After starting his career as an IT developer, Sam Ong developed his skillset and armed himself with an MBA in order to move up the career ladder. He’s now a VP at Egis Healthcare Technologies in Singapore.
About Sam Ong
Tell us about your educational background and early career
I did a bachelor’s degree in information technology at Curtin University in Perth, Australia and started my career as a software developer. After working for a few years, I realised that in order to move forward I needed to move one step up and, for me, that meant getting into system infrastructure. Once I had developed this new skillset, I was able to slowly climb the career ladder, taking on roles like lead for Asia Pacific client in the automotive industry and segment head and programme manager in the security area, winning recommendations from clients for a job well done. But I also realised I needed a master’s degree to progress on to management level and so I started my UCD MBA programme at Kaplan University in 2013. I did the programme on a part-time basis over the next two years.
When I finished the MBA, l felt I needed to kickstart my career and got an opportunity take on a new role as a programme manager to set up a new shared service department with Keppel. The role primarily involved setting up the new business unit with coordination of all provisioning services for security and infrastructure projects delivery, including both local and overseas offices (IT hubs), governance, policy and security aspects. My new skills from UCD – including negotiation, project management, vendor and relationship management, and conflict resolution – helped me tremendously in managing this delayed project where seven predecessors hadn’t successfully completed it.
What is your current role?
During Covid I was working with Great Eastern, a life insurance company with a stake in banking too. I was there for almost three years handling regional projects. The job involved very long hours including weekends which was manageable during Covid because I could work from home. But when we were back in the office we usually had to stay very late in the evenings and sometimes even overnight and on the weekends. That took a toll on my lifestyle, and I wanted a better balance, so I took on a new role towards the end of 2022 as a vice president at Egis Healthcare Technologies, which supplies software applications for laboratories and blood banks. This has been somewhat out of my comfort zone.
Until this role my positions had been up to programme manager level and assistant vice president. I’m the head of PMO overseeing all the project managers. We handle all the different aspects of the software applications, which we supply to all the hospitals in Singapore. We are moving regional – we’re already in Malaysia – and I’m involved both in Singapore and regional.
What motivates you?
The most important thing for me is teamwork. I like to see growth or changes in my team and that people are improving their performance and to know that I’ve been part of making that happen by nurturing them. You can really feel a big difference, especially with challenging projects with tight deadlines. Seeing that difference is the thing that motivates me.
How would you describe your leadership style?
It’s transformational leadership. I’ll spend some time looking to see what is going on first and from there I’ll implement what I think is best for the company. You need to diagnose first before giving the medicine.
Who or what has influenced or inspired you?
Along the way I have met some really great managers. I was with British Telecom in Singapore in about 2011. My manager was an unassuming person but he made a big difference because two things set him apart from the rest of the managers. First of all, he was a very methodical and technically detailed person beyond a typical managerial role appointment; secondly, he was very fair and concerned about his team, which touched the hearts of the close knitted team. Whatever he wanted us to do we would do for him. He was so detailed he knew exactly what we were doing. And, as juniors we always wanted our bosses to be there for us and to shield us from the customers. And he did a very good job for us. So, I’m just trying to model myself on him. He was definitely an exceptional transformational leader and is truly my mentor.
What is your biggest achievement?
I took over from my mentor to take charge of the government sector for cyber security at British Telecom, handling everything from engineering ground level to the top management of the project. It was a taxing and challenging role but I was able to successfully bring the project to closure.
Is ongoing learning important to you?
Yes, I’m always learning. Even now, I’m taking a specialist diploma course in cyber security, which I should complete next April.
What’s your best piece of career advice?
I think it has to be to never stop learning and always be eager to learn. I think the difference between an excellent engineer and a mediocre engineer comes down to their attitude to learning and working. As long as you’re willing to get your hands dirty, you will be able to go far with an attitude to always keep learning.
What are your career or business aspirations going forward?
I’m very into running marathons and ironmen and recently took part in the Rinjani 100 Ultra in Lombok in Indonesia. I was talking to one of my teammates who’s a very enterprising guy and has his own business. He told me he had been based in Australia and working in real estate doing everything for his boss. Then he decided to get out of his comfort zone and set up on his own. He said that next year when we are doing this run together, he expects me to be the same as him and to be a boss. So that’s my ambition.
How has your degree benefited your career?
It has completed my learning ambition to obtain an MBA and propelled and opened
doors to climb up the corporate ladder.
What is your fondest memory from your time in UCD Global Campus?
My project team – Swee Swee, Angela and Kelly. We had such a good connection that we scored As on almost every project. We all ended up doing very well, with grade one second class honours or better. And Kelly got the best marks of all the students in our year.
How important is your UCD alumni network to you?
It’s extremely important to stay connected, especially with peers, and often, it can help open a door or two. I am especially supportive of UCD alumni!
What are your main interests outside work?
I am into endurance sports and have been running pacer for marathons and running events. Additionally, I do trail running and cycling, triathlons and ironman.
Tell us something most people don’t know about you
I treasure people a lot and always have fondest memory of my friends. Friendships are what make our lives a difference.
What piece of technology can you not live without?
Mobile phone! It connects me to everything else!
What’s your favourite book?
Simon Sinek’s Start with Why is seriously one of the best management books.
And what is your favourite band?
Blackpink. I was there when they came to Singapore in May 2023!
What’s the last exhibition you went to that you loved?
Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience at Resorts World Sentosa. I went to his exhibition too when I was at Amsterdam several years ago.
What is your favourite dish to cook?
What team do you support?
What is your favourite place in the world to visit and why?
Paris! It’s really most romantic place in the world. I miss it.
Name three things on your bucket list
Complete an ironman, complete another 100km run, and run a sub four hour marathon.