Changing paths: Engineering to banking
Making a mid-career switch is never an easy decision, and for Ryan Wong, Vice President of Corporate Planning and Development, it took time, effort and a little bit of luck. An engineer by training, here is how he seized the opportunity when it came.
Q: Hi Ryan. Could you share with us a little about your career journey?
I graduated with a Bachelor's in Engineering in 2002 and started my career in business development in the communications and telecommunications industry. By 2009, I developed an interest in business and finance, particularly in helping companies grow through mergers & acquisitions and other expansion opportunities. Yet the risks and challenges in executing such a career change seemed overwhelming.
It took me some time to get there, but eventually I took up a job as an investment professional at EDB Investments, which is the strategic investment arm of the Singapore Economic Development Board. My responsibilities revolved around originating, evaluating and executing equity investments in high potential growth stage technology companies globally. That eventually brought me to my current role in OCBC's Corporate Planning and Development, Group Finance division, in 2014.
Q: What is Corporate Planning and Development's role in the Bank?
Corporate Planning and Development is primarily responsible for managing and executing acquisitions and divestitures to achieve the Bank's corporate objectives. Our work also includes managing and monitoring strategic investments for the Group and collaborating with the various businesses units to help drive partnerships.
Q: This is rather different from your former career expertise. What were some difficulties you encountered when making the move?
I knew very little about investing and working with companies at the time. My educational background and almost exclusively engineering work experience meant that it was an uphill task to convince a prospective employer to take me seriously. On a deeper level, I was also uncertain if I could deliver on the job even if an opportunity was there.
Ryan Wong (first from right) with his team, Group Finance Dinner and Dance 2018
Q: How did you overcome that?
It took time, the passion for learning and dedication to keep sight of the goal. I worked full time while pursuing my Master's in Finance, spending my evenings and weekends studying and investing in additional finance training outside of my course. Even now, growth and expansion are key to me and I enjoy reading and picking up new skills through on-line courses outside of work, particularly in the areas of personal development and business.
Q: What were some challenges you faced after making the career switch?
Early on, I struggled with trusting my own instincts and knowledge, and second guessed my views and opinions. I just thought that everyone knew what they were doing and had earned their place at the table, while what I had in mind may not be relevant or had already been thought of.
After a few situations where my initial thoughts proved to be right, I realized that my value is to objectively question and provide a tangible view on opportunities, and it is really through a healthy debate that one could test ideas to ensure they can withstand scrutiny. I am lucky that my managers and peers encouraged me to trust my instincts and valued candour over consensus. The guidance and opportunities extended to me by my manages were also invaluable to my development.
Q: Do you find your engineering training relevant to your current role?
In our work, we are often required to analyse a wealth of quantitative and qualitative data and synthesize them into courses of action and recommendations. My engineering background has certainly helped as it trains one to bring structure to research and analysis, manage complexity, and be logical and systematic in reasoning.
Q: What tips do you have for mid-career job switchers looking to join OCBC or banking?
It is important to demonstrate an interest in the field and communicate why you have chosen this path clearly. Building up relevant knowledge and skills is also a clear indicator of commitment and readiness to take up a role. All in all - don't wait. Take control and act. Take chances.