A graduate from SMU's pioneering batch, Class of 2004, Leonard Lim (BBM, 2004, pictured above with his family) seems to have the so-called 'dream career', nay, 'dream life' which many SMU grads desire. Managing ultra-high networth clients? Check. Winning awards and being one of UBS' top 5% client advisors worldwide? Check. Picture-perfect family complete with four kids? Check! However, the journey to become UBS AG's Executive Director for Wealth Management has not been easy, having to weather myriad ups and downs in the financial markets plus putting in the innumerous number of hours de rigueur for all bankers. Despite his many successes, Leonard wants to be known more as a doting father and loving husband. In fact, he still finds the time to give back to society, citing a key charity event which allowed him to refocus on work and, more importantly, life. Once certain priorities (aka family and health) were anchored, Leonard soared to even greater heights. Now the Big Daddy to almost 80 SMU alumni at UBS, we at OAR are happy to report that Leonard is still a very down-to-earth, personable person with always a cheeky twinkle in his eye. As one of the founding fathers of SMU guitar club, Guitarissimo, you'd best be able to catch him over a jamming session as he relives his fondest memories at SMU. We hope that Leonard's path will inspire you as much as it has for us.
Hi Leonard, please share with us about your current role at work and what you do at the moment.
I work as a Client Advisor in the Ultra-High Net Worth (UHNW) segment of the Indonesia team within the UBS Wealth Management Division. UBS has been my “second home” since March 2004. Prior, I did a short 3 months project stint as a Strategy Analyst in Accenture, a global US consulting firm, upon return from my student exchange in France in Dec 2003. My previous Accenture internship manager was kind enough to offer an opportunity to work with them. Fortunately, it was clear then during the midnight hours whilst at the client’s office that my passion and preference tilted towards the dynamism of capital markets and I joined UBS on their Management Associate program when the consulting project ended.
As a client advisor, my role is to build trusting and long-term relationships with the clients. I bring the global franchise to their doorstep by combining strong personal relationships with the global resources of UBS to provide a full range of wealth management services. Together with the team, I provide objective advice and tailored solutions for our busy and demanding clients. We help them reach their financial goals with customized products and services suitable to their specific circumstances, and hence contributing to their success. I essentially take care of clients based in Singapore and Indonesia, where I often travel to on a monthly basis.
(Top left: Leonard with Ms. Kathy Shih, President of UBS APAC, at the Group Franchise Awards in Feb 2018. Top right: Leonard winning the 'Excellence in Promoting the Integrated Bank Referral' Award, for close partnerships with UBS Investment bank to raise funds for a SEA Unicorn Start Up)
As our pioneer batch (Class of 2004), what was SMU like back then? How did it feel to be part of the historic pioneering graduating class?
In the formative years, SMU was very “Raw”. To use an analogy, neither the public nor us “guinea pigs”, in my opinion, knew if this 'steak' was going to be well done. It was a cooking experiment. However, it was a very high grade beef to start with! We went with the promise of potential success as well as mindset of being different in the education market and quiet confidence of establishing ourselves quickly. The Evans Road campus in Bukit Timah was a small and cosy one that kept all 300 of us close, quite literally. We quickly realized and acknowledged, as with the pioneer faculty, that we had to set the precedence. It was a start-up that should and will not fail.
We were creators of our own student life. We had free reign to set up our own clubs and societies. The open, entrepreneurial, fun-loving and dynamic student culture was hence manifested by the sprouting of several student-driven activities. The faculty and Office of Student Life were great supporters. A special mention to Assoc Prof Low Aik Meng (then Dean of Students) who helmed and championed this. A few crazy friends (you know who you are!) and I set up SMU’s very first guitar club - Guitarissimo - with the motto “Passion, Heart, Soul”, and held SMU’s very first concert on Feb 2001. With a supportive audience of 200 and then-DBS CEO Philippe Pailart as our Guest of Honour, it was well-received and we are glad to see the club still going strong 18 years later!
Honestly, I felt very proud and humbled to be part of the pioneer graduating class and to be a significant part of history in the making. Till today, whenever I see someone wearing a T-Shirt with the SMU logo, I will smile as it brings back very fond memories, of which I am thankful for.
What was your greatest takeaway from SMU?
A “Be Different” attitude!
Frankly, it was an undergraduate and life-long lesson in differentiation to achieve success. It has created a mindset on challenging the status quo, imbued with a confidence that nothing is impossible, if you put your heart and mind to it.
If you look back at how SMU tried from the very start to “Be Different”, you will see a very successful and unique marketing campaign that produced very good results for students and employers alike. I believe the Pioneer batch has done very well in living up to this unique branding and initial University promise to the public at large. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy!
With 15 years at UBS AG, you’ve worked your way up to Executive Director at UBS AG. Could you share with us your journey within UBS?
UBS has been a great employer that has given me an abundance of learning and professional development opportunities, whilst providing the flexibility and space to exercise my initiative, and allowed me to add value where I can do best. Let me name and elaborate on four key events during this 15 years journey.
Firstly, I was hired on the Management Associate (MA) program in 2004, by Bahren Shaari, the Head of the Indonesia team back then. He is currently CEO of Bank of Singapore. Whilst on a business development role, he gave me ample opportunities to learn about private banking and the Indonesia market. I was given a stretched role over 2 years whilst completing an in-house diploma in private banking. The program took me to Hong Kong and Switzerland for lessons and networking events. He allowed me to take care of targeted marketing events, business initiatives such as formulating strategies to expand our presence in the Indonesia market, launching of new products, and working with certain client advisors to help with portfolio construction. The interaction with clients helped provide a realism to the private banking world. My MA program was called JKP - Junior Key Person. I used to joke when sharing at new joiner events that it meant I was the most junior in the bank, and I was a key person not because I was important, but rather I was the first and last person to leave the office and had to lock up! It meant I had to do everything and anything thrown to me. It is not surprising why I am the only one left amongst 4 in my batch that joined at the same time.
Secondly, the second phase of my career started as a Junior Client Advisor in Mar 2006 after graduation from the 2 year MA program. I was given the opportunity to either work in the Jakarta Rep Office to continue with business development or to work with a senior client advisor to support a portfolio of clients. I chose the latter and I’m really glad I made that choice. It was the steepest learning curve ever. I learnt to work with clients with diverse interest, financial objectives, demands, characteristics and personalities. It was a very competitive environment and a challenge to navigate through capital markets. What made it even more 'interesting' was when markets crashed in 2008 after Lehman Brothers collapsed. The market crash was the best lesson for me. It was also the year my desk head and senior client advisor chose to pursue other opportunities. I chose to stay and was defending the clients on 3 fronts - defending the assets from going out to the competition, the senior client advisor, and defending the bank which was badly hit by quarterly issues due to sub-prime investments gone terribly wrong. Nothing seemed to be going right. I am surprised I even managed to go through with my wedding during the year end!
Thirdly, there were valuable lessons learnt from the crisis over 2008-2009 to further establish myself with my clients. It was the best time to refine my client book. I decided that if I were to continue to do well in this industry, I had to overcome my battle-worn mindset, cover the scars, heal the wounds quickly and move on. I continued to build my client portfolio aggressively over the next few years. In 2012, after almost 9 years with the firm, I was at crossroads as to my future direction and it was a time of reflection. A charity event in Singapore in which UBS took part in helped me to recalibrate my course. I took part as a fundraising volunteer in the “Hair for Hope” campaign and shaved my head bald to support the Children Cancer Foundation. I challenged myself to see if I could channel the same focus and drive at work into a charity campaign to make it successful. Coming from a family with a long history of cancer where I lost 5 uncles/aunties and 2 young cousins to cancer, the campaign had significant meaning to me. I was on a 4-month fundraising drive. Through the strong encouragement and support during my outreach to friends, colleagues and relatives in 5 countries (Singapore, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Australia, Indonesia), I was very proud and thankful to be the top fund raiser in Singapore in 2012, raising the highest amount of SGD70,549 amongst 6642 volunteer shavees. It was a pleasant surprise and helped me to rediscover my focus at work.
(Leonard, freshly shorn of his locks, for the Hair for Hope campaign he participated in)
Fourth and lastly, with this refocus, the coming years post 2012 have seen an exponential growth in both my business and my professional development. I did well enough to be selected for the UBS Dragons Club in 2012 and 2014, a recognition for the top 5% of client advisors worldwide.
UBS has continued to stretch my role through sending me for leadership and talent development programs such as the 1.5 years Ascent Program. In 2015, I was honored to be part of a group of 18 high-performance client advisors in APAC selected to undergo a sponsored 2-year Double Masters in Wealth Management and Advanced Studies in Finance from University of Bern (Switzerland) and University of Rochester (New York). This was an excellent albeit challenging course due to balancing the demands of Work and Family on top of the programme.
Wow. Thank you for sharing your journey at UBS AG with us. What is the “secret “ of your success?
You just have to grit your teeth and push forward! In terms of key attributes that have helped me “survive” this journey, it would namely be resilience, perseverance, keeping an open mindset, continuously learning, being adaptable, and thinking constantly how you can “Be Different”!
These are competitive advantages when it comes to managing your career, internal stakeholders, and financial needs of clients. SMU has in a large part helped built that mindset and character in me.
(Leonard in his office at UBS with his various awards)
We understand that there are many alumni within UBS AG Singapore office. Is it a tight-knit bunch?
The undergraduate alumni itself is already 70+ strong, with a few more from the graduate programmes. It is constantly growing! I started an alumni drinks networking session in 2013 and it has been occurring on average once a quarter, organized mainly by the newest joiners to the bank! The alumni are from various batches, and work in a diverse range of departments within the SG location. We have the benefit of a constant influx of new joiners who volunteer to organize the drinks! The last session held in Feb was an especially memorable one as we invited Associate Professor Low Aik Meng (then-Director of OAR before his retirement on 31 Jan 2018) and surprised him with a farewell party.
(Leonard, holding the 'M', with SMU alumni working at UBS, and Assoc Prof Low Aik Meng for his surprise retirement party)
That sounds really awesome! What advice would you give to your juniors who would like to enter the wealth management industry today? Is it largely different from when you first entered the industry?
The Wealth Management industry today has become much more regulated post the 2008 financial crisis and recent 2016 1MDB conflicts. Don’t imagine private bankers sipping whiskeys and smoking cigars (at least for those who do) in fancy suits. This glamorous depiction happens only in the movies. Be ready to work hard and get your hands dirty. We live in an era of instant gratification which doesn’t happen in the wealth management industry. Relationships are built on Trust. And trust is your only currency that will build the foundation of all businesses and forging of long-term relationships. It takes considerable time to build a sustainable business. If you have a passion for finance coupled with a love for human interactions, and find that the dynamism of capital markets intrigues you, then a role in the industry is worth exploring. I guarantee you won’t have a boring moment and will discover over time that this is indeed a fun and fulfilling career!
Lastly, a word of personal advice on family planning. I encourage you to get married and start a family. A Chinese proverb “先成家后立业” extols one to establish one's family first, and consequently one's life and career will become successful. It rings true in my case since my first child was born on September 2009. Over the years, having a family and children have helped me find a deeper focus, meaning and purpose at work. I am a happy father of four lovely children today. Of course, thanks to a very supportive wife too! =)
(Proud father Leonard with his family at his daughter's Edusave Awards Presentation)
Last updated on 15 May 2018 .