Enterprise Asia Entrepreneur of the Year 2016: Professional & Business Services

The Beginning

Jin Lee had always wanted to teach and imagined herself going into teaching when she graduated from the National University of Singapore (NUS). The dream fizzled out when she took a relief teaching role in a primary school and realised the dream was more compelling than the reality. She put her dreams on the backburner and when she graduated from the NUS, she was privileged to be offered a Marketing Representative role in IBM Singapore. She enjoyed her role as an Account Manager in the enterprise business and as a competitive win-back sales representative in general business and was rewarded with the title of Advisory Representative. A turning point in Jin Lee’s career came when she was assigned to the Asia Pacific Entry Level Training Centre as a curriculum owner, where she once again revived her dream of training and this time training adults. Another key turning point was going into consulting as an Asia Pacific program manager in executive education and programs which ignited her interest and passion in consulting. Armed with a renewed passion and dream, she was determined to pursue the dream within IBM.

For the next 5 years, she took on various roles from Sales Manager to ASEAN/SA Network Application Services (NAS) Manager in IBM Global Services, where she was looking at investments and new revenue streams leveraging emerging technologies. It was an exciting time with the potential of e-business and the growth of the internet. She was slated to move into an Asia Pacific role when she made the decision to finally pursue the “road less travelled” and pursue her dream of starting a training and consulting business beyond IBM.

The opportunity presented itself when one of IBM’s training partners was looking for a partner for Singapore and as the saying goes; “the rest is history.” The opportunity to start up a training company that combined training and facilitation with computer based simulations for learning was too exciting to forgo. The 14 years she spent in IBM taught her many life lessons but by far the most significant was one that the Managing Director shared with her; “Nobody owes you a living, you owe it to yourself to build your marketability.” In 1996, Jin Lee started SMG Training Systems, giving up the comfort of a great corporate position and promotion in IBM. There were many naysayers who tried to persuade her to stay but all it did was strengthen her resolve to venture into the unknown.

The Leap of Faith (Starting SMG Training Systems) 

1997 was SMG’s first full year of operations, and also the year of the Asian Economic Crisis, followed subsequently by the Global Economic Crisis. Since then the company has weathered 4 more major crises; the Dot com crisis, 9/11, SARs (which decimated many organisations in the industry) and the Global Financial Crisis. With all that the business had gone through, the mantra “Life isn’t waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning how to dance in the rain.” is a strong reminder of what got Jin Lee through these challenges. In spite of the challenges SMG has encountered over the years, Jin Lee has never wavered from her original intent which is to make an impact and make a difference to those she serves.

SMG’s vision has stood the test of time and has delivered on the promise to their clients, the individuals and teams that they work with daily; “Accelerate Business Results by Delivering Value as an Enabler of Change.” The Core Values of SMG remain unchanged to this day: P.A.S.S.I.O.N. F.A.S.T.

Expanding Footprint & Market Presence

Building upon SMG’s successes with multi-national companies, large local organisations and public sector clients in Singapore and in the region, Jin Lee started operations in China and has been operating a highly successful learning, coaching and consulting practice in Shanghai and Beijing for over 13 years. In 2012, she expanded SMG’s footprint further, and created a beachhead in Mumbai and Delhi to penetrate the Indian subcontinent.

Meanwhile as the company’s brand recognition grew, global clients engaged SMG in the Asia Pacific region, Middle East, London and as far as Russia. Many of these bespoke projects have been to work with managers and senior leaders to help them in the areas of strategy, organization development, leadership and talent development, change and project management and sales management. She also leveraged computer based simulations as a differentiator in driving experiential learning. 

Future-Proofing the Business

Operating a business for any amount of time, requires that the organisation stay ahead of changes in the industry and be prepared to disrupt or cannibalise the business in order to stay relevant. In 2015, despite the company enjoying growth and market recognition, Jin Lee took a bold step to rebrand the company.  18 years after she started SMG Training Systems, she rebranded the company to ODE (Organisation Development Excellence) Consulting, reflecting their changing value proposition for businesses. ODE Consulting would position the organisation to continue to do what they did best in learning, coaching and consulting to enable change and embed culture which is the crux of organisation development (OD).

Jin Lee believes that the future of learning is characterised by the need to drive towards mastery and to build value networks or community. This has resulted in the launch of both the Academy for Mastery (partnering e2i) and the learn1thing.com virtual platform (Spring supported) that supports self- directed and collaborative learning and community building.

Global Impact

Jin Lee is currently Co-President of ITAP International, a global group of affiliates focused on research and consulting in the cross culture area, based on Geert Hofstede’s work. From 2010 to 2015, she was also on the Board of Governors of IAC (International Association of Coaching), an independent, global professional association of coaches dedicated to the pursuit of coaching mastery. She was also the Asia Crescent Co-ordinator (Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa) for the IAC driving development of coaching mastery in the various regions.

Paying It Forward

SMG and subsequently ODE has been supporting the APSN Centre for Adults for over 6 years. With an already full calendar, Jin Lee contributes time to a number of social causes including being a Board Member of Caritas, the official social mission arm of the Catholic Church. As Caritas Board Member and Chairperson of the Agape Village Management Committee, Jin Lee works with Agape Village’s management team in managing an integrated and holistic social services hub that provides help for people in need, regardless of race, language or religion. Jin Lee was also a volunteer facilitator of the Singapore Conversations, the national conversation initiative announced by` Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during his 2012 National Day Message.

ASME Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2001

In 2001, Jin Lee was one of the winners in the Association of Small & Medium Sized Enterprises Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award. As one of the nine women who distinguished themselves by their outstanding and extraordinary entrepreneurial excellence, Jin Lee was recognised for her trailblazing and trendsetting example. “There is nothing more important than PASSION and the capacity to learn in order to be able to succeed in these difficult times. Staying relevant, avoiding obsolescence and anticipating the future is what it takes to future proof oneself. Consistently relearning, rethinking and recalibrating is the order of the day.” Jin Lee feels she has been extremely blessed with a strong family support environment and clients who have believed in and trusted ODE over the years. Being allowed to make a difference every day is a gift that she never takes for granted.

Career Highlights