From a fresh-faced student at Singapore Polytechnic (SP) back in 1983, to Chairman of the SP Board of Governors today, Mr Bill Chang’s journey with SP over the decades is filled with vivid memories. What does he remember best looking back, and what does he envision for SP looking ahead?
Achieving Success with SP
Mr Bill Chang is CEO of SingTel's Group Enterprise and Chairman of SP's Board of Governors.
By any and all definitions, Mr Bill Chang is certainly a success story.
He has held numerous top-level roles in some of Singapore’s top organisations, the current one being the Chief Executive Officer of SingTel’s Group Enterprise, where he leads the Group's Info-Communication Technology (ICT) services for businesses globally. Despite his seniority and distinguished career, he’s a really charming and affable individual – his standing today does not lead him to have any airs. This is a down-to-earth man, one who cares passionately about paying it forward, especially when it comes to giving back to his alma mater, SP.
One reason for this is the influence, inspiration and impact of his SP lecturers such as Ng Weng Lam, Steven Chew and Lau Lee Yee during his student days studying for a Diploma in Electrical Engineering. In particular, Mr Chang cites the example of Dr Philip Chin, the then-Head of Department of Electrical Engineering – a man he will always remember as one of many educators in SP “who went above and beyond the call of duty.”
“At that time, many poly students did not have as deep a grounding in mathematics and science as junior college students,” says Mr Chang. This was of concern to Dr Chin, who was worried this might impede poly students’ studies during their university years.
So, even though he didn’t have to, nor was he expected to, Dr Chin took it upon himself to conduct night lessons in math and science for Mr Chang and others in the cohort.
Dr Philip Chin was a dedicated lecturer who went above and beyond the call of duty to help his students, even after they had graduated from SP.
“He took his personal time to conduct math and science lessons, as often as a few nights a week. We would gather and come back to SP in the evenings for these classes. Dr Chin even personally wrote to universities overseas to help secure places for us. Thanks to him, I managed to gain direct entry into the third year of Monash University’s four-year degree programme. And coming from a humble family background, that meant a lot – it lessened the financial expense significantly.
"Dr Chin is someone I truly respect. His dedication really went many miles beyond the call of duty. I feel very indebted to Dr Chin and this is a key reason why I come back to SP to do my part to help, in any way I can.
"When Dr Chin wanted me to share and give talks about how technology was transforming the world, I would always agree to give those talks, and that would happen once every few months,” reveals Mr Chang.
Poignantly, Dr Chin passed away in 2003, just one day before Mr Chang was due to give another talk that Dr Chin had invited him to.
“I was very emotionally shaken. I had lost someone I was very close to: a dear friend and an esteemed mentor,” shares Mr Chang, who even till today still gets a little choked up whenever he recollects the memory of Dr Chin and his passion towards education.
But Mr Chang’s giving back to SP was not to end following his friend’s passing. If anything, it intensified, and Mr Chang soon began serving SP even more assiduously when, in 2003, he was invited to be part of the SP Board of Governors (BOG).
Ensuring Success for SP
“I’ve received so much from the SP system. Education is, I believe, the best equaliser in life. It gave me opportunities to perform to my full potential and helped to pave my career pathways. Therefore, when I was looking at the different areas I could volunteer my time and serve in, I realised there isn’t another place more suitable for me than my alma mater, SP – the institution and the people who have already given so much to me.
"When the call of duty came, I very gladly agreed. I felt very privileged to have the opportunity to serve on the Board. It is an honour to serve together with all the passionate people and staff members of SP. Through this, we hope to help shape and develop the lives of the thousands of students SP has every year and create even greater success for these cohorts,” says Mr Chang on his joining the Board.
Mr Chang has since been SP’s Board of Governors Chairman from 2012. With his fellow Board members and SP’s senior management team, they set out to plan SP’s strategic direction so as to ensure students are “work-ready, life-ready and world-ready.”
Looking into the future, Mr Chang is confident SP will continue to inspire not just the current students but also the SP alumni to be learners for life
Looking at students graduating, coming across alumni who are doing well, young people having great opportunities… all these speak volumes about SP. We take great pride in ensuring that the polytechnic continues to stand out as a premier institution. It is important that we – the SP management, the Board, the staff members – actively champion new concepts and learning methodologies, both in the region and with other institutions. Every one of these successes inspires me to want to do more. We are also transforming the campus to make it an exciting and relevant learning environment for our students to excel in. Increasingly, engaging the industry and building partnerships, value adding to them and in return, benefitting our students' and staff's development, will be a key focus for SP. We have very dedicated people, and many are passionately pursuing ways to collectively lift the standard of SP, “ says Mr Chang.
Mr Chang also seeks to further establish SP as a centre of continuing education for adult learners and alumni. This would give people a wider range of skills, knowledge and certification, which would help enhance their career prospects.
“The poly has taken a very active leadership stance in continual education. This is because it’s so important in the world we live in today to extend the shelf life of our knowledge and skills. This is another exciting phase for the poly, and one that I am very passionate about. We can do more for the working community of Singapore and our alumni. It’s not just a relationship of three years of study that one has with SP. It’s a lifelong partnership to help enhance their knowledge and skills through continual education.”
Moving from memory lane to the journey of SP, Mr Chang is confident that SP has many more success stories to come for both its internal and external stakeholders.
“SP has made tremendous strides. This is evident in the amazing transformation and constant rejuvenation of the campus over the years. Similarly, the soul of SP keeps evolving – SP has led the way in bringing alive new learning concepts, for example, Design Thinking and CDIO (Conceive-Design-Implement-Operate). We are also focussing strongly on the social community aspect, rallying students to contribute to society, taking part in community work here and overseas, and making a difference. This helps broaden the rich learning experience for our students and also gives them a more global perspective.
"Students and staff members alike, we are working together to make SP better than what it is, be it leading in thought leadership, skills development, industry engagement, or social community engagement.”