the ice breaker

Fellow Toastmasters and guests, it’s an honour this evening to be able to give my icebreaker talk. It’s been really […]

Fellow Toastmasters and guests, it’s an honour this evening to be able to give my icebreaker talk. It’s been really an enjoyable experience starting to get to members here at my first couple of meetings.

I’ve titled my icebreaker ‘A Journey to Hong Kong’. I think you can tell a lot about someone by how they relate their life’s experiences, new opportunities, and by how they embrace different cultures and environments. So I’ll let you travel with for a few stops on my journey so far, that you might get a little insight into who I am.

I start this journey in Dundee, Scotland where I did my Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and Pharmacology. Dundee to the outsider at least is quite an unspectacular post-industrial British city, but it has a famous history of exporting what are known locally as the 3 J’s – jam, jute and journalism.

It also has a famous history of travel and exploration. Dundee is known as the ‘City of Discovery’ – and I always thought that it was a really very apposite name for a city in which you’ve chosen to undertake your studies.

It’s so-named after the ship the Discovery. This was the ship in which explorer Captain Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton ventured south to explore the Antarctic. In fact they made two voyages, the second well-known and ill-fated. Well to this day it’s moored on the River Tay in Dundee city centre and whilst a student there I always find the sight of it and its implicit history quite inspiring.

So returning to the city’s link with journalism, it was in this field – or anyway a rather narrow, scientific, branch of it – that I ended up working in, in London as a fresh graduate, until one day I noticed in one of the national newspapers quite a small advertisement for a position in Sydney, Australia.

So, it being a typical rainy October day in London, the mental picture of possibly starting a new year in the sun and warmth, on the beach at, say, Bondi was quite a tempting proposition. Anyway I applied, was interviewed in London and fairly soon found myself heading south to the antipodes. Of course the journey wasn’t quite as demanding as the Discovery’s journey south 90 years previously but I think I was anticipating my experience as much as those explorers would have done. And so I arrived in Sydney and it and Australia very much filled its promise for the next couple of years.

It was while based in Australia that I had my first opportunity to visit Asia, when I would travel quite regularly to our office in Singapore which acted as a regional stepping stone for a lot of work in the surrounding countries in South Easth Asia. This experience would go on to influence choices later on.

For career reasons – and the area of below the line communications in which I was working was quite niche – I returned to the UK after two years in Australia to take up a position for a bigger company in Chester, in the north of England. For those of you unfamiliar, Chester is halfway between Liverpool and Manchester and is an ancient Roman city. So in effect, this leg of my journey saw me travelling from one great city at the edge of what had been the British Empire to another city that had once stood at the frontier of the Roman Empire.

Now Chester, like Sydney is a very beautiful city with its 2000 year-old city walls and so much fascinating and visible history. But I suppose it all felt a little less exotic compared to what I’d recently experienced and though I was enjoying my life and my job, when I received a call from a company about an opportunity – this time in Singapore – I really didn’t find myself having to make a very difficult. And so again, I set a course for the equator.

So if Chester is defined by its ancient history and Sydney by its spectacular harbour what defines Singapore? After I moved there and was trying to build the business essentially from scratch I found it very hard to hire. For skills that I couldn’t find locally I would subsequently advertise internally in our main UK HQ, but there were rarely any applicants. There was certainly no shortage of people looking for secondments in the Sydney office and my colleague in Hong Kong didn’t finding overseas staff so hard to come by either. But nobody ever applied to come to Singapore however hard I tried to sell it!

Anyway I loved working there, the balmy climate, the mix of cultures, the proximity to so many amazing places in the region, and the outstanding food – including of course the durian, which I adore and which I think is relatively unusual for westerners.

I was in Singapore for three years until I was promoted to lead the Asia Pacific business which was based in Hong Kong. One of my responsibilities would be to oversee expansion of the business to the mainland so Hong Kong was a handy staging post for that too.

Again I found this opportunity quite exciting from both career and personal perspectives. One of my loves is reading (I’m quite addicted to my Kindle in fact). One genre I like in particular is the kind of contemplative, insightful travelogue that are penned by the likes of Colin Thubron and Paul Theroux. They’ve both written extensively about China and touched on aspects of its culture. Being in Hong Kong has given me great opportunities to experience and understand something of the culture of China. Indeed one of the things that both these authors have written about is travelling overland from Europe to China, which I’ve also had the pleasure of experiencing.

So, reflecting back on my starting point, and Dundee, and the Discovery. It made two voyages. This is my second journey setting out from the UK for work. The Discovery returned home… Captain Scott did not. So I find myself in wonderful Hong Kong and no real idea where my next stop will be but I feel very fortunate so far to have had all of these opportunities to explore this fascinating part of the world.

Mr Toastmaster…

19 April, 2011

cc manual no.1: the ice breaker

About sgtohk

Living in Hong Kong... a Brit... via Singapore