Kindness: The surprising key to success and happiness for these industry veterans

“You seek the truth in an untruthful world… with patience in the most impatient of professions”

Growing up, I was a big fan of Mr Ken Jalleh Jr. I loved reading his columns, and his sharp eye for visual storytelling played a big part in my daily purchase of The New Paper.

When the opportunity came for me to pick his brain, as part of a campaign The Peak is running with Borneo Motors for the Toyota Harrier Hybrid, I jumped at it.

Mr Jalleh is an editorial legend. He conceptualised and started a list of publications – TNP on Sunday, commuter paper Streats, socio-economic magazine Lexean – and played a pivotal role in launching The Singapore Monitor and The New Paper.

But, as we drive towards Club Street in his Toyota Harrier Hybrid, Mr Jalleh tells me he would not have gone into journalism if given the chance to turn back time.

Passion for the written word

“Having spent six months in the US where I was attached to the LA Times, Detroit News and NY Daily News, I realised that journalism in Singapore is, and has to be, different. As a journalist here, you may live a rich life, but you will never be rich. You may think you are free, but you will never be rid of the monkey on your back,” he says.

Still, he is thankful for a career that saw him become the youngest columnist in Asia in 1971, when he wrote a regular column in The Sunday Times, and working and learning with a group of reporters and editors “anyone would be privileged to know, let alone work with, be inspired by and learn from”.

Mr Ken Jalleh Jr, in his car with The Peak’s Farhan Shah, says that the Toyota Harrier Hybrid “epitomises comfort, fuel frugality and function” and is “perfect for me and my wife’s empty-nester needs”. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM VIDEO

Like most journalists of his time, Mr Jalleh wanted to write and be read. He enjoyed putting pen to paper, “to turn a phrase and to influence”. As the years ticked by, however, those lofty ideals gave way to quiet pragmatism.

But he still believes in the power and relevance of good journalism. “Credibility, accuracy, neutrality, context. You seek the truth in an untruthful world, and you do so with patience in the most impatient of professions,” he says.

Luxury in the details

As we approach Club Street, the conversation shifts to the lessons he’s learned in life. Mr Jalleh is approaching retirement, which was also one reason he switched from his usual German makes to the Toyota Harrier Hybrid – “It epitomises comfort, fuel frugality and function. There’s also safety. It is perfect for me and my wife’s empty-nester needs.”

He jokes that his advanced age also means that the lofty height of the car helps him easily get in and out. A younger Mr Jalleh felt like he needed a flashier ride. The worldly-wise one I’m talking to today understands that luxury is in the little details and goes beyond the badge at the front of the car.

One of those features he quietly appreciates is how the seat of the car automatically moves back when he switches off the engine, and returns to the driving position when he’s ready to go.

In a quirky way, it references the first of four Mr Jalleh’s guiding lights – author Stephen Covey’s Ls to life: live (care for your body), love (care for and treasure those you love), learn (feed your mind with curiosity, enthusiasm and humility) and leave a legacy.

He concludes: “In life, be kind. In managing, be caring and empowering. In parenting, set them free.”

“Learn to appreciate everyone in your team and respect their boundaries”

Mr Christopher Tay believes in the power of connections.

The entrepreneur and managing director of ThinkFarm, a bespoke content marketing and creative solutions company, welcomes all kinds of opportunities, which is why we both found ourselves in his new Toyota Harrier Hybrid for a long, winding ride to talk about life and business.

Kindness is a way of life

Mr Tay grew up in a three-room HDB flat at Circuit Road. “We were neither poor nor rich, we just had enough,” he reminisces.

Still, that didn’t stop Mr Tay’s parents from always giving within their means to help those in need, whether it was buying a cup of coffee for a stranger or giving a smile to someone on the street.

“It costs us nothing to be kind. A little act of kindness creates an endless ripple,” he says. He’s carried those lessons with him throughout his life. The business owner regularly goes for dinner and drinks (his poison of choice is whisky) with his clients to forge stronger relationships.

On the third floor of his home in Loyang, Mr Tay has also built a home bar to entertain friends, family and clients. He never has an agenda though.

“I always treat everyone equally, regardless of their status, wealth and occupation. I believe in paying it forward. We never know the day we may need something from them. Keep sowing seeds. You never know what will grow. Instead of judging the harvest you reap daily, focus on the number of seeds you sow instead,” says Mr Tay.

Business lessons

Mr Tay professed that the inception of ThinkFarm was not by choice. “People don’t leave bad jobs. They leave bad bosses,” he laughs, recalling his years in editorial.

Frustrated, he took a year’s sabbatical in 2017 to reflect on what he wanted to do next. One thing was for certain: Mr Tay, who had by then been in publishing for over three decades, knew that he wanted to continue doing what he loved most: conceptualising creative ideas, serving the community and, most importantly, enjoying the journey.

Mr Christopher Tay says that he appreciates the comfort and reliability of the Toyota Harrier, and enjoys going on long drives as a way of bonding with his daughter. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM VIDEO

It wasn’t an easy one, though. Mr Tay lost money for the first three years and was close to pulling the plug to return to the corporate world. Finally, in the fourth year, the business turned. He survived.

“Eight years in business have taught me many valuable life lessons. I also understand people on a deeper level and can sense their intentions, ingenuity and grace amongst other qualities,” Mr Tay shares.

He still has many sleepless nights. But instead of worrying about the business, he tosses and turns at 3am because his mind is flowing with ideas. He would wake up, scribble notes and then reach out to his team once the work day starts.

“I don’t text them at that time unless absolutely necessary,” he smiles. “I believe in work-life balance. You must learn to appreciate everyone in your team and respect their boundaries.”

Long drives and family time

“I drive close to 100km every two days,” Mr Tay shares. He accumulates so much mileage because he usually has two meetings with clients each day and picks up his daughter either from school or after her usual activities.

Despite the long days on the road, Mr Tay shares that he barely has any problems with the car. It’s one reason he has remained so steadfastly loyal to the Toyota Harrier range. He bought the first model when it came out in 2015 and then switched to the new 2021 Hybrid variant. It also helps that the petrol consumption is minimal.

“I only top up my tank about twice a month now with the Toyota Harrier Hybrid, even though I drive so much.”

Mr Tay also loves the comfort and reliability of the Harrier and admits that his previous cars, which were mainly continental models, didn’t perform up to expectations. The Harrier also gives him the opportunity to spend more time with his daughter, who is preparing to go overseas to continue her studies in the next couple of years. They go on long rides to talk about their respective days.

“Actually, once my daughter gets her licence, I might give this car to her to drive because it’s so sturdy and reliable. That way, I know she’ll be safe when she’s out,” Mr Tay says.

And if he does that, what car does he plan to get? “I’ll get her to drive me around!” he laughs.

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