Thoughts from the Founder
Founder and Managing Director of EtonHouse, Mrs Ng Gim Choo
The Courage to Transform
Recently, I was honoured to speak at the SNEF BeyondSG50 CEO and Employers Forum. The theme of the event was ‘Bold and Responsible Transformation’, something I felt deeply connected to. In a way, I have gone through this transformation myself, both professionally and personally – from starting my career as an auditor to quitting my job to be a full-time housewife and mother and then starting out as a businesswoman in 1995 at the age of 40.
It was a challenging but rewarding journey. What spurred me on in this journey was my passion for education and my belief that I was making a difference.
EtonHouse: Growing Global
The transformation of EtonHouse into a multiple-campus network, and then into a global education group was not intentional. We evolved because of the need to adapt and survive. Back then, the lease for our very first and only school site was about to expire. We, therefore, signed other leases. We were later told by the landlord of our original site that we could renew the lease. That was how we had more than 1 campus. We took it as an opportunity to expand.
In 2003, EtonHouse entered the international market in China. To expand overseas, we invested in strengthening our processes and policies. We never lost sight of quality control. That cannot be allowed to fall. We invested in people to ensure that our schools run professionally during our expansion phase. When you have the right people, you can focus on expanding and taking the company global.
We started our own in-house training centre, invested in our teachers, and developed them professionally and in line with global best practice.
I was conscious of holding on to our vision and identity while focusing on our strengths. We revisited our direction to transform the company and align with the new goals. We also started to transform our brand identity to become a globalised company.
Transformation: Sacrifices we had to make
But transformation comes at a cost. There is an emotional cost too. My family complained that they missed having me in Singapore and at home. There is also a big financial cost in setting up a head office. There is a lot of manpower cost involved.
When I started travelling to set up schools overseas, my colleagues in Singapore did not like it when I had to distance myself from the day-to-day operations. However, they become a lot stronger and more independent in the process.
I also missed the personal relationships I had with our students and teachers. I used to know each one of them by their names. That was a big price to pay.
Growing with Singapore: Diversity overcomes Adversity
We have a lot to learn from the remarkable transformation of Singapore. Singapore has transformed itself from a sleepy fishing village to an “AAA rated” country in a very short span of time. I remember the 80s vividly. Many of us had to relocate from our Kampongs to high-rise housing flats. We have come a long way and have successfully evolved from a swamp to a modern metropolis, a sophisticated stylish country of the 21st century. I believe this happened because Singapore stayed true to its vision and cultivated the right talent to build capability.
As Singapore becomes increasingly diverse, there comes the challenge to remain harmonious. I welcome and embrace new talent, and believe that we have a lot to gain by integrating them in our businesses and in our community. I believe that diversity overcomes adversity.
The ability to embrace diversity is now an essential life skill that all our children need to be equipped with. Only by doing so can they become true global citizens with the courage to lead successful transformations.