Deloitte lets Singapore athletes work and train

Deloitte's more than 20 athletes with Mr Yuen (seated) and Mr Walton. The company looks after their training and competition needs by allowing them flexible work arrangements.
The Business Times

Walk into services firm Deloitte Singapore in Shenton Way and you may think you are at a sports hub.

As many as 30 Singapore national athletes are currently on its payroll, all working full-time and part-time.

These "Deloitte athletes" represent nine sports - netball, football, badminton, fencing, floorball, dragon boat, athletics, sailing and squash.

Chief executive officer of Deloitte South-east Asia and Singapore Philip Yuen said: "Initially the reaction was 'What have I got myself into?' Eventually, we realised that the athletes add value to the company.

Mr Yuen said the relationship between the firm and the athletes is "symbiotic".

"They brought with them the tenacity to succeed and they tend to be very team oriented, goal orientated, ambitious and dynamic. And because they need to manage their time well, they also prioritise very well. The firm wants to tap these strong foundational skills," he said.

At the same time, their training and competition needs are looked after by the firm's flexible work arrangements. Training for athletes is unlike training for ordinary people as they often need regular workout and competitions to achieve peak performance.

This would, in turn, be at the expense of an illustrious career as training usually eats into the time they spend at work.

"Take Singapore fencer Ann Lee for example. She needs to be out of the office for two weeks to train and compete in order to qualify for the SEA Games. Not many companies would be willing to allow an employee to do so," Mr Yuen said.

He also mentioned pole vaulter Rachel Yang, who needs to train "while there is still daylight".

"She leaves the office at 5pm on the dot to do so. Rachel prioritises by coming to work early and is prepared to work through her lunch time," he said.

Deloitte did not consciously hire athletes but after it became an active member of Sport Singapore's Sports Excellence (Spex) Business Network in May 2014, there has been an influx.

Spex Business Network is a programme that encourages companies to hire and develop the careers of Singapore's national athletes.

Since it was launched in 2013, 39 partners from 22 industries have signed up to provide full-time jobs or internship stints.

Mr Yuen said that many of the athletes are very grateful for the support and so they "tend to be very loyal and really go that extra mile for the company".

Deloitte Ignite programme leader James Walton said sports careers usually end when the athlete is between the ages of 28 and 32.

"That's when they start looking for a job. It's difficult when they have no experience at all. Here at Deloitte, we created a special programme to offer elite athletes flexible internship and employment opportunities," he said.

Under Deloitte Ignite, athletes can explore career opportunities in audit, consulting, financial advisory, risk advisory, tax, marketing, communications, human resources and many other areas.

Two athletes who went through the programme are para-shuttler Teddy Wong, 35, and national netballer Kimberley Lim, 22.

Miss Lim worked in three different areas to gain experience before she decided to work as a clients and markets executive.

Mr Wong, who suffers from Erb's Palsy, a paralysis of his right arm caused by injury to the upper group of the arm's main nerves, said the firm provided "the needed environment to help me balance work, sports and family".

"The key to overcome all the challenges is having the discipline within myself to prioritise," the resource management executive said.

As part of its commitment to Singapore, Deloitte also provides support to charities like the Northlight School, a secondary school established for students with difficulties handling the mainstream curriculum.

"We just helped them start a netball team and having members from the national team coaching them helped spur the kids on to do better," Mr Yuen said.

Clarification note: An earlier version of this article stated that "As many as 24 Singapore national athletes are currently on its payroll - 15 full-time and part-time, with interns accounting for the rest.".

Deloitte Singapore has since clarified that "As many as 30 Singapore national athletes are currently on its payroll, all working full-time and part-time.".

This article was first published on Mar 10, 2017.
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