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Meet A Silverlaker - Sebastian Tan

Sebastian at the ASEAN business awards with his colleagues and bosses

Silverlake Axis is made up of many incredible individuals who form the heart of the company. The Meet a Silverlaker series will highlight some of these amazing people and showcase their hopes, dreams, and aspirations. For the very first part of this series, I have decided to feature Sebastian Tan, a Business Manager that is based in our Singapore office. The 30-year-old shares a little bit about his early life growing up in Singapore before delving into his career interests and passions. Take a look at our conversation below!

Hi Seb! First off, tell me a little bit about your childhood. Where did you grow up?
I grew up across Singapore in Queenstown, Bedok, Serangoon, and Hougang, so in total I have moved 4 times and changed my primary school 4 times! This was because my family steadily worked our way up to a middle-class lifestyle, and managed to upgrade from a rented place to our own flat. Looking back, I actually appreciate this seeing as I learned to adapt quickly and make new friends each time.

Oh, I see. What’s your family like?
I was raised together with my two younger brothers by my mum, a housewife, and my dad, who runs a goods delivery company. When I first picked up coding, I even made a route optimization algorithm for my dad!

Really? Sounds like you were a pretty precocious youngster. Where did you go to school?
I went to Raffles Institution, sharing the alma mater of Yusof Bin Ishak (Singapore’s first president who is printed on the currency), Lee Kuan Yew, Robert Kuok and interestingly, Yee Bing, Trevor and Fabian (3 of Silverlake Axis’ SEVPs). I also played softball as an outfielder, and the cello for the Chinese Orchestra.

What did you end up studying in university?
I did a double degree in business and computer science at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), pitching marketing presentations in the day and coding kickass algorithms in the night.
Sebastian at a fintech sharing session with NUS students
Sebastian (first row, left) at a fintech sharing session with the National University of Singapore (NUS) students
Thanks for the great backstory! Now on to the meat of the matter – your career. What were you up to before you joined Silverlake Axis?
I started out doing technology and cut my teeth in GE Plastics' (now SABIC IP) leadership development program. During that time, I did diverse IT projects across Asia, from a technical role in Manufacturing ERP system rollout in Guangzhou to a project manager role driving software migration in Bangalore. I was then nominated for a global $1bn SAP business transformation project, where I led the process and data migration for Asia’s Manufacturing/QA systems. I became a subject matter expert on data migration tools like SAP BODS and IS, and conducted trainings in the U.S. and Asia.

Sounds like things were going really well for you. Why did you decide to join Silverlake Axis?
I grew tired of enterprise processes and the technical SAP track, and decided to move to business-facing roles. At that time, Fintech was on the rise and there were a lot of exciting developments in financial inclusion, SME growth and so on. I took the leap to take on a corporate strategy role in the Group Organization, Strategy and Synergy Office (GOSS) here. I mainly serve as the right-hand man to Fabian Lum, Senior EVP, Digital Financial Services.

Here’s an interesting fact: The headhunter who hired me, turned out to join the company as well! I thought to myself, well if the headhunter was willing to make a leap it had to be something special.
Interesting fact 2: I joined without a J.D.; later on, Fabian asked me to write one myself…hmm…

That’s hilarious! What have you worked on, since you didn’t have a fixed job description?
I have since assisted with corporate strategy and M&A, was a product manager for the GAX Financing platform, did business development for our marketplace financing product, and most recently I led our innovation lab and group analytics / data science capability initiatives.
Sebastian and team at Christmas dinner
Sebastian (middle, blue shirt) with his team for Christmas dinner
It seems like you’ve been involved with a wide variety of things so far. Is there anything in particular that excites you?
I really enjoy driving an idea from start to finish, from the very first vision to the execution. Being empowered along with having the autonomy to do things are really important factors for success. I also feel extremely satisfied whenever I manage to overcome certain constraints while realizing the vision. For example, back when our Group Analytics capability did not have a headcount budget yet, I brought in our first PhD data scientist for free, tapping on the faculty back-to-industry program of a tertiary institution in Singapore.

I see. In light of this, what values would you impart to someone starting out in their career?
I’d like to break this into 3 parts: work hard, work smart, and believe in yourself. When I talk about working hard, I don’t mean just having a good work ethic. I mean that it’s important to stretch yourself constantly and to care more about the tasks you are given than anyone else. The more you do, the more you will learn. Working smart is next, and you have to learn how to prioritize and manage your time to complete tasks effectively. Stopping to reflect on your mistakes (and others’) will also help in future tasks.

Finally, it is very important to believe in yourself. Do not limit yourself – you can do anything if you work hard and smart at it. You are not defined by the company you’re in, the job you do, or the pay you’re getting. You must identify and pursue your passions, and take charge of your own career.

That is some fantastic advice. Now on to a lighter note! What do you do with your free time?
For the past 10 years, I have volunteered with Club Rainbow, a charity for chronically ill children. Most recently, I took on the role of chairman for the Club’s annual stay-in camp with 250 campers.

I am also recently a proud father of one, who is quite a handful! I am currently advertising for anyone who’s interested in being his ‘Godfather’ / ‘Godmother’. Please drop off your applications ASAP as I’d really like to delegate some diaper duties. *laughs*
Sebastian with couchsurfing friends
Sebastian (yellow and black shirt) with some couchsurfing friends
How do you practice work life balance?
I believe in working hard and playing hard. One way I choose to relax is by traveling. My wife and I do couchsurfing when we travel, which immerses you in the culture of the place that you’re visiting. It’s a great way to get to know people who actually live in that country and what’s more, we usually get fantastic recommendations for food and places to visit.

Thanks for spending time to talk to me today Seb!
Sure, no problem. Hope you got what you needed.

For more interviews featuring our staff, watch this space! If you know an interesting Silverlaker who should be featured please email me at [email protected]