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Passion and values-based leadership

Passion and values-based leadership

  • 15 November 2019
  • By Ken Wong
  • 8 mins read

Ken Wong joined OCBC Bank in 2011 in the data analytics team. He is now the Head of the OCBC AI Lab, a role he has held for one and a half years. Hear him speak about his passion, his job and his style of leadership.

Starting AI (Artificial Intelligence) Lab

"Before we started AI Lab, we needed buy-in from our senior management. The whole process took about two years. It involved creating a vision and developing the nuts and bolts of how we could achieve what we set out to achieve. Once management gave the thumbs up, I had the privilege to be part of the team that made it happen, and it was one I was extremely proud of as we were the first lab dedicated to AI amongst local banks in Singapore."

"When I was in analytics, I led a team of about 15 people. When I started AI Lab, I hired the entire team from scratch and it was quite a challenge. It was very important for me to get people with the right specialist skills required and with fire in their bellies. Besides validating their skills through aptitude tests, I would also get a sense of how much they wanted the job and to make a difference through AI. Having passionate team members is crucial to keeping our focus and energy levels high. I also assess potential team members for cultural fit by getting them to meet with our team members. Aptitude without cultural fit won't work. Cultural fit without aptitude will not work either."

On leadership style

"When it comes to leading my team, I embrace passion and commitment. It's important to me that my passion for AI rubs off on my co-workers and injects an air of positivity to our team. I think of myself as a multiplier in the sense that I aim to bring out the best and most in everyone. My leadership mathematics is like this: 1+1 > 2. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts."

"I organise both formal and informal gatherings. It is important to be transparent and keep the team up-to-date on happenings across the team and bank, and weekly formal meetings are an excellent opportunity for that."

"The informal takes the form of team meals and Friday drinks. As part of the larger Group Customer Analytics and Decisioning division, we participate in team activities such as Captain's ball, and team getaways. Once in a while, we let our hair down over a karaoke session. A team that sings together, stays together!"

Group Customer Analytics and Decisioning

Importance of values

"I got my first job when I was 15, selling computers at PC shows. I would receive a commission of S$50 for each computer I sold. Very quickly, I learned that working is not just about money. Being successful at work is about having passion for the job. And values."

"Firstly, the importance of listening and empathising. I remember a couple who bought a computer from me. I thought they were happy, but they later realised it was an impulse buy and required the funds for other purposes. I gave up my commission, so they could get their refund. I listened to their story. I understood their motivations and need. Even now, when I hire members for the AI team, I listen deeply to find members with the passion. People who like to get their hands dirty."

"Secondly, caring. To care is to do, and not just say. This is something ingrained in the AI Lab culture. We look out after one another, cover each other, celebrate achievements, remember birthdays. Our success belongs to us, and not just to one person. Certainly, not mine."

"Thirdly it is to be progressive. AI changes rapidly. There are lots of competition out there and we need to be ahead of the game. I stress education, continuous learning and being on top of new trends, and if possible, set new trends. I'm very proud that half of the team are pursuing a new degree or some sort of certification. However, it is impossible for one person to learn everything and possess all knowledge, so I try and ensure that each person learns something different, and we share our learnings with one another."

"Finally, collaboration. In order to be successful in our job, we have to be able to collaborate well with each other and with other teams. We are a huge organisation and we cannot achieve our goals alone. We must build our network and collaborate to meet our mutual objectives."

"Although we work in Artificial Intelligence, we need real intelligence and commitment to build OCBC's AI Lab into a top-notch player in the region!"