Speech by Mr Ivan Neo

WEDNESDAY, 22 MAY 2013, 5.30PM (SESSION 15)

Mr Tan Choon Shian, Principal & CEO, Singapore Polytechnic
Graduands of the Advanced and Specialist Diploma programs
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen;

  1. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be with you on this momentous occasion of your lives, and to share with you some of my thoughts on life and career achievements.

Brief Introduction

  1. Being here today brings back memories of the day when I was like you, sitting there waiting for my turn to come up on stage.  It was some 33 years ago when I graduated with a Diploma in Mechanical Engineering from the Singapore Polytechnic (SP), and if I remember correctly, the graduation ceremony was at the old Singapore National Theatre at River Valley Road.  Certainly, the world, Singapore and our lives have changed since then - the National Theatre was demolished in the mid-1980s to make way for the construction of the CTE (Central Expressway), and information technology has transformed our lives by leaps and bounds!
  2. I started my career as an Apprentice Aircraft  Maintenance Engineer with Singapore Airlines, which sponsored my education here at SP.  I graduated with a Certificate in Aeronautical Engineering & a Diploma in Mechanical Engineering from SP, as well as an Aircraft Maintenance Engineer’s licence from the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, after 5 years of training. I then became a licensed aircraft engineer and worked my way up the corporate ladder. I have been with the Singapore Airlines Group for 38 years now. 
  3. One of the reasons I have been with the same Company this long is that my colleagues and I find a lot of personal satisfaction in nurturing and developing young talent, grooming them for the future of the Company.  So, if you have the relevant qualifications, do consider joining SIA Engineering Company (SIAEC). SIAEC is publicly listed, like its parent company Singapore Airlines, and is a blue-chip company, forming one of the 30 Straits Times Index component stocks. SIAEC, together with its 15 joint venture companies in Singapore, contribute to more than half of the total aerospace industry output of S$7.9B.

The 3 Ps

  1. Let me move right on to the thoughts that I want to share with you today, which can be encapsulated as the 3 Ps.

1st P - Plan

  1. The 1st P is Plan.  As the saying goes “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”.  In other words, always have a plan with a goal in mind in whatever you do; Remember “Dr Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Begin with the end in mind”  because “If your ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step you take gets you to the wrong place faster”; “Begin with the End in Mind also means to begin each task or project with a clear vision of your desired direction and destination, and then continue…. [proactively] to make things happen.” Dr Covey also talked about putting “First Things First”, prioritizing your schedule and developing a daily routine in whatever you do.
  2. As you start your next journey, whether you are going to embark on another career, or continuing your studies, ask yourself. Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years from now?  Some of you may want to continue in your current career or move on to a different industry, while others may wish to start their own business. Nonetheless, in whatever you want to do and achieve, I urge you to always make a plan on how you are going to fulfil your goals, whether through gaining more experience, or getting more training. It may involve some form of financial planning too. 
  3. Having a plan will steer you and ensure that you do not lose focus whilst chasing your dreams or goals.  But remember this, it is not a perfect world out there and hence things do not always go according to plan.  Circumstances change: you may find someone you like and decide to settle down, or your priorities change, and you decide to pursue a different career path.   Well… change your plan along the way but never lose track of the goals that you want to achieve. 

2nd P - Passion

  1. The 2nd P is called Passion.  By this, I mean giving your best in everything that you do or every task that you are assigned. Remember the maxim ”What’s worth doing is worth doing well!”
  2. As most of you are working adults, you will know that in the corporate world, you may be rotated to a job or assigned a role which you do not particularly like, or placed in a work environment which you do not specifically want. I would encourage you to take this in your stride and treat every job assignment as an opportunity to learn and build the foundation for  your career growth.  Always have a positive mindset and this will see you through  even in the most challenging of times.
  3. I can certainly attest to this.  I started my career as an apprentice engineer, learning the basics of aircraft maintenance, and working under rain and shine at the airport; whilst building up my competency and professionalism in aircraft maintenance and working alongside technicians and supervisors.  Along the way, I moved on to different areas and functions covering Quality & Safety, Aircraft Line & Heavy Maintenance, Components & Engine Overhaul, and now Facilities Management, Business Development and Joint Ventures’ Partnership Management.   All these job rotations allowed me to learn; there were challenges initially, in particular when I had to handle the profits & losses of the various business units without a strong background in finance. I was exposed to the various functions of the Company and more importantly to see how different functions enable the Company to operate efficiently and effectively year after year.  Thus, always give your best in whatever you are doing and remember, the success of any company depends on the contribution of each and every one of its staff.

3rd P - Person

  1. And finally the last P is Person.  Work and work alone only forms one part of your life.  There are other things in life like love, family and care for society that bring meaning to a person’s life.  I find the following excerpt from a 1990 commencement speech made by then US First Lady Barbara Bush to fellow graduands like yourselves particularly inspiring. I quote “Cherish your human connections: your relationships with family and friends. For several years, you've had impressed upon you the importance to your career of dedication and hard work, and, of course, that's true. But as important as your obligations as a doctor, lawyer or business leader will be, you are a human being first and those human connections -- with spouses, with children, with friends -- are the most important investments you will ever make. At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a [spouse], a child, a friend, or a parent.” Unquote
  2. As you go about reaching for your dreams and building your wealth, never forget to love and serve others, not just yourself. Come back and contribute to your alma mater, do some voluntary work, give back to society and help the less fortunate. Only in doing so can we then say that we have truly lived a life worth living.


  1. As I draw my speech to a close, I hope that you will remember the 3 Ps as you walk your journey of life: Plan, Passion and Person:- Plan ahead always; Passion - give your best in whatever you do; and Person - find meaning in life outside of work. Once again, I would like to congratulate each and every one of you on your achievements and I wish you every success ahead.

    Thank you.
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