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Tan Choon Seng - achieving perfect equilibrium

Tan Choon Seng, the 49-year-old vice president and managing director of Compaq ASEAN, reckons that one gets what one works for. Simply up the value of your contributions, and your rewards will likewise increase.

Tan Choon SengTan Choon Seng, the 49-year-old vice president and managing director of Compaq ASEAN, reckons that one gets what one works for. Simply up the value of your contributions, and your rewards will likewise increase.

Can you share with us the contributions you've made to the IT industry?
I started out my career in finance and spent over 20 years working and traveling in Asia. Understanding the intricacies of operating in these countries has taught me to focus on what really works. I firmly believe in understanding the problems of our customers. As an ex-CFO with IT responsibilities and an extensive user of IT, I empathize with the needs of our customers cutting through to the bottom line quickly and speaking the language that our customers can relate to easily.

Compaq has undergone some changes in the past several years, the most notable being our integration with Digital and Tandem at the time when Asia was facing a huge financial crisis. It was a difficult time for everyone but what was most satisfying was our ability to emerge from the crisis stronger, without posting a single quarter of loss.

What helps you to sustain your passion for your job?
Speed, working with the best IT/business minds in the industry who can work as a team plus a learning environment where you know you can make a difference. These are key factors that keep my adrenaline flowing.

In a fast-paced industry, we have to constantly challenge ourselves to achieve higher goals, adapt business models and explore new technologies. It's like having front row seats to watch new technology unfold; but more than being a spectator, I am privileged to have a role to play. These are exciting times, and it gives me all the drive I need and more to push ahead for as long as God permits. It is one business where you need to have the highest integrity to succeed. That is very consistent with my personal value system.

Tell us more about your personal value system.
Integrity is the bedrock of my personal philosophy. Being personally committed, honest and constantly striving to exceed customer expectations is the way to have customers come back for more … I believe in the old fashion maxim that you get what you work for ... It does not matter whether it is a business deal or a personal compensation issue. In the long run, your rewards and the value of your contribution must be in equilibrium. It applies even more in business. You can, however, be creative and innovative in ways to increase your value. Hence, your rewards will increase. This, in many ways, has shaped my personal philosophy about money.

How do you define success? Do you consider yourself successful?
Success comes from inside you. I believe success is not about the “big wins” in life but successive small wins that are executed daily. It is about feeling good about what you do and that you achieve what you set out to do. It is about making a difference or a positive impact to a person or an organisation. It is about achieving your daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or yearly goals … It is also about your relationship at home, your friends and your spiritual walk.

I do not think that success is measured by the brand of car you drive or the house you live in or the club you belong to. These are external attributes of someone who has achieved some level of success and are not true measures.

On a daily basis, I ask myself whether I am making a difference to my organization, employees and customers. If, at the end of the day, I am satisfied that I did my best to serve them, I feel I have done my job well.

What is your proudest achievement so far?
I have not been able to define my proudest moment. However, there have been many moments in my life when I experienced such joy that brings tears to my eyes. Those are moments that I treasure and are mainly personal in nature and I love to keep them tightly.

Is there anything you would have done differently if given the choice?
Everyone makes mistakes. Given the advantage of hindsight, I might have avoided some of them, but I believe the lessons learnt have moulded and shaped me, leaving me wiser.

Which in your opinion is the best place in Asia to hold a small meeting?
My home if it is for social gathering. If it is for business it can be anywhere that my business partner chooses. I believe that the timing is more important than the place. The place should have no distractions nevertheless.

What is your favorite form of relaxation?
Relaxation is enjoying simple things in life, like taking a long walk in the evenings with my wife and taking a long hot bath.

Which Web sites do you visit most often? What kind of books do you read?
[I go to the] Yahoo finance [Web site]. I read a host of different books. Above all, the Bible is my favorite because it is the source of great wisdom and depending on what your needs are, you can always find something there.

More about People: Managing Asia.