September 2, 2019

Jim Rohn, an entrepreneur and motivational speaker, once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Whether you know it or not, we are shaped by the people we’re close to, the people we’re influenced by. It doesn’t matter how you absorb their wisdom. You could be a religious viewer of Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday. You could have a mentor with whom you’re able to connect with in real life.

Whoever your role models are, they become intrinsic parts of your identity and the way you lead your life and career. Learning about a person’s role model offers you a pretty insightful window into who they are as well, and leads you to the source of their inspiration. Here are 10 undeniably successful industry giants and business luminaries on the people they look up to.


Velda Tan, Founder & Creative Director of Collate The Label

“My mum. She is the breadwinner of the family and has worked for the same bank for 40 years since she was nineteen. She also has polio and is a handicap, but has managed to get pregnant with 3 girls, raise them up, yet still hold a job. Her resilience and tenacity truly inspire me, and these are qualities I want to have.”

Dr Steven Fang, Partner at ClearBridge Accelerator

“Richard Eu, is one, and he’s a very good friend. We sit on numerous committees together. Wong Ngit Liong from Venture Corporation—very good guy. We get together on a regular basis, and catch up separately. These are people I look up to very much.”

Sunita Kaur, VP of Advertising (APAC) at Spotify

“I don’t exactly have anyone famous as inspirations. I take inspiration from people around me. I’m a big believer that everyone you meet, you take a little bit of them away with you, and add it to your own personality. I find that far more inspirational than famous people.”

Oon Jin Teik, Former CEO of Singapore Sports Hub

“It might sound corny, but I was interviewed by a reporter when I was much younger as a swimmer. Then he asked me who I admired and wanted to meet, and I told him the person was Lee Kuan Yew. Today, my answer is still the same. He’s someone who put his heart and soul into building something, and doing things the right way. And that’s just the way it should be—having follow-through till the end. The second figure would be my late father, who lived a very simple, frugal life. He was a dentist who didn’t make big bucks, and my brother and I were incurring costs like nothing with our swimming practices and tuition. He saved everything for the family and told us he skipped lunches for good health, when in fact he was really trying to save money. We were in a very tough financial situation growing up because our parents wanted to afford us all the opportunities. I only found that out later and sometimes I wish that I could go back in time to share some of my salary with him today.”

Cynthia Chua, Founder & Managing Director of Spa Esprit Group

“It will have to be Rainer Maria Rilke as he has so much wisdom. He wrote that he has a long way to go even when he was at a very old age. I think he must have so much wisdom to say that. I feel that I have a lot to learn from him.”

Joe Spinelli, Principal of Raffles College of Higher Education

“I look up to Professor Wayman for her nearly 40 years of dedication in her field. I wish to contribute to the Singapore and Asia fashion and design education and industry in a similar manner, and most importantly, to continue to impart knowledge—traditional craft and new technology—and to re-invent myself for (as Yves Saint Laurent once said) ‘Fashions fade, Style is eternal’.”

Timothy White, Celebrity Portrait Photographer

“I’m working on a memoir with a ghostwriter and thinking about figures of influence in my life who have at some point, for some reason, defined my life. So I started rattling names off to my editor, and one of them is Harrison Ford. He’s someone I’ve known for 32 years and has been a big influence on my career—we’ve worked with each other the most, as photographer and subject.”

Raj Datwani, Co-Founder of AR Entertainment

“My parents. I can see the different ways in which they’ve influenced me now. Dad is a very hard worker, has very high expectations of himself, and always leads by example. Mum has high EQ and is able to read situations and people, just by meeting them. When you combine those two attributes, it’s a good type of person to be in business.”

Stephanie Lee, Executive Director of T S Lee & Sons

“[Cheryl Lee is] like my second mother. Our age gap is 10 years, and since young, she has always been there for me—even till now. She’s very generous and giving (especially to me) and sometimes I feel that I take it for granted. I know that she loves me a lot. She will drop everything if I need her and I will do the same for her. Growing up, I really looked up to her… now that we are older, sometimes we may have different opinions and quarrel, but we never take it to heart and will give each other space. It normally doesn’t last longer than a day. She has also taught me about the good and bad—and exposed me to a different perspective on life. A lot of people think that I am very mature for my age when I was younger, and it’s all because of her.”

Kevin Seah, Tailor & Owner of The Kevin Seah Group

“What excites me is somebody like Yohji Yamamoto, who can cut a collar and a sleeve in the most revolutionary way. Yohji has always been a very influential designer in my life. Having said that, I also like Alexander Mcqueen because we have many similarities: our background in tailoring, interests in masculine styles that juxtapose the hard and the soft, and the use of certain fabrics like wool.”

[Read More: How These 10 Singapore Leaders Want to Be Remembered]

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