,” he says.
DATA CENTRES IN DEMAND
In July this year, Ong was appointed managing
director and head of internet data centres
(Asia ex China) at capital management
company Gaw Capital, following a 10-year stint
as senior vice-president and head of global
strategy and investments for Keppel Data
Centres, which supports mission-critical
computer systems focusing on energy and
environment, urban development, connectivity
and asset management markets.
In his 10 years with the Keppel Group,
Ong has contributed to raising US$1 billion
(A$1.3 billion) to launch its first pure-play data
centre fund, Alpha DC Fund. He has also helped
grow the portfolio of data centres across the
Asia-Pacific and Europe from eight to 26 hubs,
and has contributed to the success of the IPO