Conversations with Christopher Tan

By Valerina Tjandra and Foong Zi Yang Nicodemus

Christopher Tan is the Global Partner Revenue Acceleration Director of Intel in the Asia Pacific and Japan (APJ) regions. Having spent more than 15 years working in Intel, he has also served as the Regional Alliance Manager, Datacenter Platform Marketing Manager, Enterprise Manager and Technology Specialist in the company prior to his current role. In this interview, Christopher shares more about his career and his extensive journey with Intel in a tech-facing world.

A majority of my time used to be spent out of office. Besides the partnership teams, marketing teams, and alliance teams, I would meet with a lot of executives during work. I support regional operations as well as local operations, so 40-50% of my time was spent outside of the country, mostly in Southeast Asia, Australia, Korea and Japan.

Besides meeting my partners in their countries, I also support a lot of their events in those countries. Before restrictions, and even now, I also attend my partners’ conferences, seminars, and partner meetings such that I meet my partners’ partners too.

Attending all the events can be taxing at times, but I have gotten used to all the hectic travelling, especially given how I have had a regional job since early in my career. Besides, I also enjoy working in different countries while mingling with different cultures and business environments. These always made me excited to travel for work. In fact, when I travel, I also try to maximise my time there by leaving on the last flight of the day.

I am also lucky to have an extremely understanding family, which lessens the pressure for me to always be physically present in Singapore. That being said, travelling has its upsides and downsides. While it opens up a lot of experiences and opportunities, it can nonetheless be quite tiring at times.

Yes, I always knew that I wanted to work in IT. While I studied Electrical and Electronics Engineering in university, I do not believe that a person trained as an engineer will have to work as an engineer, and I think the same applies for different majors and industries too. University sets a foundation for how we do things — the engineer training gave me the ability to be analytical about problems. It also taught me to take a structured approach to solving problems, both business challenges and technical issues. Even now, in sales and marketing, my engineering training has benefitted me because it has helped me to understand the technology and our products better.

Sure. After working as an engineer during my first-year internships, I realised that an engineering job was not what I wanted. However, how I started out in my current line of work was a little surprising. As an introvert, is it interesting to see how I am working in a role now that requires me to interact and socialise with a lot of people.

The journey here was definitely not a smooth-sailing one. When I first started out, I purposely took on roles which were more externally-facing to train myself. I decided to join my University’s Students Union Organization as a chairman for events, where I took on the marketing lead role. I did canvassing with my team, worked on getting sponsorships, and sold events to sponsorships. This gave me firsthand experience of what marketing is like, and particularly showed me how to convince people to buy something and how to communicate with people.

Eventually, I took a big leap away from my engineering background, and entered an IT systems integration company as an account executive. This pushed me to do something out of my comfort zone. I enjoyed the challenge of selling, and was able to gain interesting experiences from working with customers from many countries. From then on, I went on to take up more external-facing roles as well.

Mid-career, I moved to focus on the Network and Telco (telecommunications) areas. This was during the dot com era, where there was a boom in a lot of these technology companies. Being in a Telco at that time was the best of times, as it was buying more and more bandwidth. I was also able to witness firsthand how many young startups came and went, especially during the dotcom crisis.

After the crisis, I then spent a little time in healthcare, running the IT operations of the hospital. It was interesting being on the other side of the fence, as a consumer of the IT services rather than the provider.

Throughout my career, I have been in many roles and industries: in healthcare and enterprise, and as a tech specialist, account manager, sales manager, and product marketing manager in Asia. I have also been on the partnerships side and am handling software partners and alliances now. This was not what I thought my career would look like, but I did start off very much involved in sales and marketing.

Well, I have had positive advice from seniors before. In fact, no one really gave me bad advice. Personally, I feel that all advice is good advice, even if it sounds bad. As long as we keep an open mind and take other people’s advice with the right mindset, I do not think it will turn out bad. At the end of the day, most people mean well, so take a breath and a step back.

A concrete advice that I wish I was given would be to never let external factors, including the major you study in university, define you. Do not feel the obligation to fulfill other people’s expectations of the career path that you should take. In other words, do not be locked in a certain box. In fact, there have been many people who did very well after jumping out of that box too.

I think that the environment in most tech firms, including Intel, is extremely nurturing and energizing. Most Silicon Valley firms motivate their employees greatly, and just like me, I think many employees in these companies are excited to go to work. Personally, I find our work highly meaningful and a great sense of achievement is often felt whenever we see our projects work out.

Even in the firms that I previously worked at, such as Lucent Technologies, the innovation driven and positive culture was also present. These companies also have very strong visions and missions, which help greatly as well. Through working there, I was able to see how my work has positively impacted my life, and the lives of others around me, and that motivates me even more.

Of course, there are both good and bad days. There will always be times when we receive criticism, but for the most part, it is constructive and helps us work on ourselves. It can also be a motivation for us to hone our skills. Hence, always possess the desire to learn and grow, and do not take everything to heart.

I believe that we are all salespeople in a way. Most professions require us to sell ideas to others, and we need to be able to do that effectively. I do as much selling internally as I do externally! I need to sell my ideas to people all the time and convince them that the ideas are the best way to go. Persuasion, selling, positioning, diplomacy… They are all important skills.

The world out there is very competitive, and the person who triumphs is often the one who can better position his or her ideas to others. A person can have extensive research and data, but at the end of the day, if he or she is unable to present it favourably, the person will lose out. A lot of decisions a company makes have an element of gut feel as well. Thus, we really need to know how to convince people and get them to go along with us.

Moreover, know that the most outspoken people do not necessarily have the best ideas. Instead, as a team leader, we will need to draw from the strengths of each of our team members and use it to the group’s advantage. The team must succeed as a group, and that will involve a large amount of teamwork too.

Yes, of course. Intel has a positive company culture and that has given me the reason to stay. I have never felt bored in this company. There are also a lot of opportunities for me to move horizontally within the firm, which helps give me a wider learning exposure. Being here is really about stretching myself while not blindly taking on more work. It is about expanding my horizons, and learning to do things in a more impactful manner.