At the recent BUILD Conference 2015, young adult participants were given the opportunity to hear from four dedicated Christians who have found success in the marketplace. The forum addressed questions that had been pre-submitted for the first hour, before the floor was opened for the audience to ask questions.
Alburn William (AW): President, Creative Kitchen Planning International. Married with Three kids. Worships at SIB KL.
Chew Chong Keat (CK): MD, Freight Management Group of Companies. Married with 3 children and 1 grandson. Worships at C3 Subang.
Liling Tan (LT): GM, Prudential Services Asia. Married with 3 grown boys. Worships at FBC.
Dr. Tan Swee Peng (SP): Consultant physician. Co-Founder of Rumahku Orphanage. Married with 2 children 16. Worships at FBC.
Q: How do you see managing/ balancing between work, private life, and spiritual life?
AW: When I first started out, my boss set the pace for us. At that time, I was very active with the worship ministry at church. Being single helped. I was working up to 70 hours a week. But I never compromised my time for my service to God. I saw my time at the office not as my service to my boss, but as something I was doing unto God. All the hours I plowed in were seen as my service to God, so it needed to have fruit. My boss saw that I was not putting in all those hours for his sake, but because I seemed to be committed to a mission—and it served him well. As I got older, got married, and started a family, my priorities started to shift. But I never saw work as separate from ministry. I saw the marketplace as ministry.
LT: Some people may say that there is no such thing as a work/life balance. It’s a myth. But really, it all depends on what field you are in, and the position you hold. You need to know for yourself where you stand. One thing to bear in mind is this: When you are a Christian, you are a Christian all the time. I make sure that my colleagues know I’m a Christian. It helps to keep me in check. A work/life balance is something you have to figure out for yourself. More importantly, there are certain things you don’t compromise. Church on Sunday is church on Sunday. There are things you need to be mindful about. And, always pray.
SP: We’re all made to work, but we’re not made to work constantly. The first thing that God did was work. But in Genesis 2, God rested on the seventh day. In Exodus, God commands us to give the Sabbath to Him. There is a divine pattern of work and rest. Ephesians 5, tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church. That is a very strong love. If you were to love your wife that much, you need to spend time with her. Ephesians 6 tells fathers to bring up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. In order to do this, you need to spend time with them.
To me, these 4 aspects are very important: God time, Family time, Free time, and Career time. I call it GFFC, and it must all take place within the 24-hour period.
It’s very Biblical. Keep in touch with your family, and keep in touch with God. Even if you are not married, you have parents and siblings. Call them up; talk to them. Remember God, remember your family, remember your responsibilities, and remember to rest.
CK: When I started this company in 1988 with just 6 people, it was almost the same time as when our pastor started our church. So obviously, I had to focus on both. It wasn’t easy. I had to delegate my time. When you’re young, you have energy. I had to balance both. There were long hours at work. My daughter didn’t see us much when she was younger. We actually did not think about dividing our time. Between work, cell group, and worship practice, we just showed up. Make full use of the 24 hours. I never really analyzed it, but gave it my all, both at work, and for God.
Q: How do you cope with stress?
SP: Medical work is stressful. If you accept that it is a stressful job right from the beginning, it won’t be so stressful after all. As Christians, we need to be competent in our work. That’s the least we can do. Sleep. Grab as much sleep as you can. Rats die after 32 hours without sleep. We need to sleep. Eat properly. In order to care for others, we need to care for ourselves. At the end of the day, your time with God is crucial. First thing in the morning, say a prayer. Ask for guidance and wisdom. Be thankful. Confess. At the end of the day, say a prayer. When you read God’s Word, internalize it—even if it’s just a verse. Ask God to change us. Remember we have God in us, do our duty well, and it will be less stressful.
Q: How do we deal with incompetent individuals at work?
AW: People usually don’t want to step out to say that something is wrong. Everyone is used to each other’s inefficiencies. Just because people work long hours does not mean that they are doing a lot. They may just be inefficient. As a Christian, I need to get to the root of the problem. It is necessary for us to think out of the box. We have to be willing to be that unpopular guy and you have to do it graciously. You have to get into the situation, postmortem, and talk to people, and not come across as a self-righteous, moralistic individual who is trying to correct everyone else. You have to come across with a very sincere heart of wanting to make change because it is necessary. It is important for people. The min you do that, you exhibit a Christ-like character and leadership abilities. People will know that.
Q: What do you do when you’re asked to do something ethically questionable?
CK: I’m in the logistics business. Moving goods in, out, and within the country. It all comes down to our service. Can we deliver our promises? It’s a competitive business. Integrity plays an important part. In the marketplace, there will always be practices that are not right. It could be bribery, etc. At my company, we have an integrity pledge. I don’t make my company a “Christian” company, but we incorporate Christian principles, and they come from me as the CEO. I don’t put up verses, but there is a recognition that my wife and I are committed Christians. As the leader, I set the pace.
SP: Matt 5:16 says, let your light shine. I make known to my patients that I’m a Christian. Then, I have to be very careful with what I do. If you’re sick, I will give you my best. But I will not lie on the report. I had a patient who wanted me to alter her health results. I told her, “You’ve come to the wrong doctor.” She was furious, and said she will never come back. Two months later, she came back and said, “Dr. Tan, I have confidence in you.” Sometimes, I do have patients who walk out and never come back. But be truthful and sincere. At the end of the day, that’s what matters.
Q: How do you let your colleagues know you’re a Christian?
LT: Of course I don’t just go around and say, “Hey, I’m a Christian.” It’s important for me now, from the management side, that I am seen as a part of the team. I make it a point to know all my team members and find out not just about work related matters, but to get to know them personally. Ask them what they do over the weekend, and get to know them over time. From there, I am able to share. Let them know that you are there for them.
Q: As a woman, are there any considerations that one must make to build a career?
LT: As a woman, I do feel like I have more to prove—not so much from the work perspective. I haven’t experienced discrimination. But as a mother and wife, I have to make sure that I’m meeting those responsibilities on top of being a career person. It makes a big difference to have a good and supportive husband, which, thankfully, I have. If not for my husband, I would not be where I am today in my career.
Having said that, I do feel the responsibility of making sure that the kids have done their homework, eaten, they’re sleeping okay. As a wife, even though we’re both working, I feel the responsibility to look after him. So it becomes a place of having to juggle that. I don’t get “me” time, but I’ve never felt any resentment. In fact, having a family helps you to take a break from work. It is a challenge, but you go through it with God’s help. God blesses, and you take it in stride.
Q: How do you deal with cases of sexual harassment at the workplace? How do we, as Christians, respond to using women and their sexuality as bait in dealing with clients?
LT: How we dress and how we conduct ourselves is important. We need to be careful that we are not unintentionally giving out encouraging signals. If something does happen, go to HR. Talk to a female superior. There are people who will take action. You cannot remain silent. That being said, we ourselves need to be mindful not to draw unwanted attention to ourselves and to set ourselves in the right standard first.
CK: We have uniforms for our staff! Then again, we do have sales people who are predominantly female. My wife will outright tell the ladies, “Hey your skirt is too short.” We have a reputation to uphold and don’t want to send out the wrong message to our clients.
Q: How did you manage your personal time with God while starting up a business?
CK: I didn’t really have any time for entertainment. Between work, church, and family, there was very little time for anything else. In that way, it was an opportunity God used to shape my character. In my industry, there is a lot of drinking with clients, etc. But my lack of involvement in those activities didn’t stop the company from progressing. Praise God for that. There is now a recognition among the vendors not to bother asking me and/or my wife to go out to drink. Occasionally, we have a lunch but the vendors know just to give us the best rates. There were certain things I had to sacrifice, but it worked out for the better.
Q: How have stress and financial/economic crises in the business affected your relationship with God?
CK: Sometimes my heart will say, go this direction. But when I look back, I realize, “Good thing I didn’t!” God has directed us. Not to say that we haven’t made mistakes. But by God’s grace, even during the tough times, we were profitable. We were able to come out of them with a solid performance. Yes, it was difficult, but God guided us through them. So never forget that God is there to direct. Sometimes we think that our decision-making is correct and we hit roadblocks, but God is always there.
AW: Don’t be afraid to ask God tough questions. I was in a situation where I wrestled with God and finally asked, “Is this a necessary evil I must partake of? This is the highway, but it leads to destruction. So what must I do?” God said, “If you take that way, you will find success quickly, but you will find destruction at the end of that road. If you take the narrow road, you will find success, but not straightaway.” God showed me what I needed to do, and within the year, we were back in the black. Press God for answers and He will show you a better way. Don’t give in to the ways of the world. It doesn’t matter what pressure you are under. There is always a way out.
Q: During the difficult times, how did the church help?
CK: Throughout my time serving in church, there has always been a core group of leaders and friends who have been with me through thick and thin. They know what I go through, including my weaknesses. We pray for each other. We help each other and uphold each other. I think that has carried me through the tough times. In that sense, the church does play a very important part.
AW: Your cell group. They are the people you meet more often, they are also closer to you, and they understand the problems you’re going through. When you go into the marketplace, you need to carry the lifestyle of worship, a lifestyle that loves His word, and a lifestyle that obeys His Word. If you get that equation right, it will carry you through difficult circumstances.
Q: How do leaders see things that people don’t see?
CK: A leader can never stop learning. Even till today, I’m still learning—be it at the workplace or at church. One thing is for sure: if we have a close relationship with God, He can actually open doors and give us vision that we wouldn’t see or think of by ourselves. But you have to be walking in the way of the Lord.
LT: Just because you are a leader does not mean that you have all the answers. In fact, as a leader, the best way to get all the answers is from the team. Know yourself and your weaknesses. Equip your team with people who can complement your weaknesses. Ask questions, and learn from them. Let them make mistakes, be wise, and give them boundaries. The best thing a leader can do is to be able to develop the team and get them to do their best
Q: How would you know whether to move on to the next job or to stay at your current position?
AW: In my second year of work, I had a change of boss. A new person who did not know the trade came in, we could not respect him, and I was in prayer asking God for another job. I went from one interview to another, and every single one of them was closed, no matter how well I performed. I realized that God wanted me to stay. For 10 years, I struggled and put up with this man who eventually became my partner. But it took me through a journey and looking back, I think God is more interested in the person you become, coming out of your journey. I like my job now, but the journey wasn’t easy.
Be prayerful about the transition. If God wants you to stay, he will make sure you stay. I think all of us will go through those phases at least a couple of times before you find yourself settled in a place of your calling. Or maybe some of your transitions may be part of your journey—God molding you to become a better person for your eventual destiny. But everything hinges back on prayerfulness and depending on God, and not making a sovereign decision on your own. That’s where you tend to go off course.
LT: I think it’s important that you enter into your job ready to learn. In the first year of joining the company, you’re really learning to get into the culture and structure of the company. It’s only in the second year that you get to start contributing and adding value while learning. In the third year, you can then start to think about expanding further. So it really takes up to three to five years to get the best value out of the company. No matter what the situation is, your attitude should always be one that is looking for opportunity to learn. It’s also important for you to know what you want to do. Look for a company that will be able to give you that. At the same time, opportunities do come and we should be prayerful about them. Understand why you want to move. Think long term rather than short term. Money is not everything.
Q: How would you define success, and what is one word of advice you would give to a young person who is just starting out?
SP: GFCC. God, Family, Community, Career. If you are very successful in your career but you’re not serving in any ministry, or you’re not connected with fellowship in church, that’s not success. So to me, having a good relationship with God, a good career, a good family life, and contributing to the society at large is success. As for a word of advice, Proverbs 3:5-6—“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” You have to know a person well to trust him/her. If you want to trust God, you have to know God well. “Lean not on your own understanding.” We are all very arrogant and think we know better. God’s understanding and our understanding are very different. “In all your ways…” Your career path, whether you’re going to get married or not… God will make it right for you according to His understanding. At the end of the day, you will have GFCC.
LT: Success in work life is definitely not everything. You need to have your personal life. How is your personal life with God? With your partner? It’s important to find the right partner. I have found a wonderful life partner. It makes or breaks your life in many ways. Pray hard. God will lead you. Don’t give up. Continue to pray. What you do for God is what counts at the end of the day. You’re not going to take all your material wealth with you to heaven. Build people up, share your life with people. It’s very easy at work to get caught in the race up the corporate ladder. Christian friends who can support you are very important. They are the ones who will help you when you are in need and pray with you.
CK: Success has to come in every area of your life. Be it in your career, your schooling, or at church. The Bible tells us that we are the salt of the earth. Salt brings flavor. It’s about your character. Success actually comes not just with being a Christian, but having a pleasant personality. Be a person that other people want to be around. God knows our physical needs. He says that if we seek Him first, all the other things will be added to us. So in everything, put God first. And all the other things will fall into place.
AW: In the Lord’s Prayer, it goes, “Your Kingdom come… Give us this day our daily bread.” Not the other way around. If we promote His Kingdom, He will give us our daily bread. It’s one that leads to the other. Life is more about purpose and destiny. It’s about what you leave behind. When you have too much, you also get plagued with more sorrows.
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