Conversations with Andy Koh

By Brendan Loon

Andy is the Associate Director for Product Marketing CAST OTT Video at SingTel. Prior to working at this major local telecommunications company, however, he was at Standard Chartered Bank, which was his first step into the working world after graduating from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) with a Bachelor’s degree in Business with a specialisation in Marketing. He then went on to work for another big player in the local telco industry, StarHub, before he joined SingTel. His work in SingTel has brought him all the way to Australia, to work as part of the telco Optus, a fully-owned subsidiary of SingTel that is based in Australia.

How did you get into working at SingTel?

Andy: I started my first job in a bank, Standard Chartered Bank. This was in 2007, when everyone wanted to go into a bank. The pay was good, but I found the role too small. I was an analyst in the Marketing Department. And, after a while, I saw that I wanted to pursue my passion and specialisation beyond just my degree in Business and my specialisation in Marketing. So, when the opportunity came from StarHub later in 2007, I took the opportunity and moved to become a corporate marketing executive managing Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and corporates in terms of their mobile acquisition retention: managing their communications; when there are ads to be put out, then I manage their ads; if there are any outreach programmes for them, then I also manage those programmes. So, I did this for about 2 or so years. But one downside of this role was that I didn’t get to see how I can maange the business better without knowing how my acquisition efforts tie in to revenue returns.

Then, then the role in SingTel popped up: post-paid mobile product marketing manager. So, I managed the acquisition of customers through communications – be it roadshows or other avenues. I was also privileged to have been in the right time where SingTel was launching 4G, so I was one of the guys that was part of that change, managing the 4G launch. After that, an opportunity in Australia came up and I put up my hand to say ‘yes’ and moved on to that. Essentially, I was doing similar things, only now at Optus in Australia – a fully-owned subsidiary of SingTel. After 2 years, I came back afterthey refused to let me go anywhere else; they wanted me back in Broadband and Home Solutions and there I found I could do a wide spectrum of roles and work. And recently, I’ve moved into a role called ‘Cast’, so I manage now Cast Video. Whatever you see on SingTel TV, some of the relevant content, we put it into bite-sized formats and packs to make available online. At the same time, I also work with third-party content-providers to bring value and quality content to SingTel’s user base.

How does your typical workday look like?

Andy: The typical workday in SingTel is always busy. Most of your time is committed to meetings to get alignment, putting forward and charting strategic visions and objectives, making sure you have the relevant communications with other departments – and then, of course, you have the day-in-day-out operations to track your numbers on a daily basis, make sure that you acquire the right customers, make sure your customers don’t go away from you. So, essentially what we call ‘acquisition and churn’; but you need to look at this alongside revenue numbers so you know on a monthly basis what sort of revenue you need to bring in for the company. So, if you ask me, I would definitely say that it’s hectic. You can think of it as many mini-start-up ecosystems within SingTel that are looking to flourish, but of course within the boundaries of how SingTel needs to be run as a business.

How did you go from banking to marketing?

Andy: So, I studied Marketing, but for a Marketing degree, very often employers look for working experience – they want to know you’re tried and tested – so it might hard to get a first job that is directly in Marketing per se – that’s why I started out at a bank first. And I don’t think time has changed this very much; I still mentor some younger people who are in Marketing and employers look out for the same things: what sort of marketing have you done? Have you any experience in roles suited for Marketing? So, when I just graduated, it was difficult for me then – with no working experience – to find something in Marketing straightaway.

So, when I got this first job at a bank, I took it – also to put some money in my pocket. But then after taking your first role and knowing that it’s not giving you as much as you want to learn, then you need to know when to pivot. So, I decided to start looking for another role elsewhere in a couple of months. And given that I didn’t want to make another wrong decision at that juncture, I looked more specifically for jobs in or closer to Marketing on job platforms – JobStreet, JobsDB, company websites, etc. – and I was lucky that the job at StarHub came by.

When you finally started working in Marketing, was it what you expected from what you thought during your school days?

Andy: It was definitely a very steep curve, while managing work of a different dimension. I think what students can’t learn from books is people management – stakeholder relations and all that. I think when it comes to technical skills like Microsoft Office, Excel, or applying concepts university students aren’t too weak in that; but it’s how do you then convince someone to buy into your idea? Because while you might have a concept from a textbook, you may not be speaking to someone schooled in Marketing, so you can’t just explain it that way, how do you tell them about it then? And, also, of course, there’s an element of making friends, connecting with people, making them like you – these are things the textbooks can’t teach you.

In a real working environment, the undercurrents of politics are always there. I think with every environment there’s definitely going to be opinion-leaders and influencers, and then people you have to be careful of; and this may be found anywhere, in any organisation, so it’s more important that you be very savvy in navigating such undercurrents to make sure you don’t tread on the wrong lines – and make friends along the way who will buy your idea, genuinely buy your idea not only because you are friends but also because you are good at what you do. Then you can build your credibility, and with credibility a following will come along, and it’s not so difficult to negate problems or challenges because you can pretty much just pick up the phone and make a call to someone for help. And they won’t think twice but come and help you.

What would you consider a good day at work?

Andy: A good day at work is essentially being able to do a lot of things within a very short period of time, being able to add value to conversations that are ongoing in your workplace, being able to deliver my part to someone who can then do his or her work – to make a difference to people’s lives in any way. Motivation means different things to different people, and for me it’s always been about making a difference.

How did you get into mentoring youths as a career mentor?

Andy: I was at a point in my life when I was looking for ways to give back and I thought through a few specific initiatives through which I would like to give back. But I also wasn’t sure that if I helped kids or elderly, that I’d be able to take the emotional baggage that comes along with that. Then I thought since I’ve been working for the past 10 years and I do feel that my career has given me a lot, if anyone can benefit from me sharing my journey, then why not I do that? That seemed like something I wanted to do: to empower and guide people. I’ve actually been doing something like that in Nanyang Technological University since I left school, but just not as frequently as I’d like to, and not as frequently as with the Young NTUC guys. So, when I saw the Young NTUC one, I took it and here I am.

And now, it’s my fourth batch of mentees that I’m taking and everyone is always so different, from each other and the last batch. You won’t have imagined the cross-section of Singapore to be so diverse. But this gives me a lot of happiness whenever I can help a person in their journey.

How do you help your mentees?

Andy: So, yes, I help them look at their curriculum vitaes (CVs) and it’s also trying to get them a reality of matching their education background and what their previous skill sets are to their current needs, looking for where their next port-of-call can be in their career path.

There was a lady who had challenges managing strenuous work and stressful work hours. But having probed to found out that she likes kids, I started to talk to her about that instead, especially since the childcare industry is liberalising and there’s early childhood courses out there. So, I advised her to inch herself in that direction. Sure, you can’t expect that you will get it on day one and become an early childhood educator, especially since that’s not your training and background, but you have to get yourself closer to that with every step. So, I told her to start with administrative jobs in the kindergartens. But there’s also the challenge of expectations. The reality of work is that you might think your pay is too low; but everyone’s got to start somewhere. Is this going to help you put a foot through the door to get you to where you want to be and what you want to do?

What professional competencies would you find the most relevant to your work?

Andy: From a marketing perspective, adaptability and applied learning are definitely very key. I would go for developing attitudinal and personality-based skillsets as compared to functional skillsets, because when you’re very young in your career, what moulds your outcomes is more likely your grit and determination than the skills you’ve picked up on. The next thing would be keeping up a high energy level because this gives you a very different persona from the next interviewee or candidate, for instance. That’s where people can sense something; if you’re very passive and only reply with 3 sentences to my 15 questions, then people don’t know where you’re going or what you want. Stress tolerance and commitment are also big things you need.