PMBA Pioneer Cohort Series: (1) Experience by Daniel Tay

Daniel Tay. Head, Industry Development Group Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) PMBA Class of 2019
 Q: Tell us a little more about what you do.

A: I work at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, otherwise known as A*STAR – I’ve been here for 9 years, of which,  I spent the first four years doing a PhD which was an A*STAR and NUS joint programme. Post PhD, I worked in a research scientist role for two years before moving on to an industry and business development role. Day to day, I engage companies, both large multinationals as well as local SMEs and strike strategic partnership deals to advance science and develop innovative technology, with the mission to further economic growth and improve lives.

Q: There’s been a shift in what you’ve been doing from lab-based to front-line?

A: Yes. At the third or fourth year of my PhD, I realised that I didn’t really want a research or lab-based career. I was inclined to the business side of science. Leveraging on my technical expertise and interest in business, I joined the industry development group in A*STAR.

Q: Why did you choose to pursue your MBA with NTU?

A: The reason is pretty clear. NTU was the only local university to offer a weekend MBA programme.

Q: So that it doesn’t affect your work?

A: It’s not only work, but also family. I have two very young children, and it was important to spend lots of time with them. With the MBA class running every fortnight, I could afford time every alternate weekend to spend time with my kids.

Q: You have two young kids, and you’re also juggling work and the PMBA at the same time. Is it difficult to balance everything?

A: After a while, you’ll learn to prioritise and become “smarter” and more effective at work. It’s not a problem juggling family and studies – it’s difficult but not impossible. Attending classes on alternate weekends is really manageable, and we get school breaks in June and December.

Q: What motivated you to take up the PMBA?

A: In the first year of my role in industry and business development, I felt that I needed to acquire some business tools to help me understand the business deals better. This really spurred me to take up the programme. Although I could have self-studied through other ways, I’m not very disciplined. Hence, I need to be in a programme to be “disciplined” to do the learning.

Q: How has the PMBA helped you in your career so far?

A: A lot of the skills I’ve picked up from the PMBA are very applicable to my work, especially when you are looking at justifying million-dollar investments for an economic outcomes. There are a lot of analytics and accounting that help me understand the business side of things. In every investment, there is a qualitative aspect, but the MBA taught me how to look at the quantitative aspects. I think I can apply what I have learnt and contribute to A*STAR in this area.

Q: How do you see yourself in the next 10 to 20 years?

A: My kids are going to school next year, so I’ll want to spend more time with my family, helping my kids with their school work  and cultivating in them the values in life. Career-wise, I aim to climb up the corporate ladder. But it takes time and you need to accumulate experience to lead organisations effectively.

Q: What are your core values in life then?

A: Integrity is very important to me. In work, I ensure that I am accountable and can stand up for my own action, not only to myself, by to my bosses, peers and subordinates.

Q: You mentioned your previous role in A*STAR was a scientist. How have your perspectives changed now that you have moved to an industry/business development role?

A: I used to function with more of a “microscopic” sense of thinking and did not see the value of things we create in the laboratory in a way that I should be. Now I realise that it translates to something bigger. Every single project done in the lab has a purpose in building a particular capability in A*STAR, which translates to building a programme within the organization. This further relates to  building a portion of the value chain of an industry. The real contribution is a lot bigger than what most think it is. I think I became less individualistic and can really see how collective efforts and good coordination are required to achieve the end result.

Q: What would be your “end goal”?

A: I see myself growing my career in the public sector.  I hope to help Singapore become an even stronger nation so as to make it an even better place for our family and our future.

Q: What would you like to say to prospective students who might be considering the PMBA?

A: I think there are many working professionals out there with families and young children who think that they can’t do an MBA because they don’t have the time for it. I was one of them. But having gone through the programme I found that it’s really manageable, and it is definitely possible to balance work, study and family all together. If you ask me, I would do it again.

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