Irene Ang is perhaps every Singaporean's favourite local comedienne, or at least someone that most will have heard of. Any millennial who grew up in Singapore will likely identify her as Rosie Phua from the sitcom, Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd - the on-screen wife of the lead character played by Gurmit Singh.
But now, many see her as an entrepreneur and CEO of FLY Entertainment, and a role model to look up to. From her modest CEO salary, to her love for hosting events and giving motivational talks, we can sometimes still see her on Singapore television, but more recently she has been dabbling in the realm of film making as a co-producer for local film My Love Sinema.
Not too long ago, she was interviewed on 93.8LIVE, and in it she shared her life stories, regrets, and aspirations - a no-holds-barred expose of her life, including some facts which she haven't revealed before.
Here are some life lessons we took from it.
1. No Need For A Degree To Run A Successful Business
Irene Ang giving a motivational talk/Photo: Fly Academy
You may have read about her life story, or even heard of it from her many talks. Her childhood was anything but smooth. Her parents split when she was still in school; her mother a drug addict, her father a gambler.
She also had to cope with several bouts of depression during her formative years, and even attempted to commit suicide several times.
While she did attend Junior College, she never passed her GCE A Levels, and started working right after graduation, holding jobs as an insurance agent, before having her first taste of the entertainment industry as a stuntwoman on Channel 8.
Admittedly, she wasn't that interested in acting even after landing lead roles, but what she was passionate about was the industry, and wanted to change the state of it for the better.
That was when FLY Entertainment came in, and through its establishment that started during the early days of her acting career, she created a network for local talent to be properly managed and negotiation of fair contracts.
When she started out, she had no formal business training, only a bit of knowledge in business she picked up some while working in American Express, one of her earlier jobs.
Since 1999, the agency has grown to encompass several business units and subsidiaries - mostly created out of a need or crisis to address industrial needs. One example is FLY Academy that was meant to discover new local talent to supplement the need for more local faces in the industry.
2. What You Are Good At May Not Be Your Future Career
Irene Ang/Photo: Fly Entertainment
Irene was actually a well-rounded sportswoman in the past.
In secondary school she was an active swimmer, winning medals at many competitions, but stopped short of going into it more seriously as her family couldn't afford trainings at country clubs where her peers went to.
They weren't able to give her the moral support to pursue it as well - of which she says is important.
When she started working, she was introduced to fencing by a friend as a means to keep fit. She was so good that she even went to the SEA Games, won a medal, and was scouted for a scholarship in France. However, she turned the offer down to stay with her aging grandmother.
3. There Is Always A Solution To Every Problem
Irene Ang with Chua En Lai/Photo: Fly Entertainment
As someone who was suicidal at a young age thinking that problems couldn't be solved, she has grown into an entrepreneur with the belief that every problem has its solutions.
She explains that we shouldn't worry about our ego or being laughed at when in need of help. Many who are in dire situations tend not to ask for help for those specific reasons, on top of not having anyone to trust.
She further explains that she had a friend who was left with debts to pay no thanks to an ex-boyfriend. The friend then made a deal with the credit card company and managed to pay off the debt after 5 years. That was when she learned there are always solutions to problems, even if might seem unreasonable.
At the end of the day, she feels that you should talk to people who will be able to help you because your pride isn't going to.
4. Support The Local Talent
Irene Ang with secondary school students/Photo: Fly Academy
One of the reasons Irene established Fly Entertainment was to help local talents receive the recognition and the support that they deserve.
Giving examples as to how even industry veterans have been grossly underpaid in the local entertainment industry, she hopes to change the mindset of clients through her agency, and so far it's working well but there's still more the industry can help with.
Financial backing for post-production of films is one area where she feels needs help. She feels this is where Singapore is lacking and expresses that even "all the Singapore movies put together cannot even be compared to one Hollywood movie".
Local films too should be given more exposure by cinema operators according to Irene. She even made it a point to expand the exposure of local productions to the younger generation by showing students more local shows instead of Hollywood films.
Above all, she believes that even a Singaporean can potentially win an Oscar, and would like to see that happen at least once in her lifetime.
5. Forgiving Others
Irene Ang with director Tan Ai Ling/Photo: Fly Entertainment
As stated earlier, Irene's parents haven't always been around for her. After the divorce, her father left the family and her mother who turned to drugs landed herself in and out of prison several times.
Irene and her brother were mainly raised by her grandmother, of whom she cares greatly about. Being with her grandmother, Irene was also influenced by how forgiving she was.
Ever since she started her own company, and making it into the successful agency that it is today, she did a fair bit of reflection on herself and her family.
If she didn't forgive them now, she may regret it for the rest of her life if she didn't do it when they are not around anymore.
Now her parents are now employees in her company. Her father is a driver, while her mother is a cook, and through Irene's support and counsel, have managed to hold down these jobs longer than any of their previous ones.
To end off the conversation, while Irene may have some regrets in her earlier days, like not pursuing a sports career, or passing her A Levels (which she intends to do soon), life is ultimately about decisions.
"I decided to go with the unsafe. I decided to have an adventure because the first time, I decided to be safe, so the second time, you know what? With the S$2,000 I put into this company, I have nothing left. So let's just take flight and see where the flight takes us."