Discover SIM GE

Building Bridges Between Management
And Leadership

Building bridges between management and leadership - Article Image 1
Jeremy (centre) with the SIM GE scholars he is mentoring (left) Benjamin Lee and James Wu (both University of London, BSc Banking & Finance)

MIDWAY in his banking career, Jeremy K H Gwee felt he didn’t have a general sense of what management was. With only a Bachelor in Political Science and Economics from the then Singapore University, he felt an MBA would be useful to plug that knowledge gap.

“At that time, I was working in Deutsche Bank which was supportive of my decision,” he says. The question was which institution should he choose to do his MBA?

The programmes offered at the two main local universities seemed regimented in their setup, and looked unappealing. “They gave me the back-to-school vibes, which was uncomfortable. The most suitable choice for working adults like me was SIM’s MBA programme conducted by Henley/Brunel."

Jeremy, 58, and now Chief Operating Officer at HSBC Bank Singapore, got his MBA in 1990. He noted that in those early years, SIM was one of the few tertiary institutions that offer “something for the working people” who did not have a chance to go to university after their ‘A’ levels.

SIM GE now offers the MBA programme from the University of Birmingham, an MSc and post-graduate Award in Supply Chain & Logistics Management from the University of Warwick, and post-graduate diplomas in a broad range of subjects from the University of London.

On his MBA studies, Jeremy explains: “It was more for my own personal development than to meet work requirements. It also allowed me to appreciate another discipline.” The course fee was partly subsidised by SDF (Skills Development Fund) and by his employer. He was also given study leave to attend classes which were held at Thong Teck Building in Orchard (former SIM premises before it moved to Management House and the Clementi campus).

“It was an opportunity for me to meet different people who included a number of senior civil servants.”

In his current job as COO, Jeremy’s responsibilities include the bank’s operations and IT infrastructure. “I began this job 21 months ago. Before that I was COO, Finance, in Hong Kong, and prior to that role was head of capital management and financial compliance”

Leadership values
Jeremy who is mentor to two SIM GE’s scholars (photo above), believes that leadership skills and moral values are essential in running any business. “Everyone has a role in leadership, no matter how junior their position. Parents, for example, have children looking up to them. Everyone influences someone else without realising it. There will always be someone looking up to you, so you can’t play-act. Your behaviour must be natural and authentic, reflecting your moral values.

“And the higher you are in the corporate rungs, the more people there will be who look up to you. Hence, it’s taking a big risk to be in a top job,” says Jeremy. In his position, he doesn’t believe in doling out advice. “I can’t teach you, I just give you the facts.”

Jeremy’s style in influencing people is low-keyed and indirect. He used conversation, not monologue. For instance, in mentoring the two SIM students, he doesn’t give them “bright new ideas” but simply offers them an opportunity to talk and give feedback. “Mentoring is a form of friendship – a setting where people feel comfortable.”

An important aspect of Jeremy’s take on working life is the role of faith. “I believe in the theology of work – to find spiritual meaning in work. I don’t just wake up in the morning and think I’m right; I ask why I’m right. There are certain rules in right living, and we abide by them. They form my moral compass, guiding me on the right path.”

Moral values are the bridge between management and leadership, he explains (diagram below).
Building bridges between management and leadership - Article Image 2

Habits of effective people
One praiseworthy work habit that Jeremy shares is derived from one of his favourite self-help books, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, first published in 1989, is a business and self-help book by Stephen R. Covey. That habit is to take the initiative to get things done, and not to procrastinate. “It’s no big deal, just do it,” Jeremy urges folks who like to put off till tomorrow what ought to be done today.

There’re lots of excuses not to do the important things that separate a well-directed, meaningful, fulfilling life, from one that simply drifts with the tide and wind.

Another habit of Jeremy, not mentioned in Covey’s book, is keeping fit through exercise and running. “I run every morning, covering a stretch of 5-7km. Just yesterday, I did 7km and last weekend I did 12km,” he said on the day of the interview (Thursday, April 10, 2014) at his office overlooking the Singapore waterfront. “If I have a meeting in the office at 8am, I would start my run at 5am.”

He maximises his running time by listening to Christian sermons on his earphones at the same time. He also swims 15-20 laps after each run. No, he doesn’t play games.

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Jeremy runs for his life every day, sometimes up to 12km

- interviewed and posted online in May 2014