Before I Was Boss: Making cup holders and selling dinnerware helped shape Jetstar manager's career path

Before I Was Boss:  Making cup holders and selling dinnerware helped shape Jetstar manager's career path
PHOTO: Jetstar, Bloomberg

It's only hindsight that gives you perspective to all the things you did before that lead up to where, and who you are today.

Maybe a different path would give a different outcome, but who knows? You are the captain of your life, guided by your own experiences.

This is the premise to a recent interview with the charismatic Mr Leslie Ng, 46, Jetstar's regional general manager for Southeast Asia.

His personality - a well-spoken story teller with vast experiences and insights - definitely befits his current appointment.

And all these traits, he amassed along the way, especially from taking on part-time jobs while at university in Melbourne, Australia, as well as an internship that shaped his career path.

His primary motivation to work was to earn enough cash in order to fund the holidays to fly home when he was not busy with university work. There was also one time where he took on a part-time job in order to quickly make enough money to pay a friend whose car he banged up quite badly.

Mr Ng said: "I had borrowed a friend's car to send another friend home but on the way back, it (the road) was quite wet and I skidded and I, sort of, messed his car.

"But let's put it this way, it (the repair cost) was more money that I had at that point in time so I thought to myself, 'oh dear, how am I going to manage this?'. I thought that I was not going to tell my mother - not when I was in Australia and she was in Singapore -  so I said 'nevermind let's work'."

He has taken on jobs at a warehouse assembly line which produced colder holders - those things which keep your beer bottles or cans cold -  as well as at a general merchandise store.

At the assembly line job, Mr Ng, then 18, took on the job of holding plastic moulds, one at a time, while a machine stuffed each mould with styrofoam to make the colder holder.

He said: "It was the most boring job of my life. But it was okay because, you know when you're 18, the fact that you're earning money is actually quite gratifying."

He did not own a car then and needed to figure out how to get to and from work. Even then, he managed to come up with an all-round beneficial plan.

"I managed to speak to this guy and convince him to drive me and drop me off at work every day for $20 a month. So it was quite a good deal. He was happy, I was happy," he said.

While he never sought permission from his parents to take on part-time jobs, they were ever-encouraging. And it is this favour that he passes down to his own two teenage children, each time they want to look for a part-time job.

Mr Ng said: "My parents would never say to me 'don't'. They allowed us to be very independent. (They said) 'Don't get into trouble, know what is right and what is wrong. If you want to earn money, go earn money. Because I'm not going to give it to you'.

"So, today with my kids, I do the same. If my daughter tells me I have an internship that is paid, so I would say 'go do it'."

A friend referred him to the part-time job where he sold cutlery, dinnerware, jewellery, and watches over two summers in Australia. He said it was this role that made him realise that he has a knack for customer service.

 "I enjoy talking to people. I think people, by and large, are good so they appreciate the fact that you are trying to help but be sensible about it. You don't just ramble on and not try to understand what the guy wants. You understand what the guy wants then you do it," said Mr Ng.

The job also taught him discipline in having to show up for work on time and to be comfortable and engaging when speaking with strangers - all that he thrives in doing today.

It also made him wise up because if you worked over Christmas, your earnings doubled. Moreover, he was one of the few employees willing to do so.

When asked if this was how he got into the sales line, Mr Ng said "on hindsight, yes".

Working there also gave him the vast knowledge he has of dinnerware now, he quips.

"The funny thing was after that, I started to really love my dinnerware. So nowadays, I look under the plate and ask 'what is this, what is that'," Mr Ng said heartily.

In fact, his colleague told AsiaOne during the interview that Mr Ng throws the best dinner parties which Jetstar staff never fail to attend.

Mr Ng pointed out that he grew up in a traditional family where preferred professions were either in medicine, dentistry or law. He knew he wanted to be (or had to be) a professional so he read law at university, combining it with commerce to give him an extra edge.

He didn't become a lawyer after that but saw the training as something he could utilise in other ways.

"You know at that age, the enthusiasm of youth makes you think that it's okay. Just study first and worry later. I didn't have to be a lawyer. That's how I went about it," explained Mr Ng.

But he felt he came to his own when he got a lucky break and secured a paid internship in the airline industry when he finished university.

"The internship made the world real for me," said Mr Ng as it "opened my eyes to the working world".

"This is how it's going to be like when I work," he realised then.

He sincerely believes that if you're "young and enthusiastic and you apply yourself, an internship is good for you."

Nowadays, he also advocates career guidance and counselling, calling them important things to have. He does his best to apply it when he meets interns at Jetstar.

Would he have done it any other way? He said he doesn't know.

"At the age of 18, 19, 20, my maturity wasn't there. But what was consistent for me was that I worked hard. If you're not stupid and get along well with people, I think you'll be okay lah," Mr Ng pointed out.

Mr Ng also has some sound advice to offer potential part-time jobseekers: "Be helpful, be proactive, volunteer, take pride in what you do, (and) be enthusiastic."

He pointed out that the principles you apply always stay the same whether it was for a job 20 years ago or today.

"People who stand out are those who own it and run with it. Qualities don't change," Mr Ng said. 

spanaech@sph.com.sg

This 8-part #BeforeIWasBoss series is brought to you by FastJobs, your fast track to part-time and non-executive jobs. Visit www.fastjobs.sg or download the FastJobs app on your iPhone and Android smartphones.

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