MICHAEL Teoh Su Lim was not into sports during his school days, and his perceived weakness led him to become a victim of bullying.
To counter this shortcoming, he focused on his soft skills’ development. Discovering his penchant for public speaking, he became a student leader, while his keen interest in human capital development saw him establishing Thriving Talents, a global talents solution company powered by a passionate group of coaches, trainers and consultants.
This young high flier is today recognised as one of the World’s Top 100 Leaders in Global Training & Development.
Playing to his strengths
“I used to be bullied in school, because I was weak in sports. Thankfully, I was not willing to accept that situation, and so I looked for ways to overcome this adversity.
“The stress of trying to live up to expectations led me to accidentally discover my abilities in public speaking, leadership and project management.
“Recognising that I was not going to impress anybody with my sporting prowess, or lack thereof, I took my interest in soft skills development to an entirely new level, by getting involved in school competitions that required me to conceptualise new ideas in business, innovation and presentations.
“Soon, I found myself representing the country at global conventions and competitions which really opened up my views on the world, and that boosted my confidence as a Malaysian who embodied the ‘Malaysia boleh!’ spirit.
“My public speaking skills and a keen interest in human capital development led me to establish Thriving Talents, a global talent solutions company that assists Fortune 500 companies in developing the capabilities of their young leaders, to produce more impact for their companies.
“Just as I lack skills in sports, I can also see that most graduates around the world lack the soft skills needed for them to excel in their lives and careers, so I have made it my personal mission to educate and inspire them to be the best that they can be.”
“I am a believer that you get lucky when you are ready, and readiness comes from preparation and exposure that gives rise to confidence in reaping certain opportunities.
“For me, this started during my secondary school days in Penang, when I forced myself to take up leadership positions rather than remain a victim of bullying.
“I wish I had the chance to attend Leadership Training workshops then, but my parents couldn’t afford it that time. But they nevertheless supported me during that time of adversity. I was thus able to discover my leadership abilities at a young age
“This then is my motivation for setting up Thriving Talents Pte Ltd, a talent solutions company powered by a passionate group of coaches, trainers and consultants in developing young leaders and entrepreneurs and youths across 39 countries.”
The turning point
“I would never have thought that my first project as a student leader would have an effect on revolutionising the process of how students are selected for competitions and international projects.
“I was studying in a school with a high reputation, and placed in the Pure Science stream where I had to study subjects like Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Additional Mathematics, subjects which I was really weak at, and that affected my academic performance.
“As a result, I experienced a form of discrimination whereby students like myself were judged mainly on ‘how many As I could score’ instead of my special talents, and so I ended up in the ‘Back Classes’.
“In the Back Classes, you will not get picked for opportunities to represent the school in competitions like Debating, Public Speaking, Drama, Science & Innovation, and Entrepreneurship Challenges.
“Frankly, I used to be angry when I was younger but today, being a working professional, I do understand that my school was just ‘protecting’ its reputation; I mean, who would want to send their ‘weakest link’ to competitions, right?
“But when I was in Form Four, a twist of fate led me to encounter a teacher along the corridor who appealed to me to join the prestigious INTEL Science & Innovation competition.
“I was shocked and even questioned my teacher about whether I was the right candidate. The teacher then admitted that the deadline for the competition was closing in 15 minutes and that he had forgotten all about it, and now had to quickly send in candidates.
“I still recall how the teacher said to me: ‘It is OK even if you lose. It will still look great in your CV!’ And that’s how I ended up leading my first Science & Innovation project with my teammates, competing with the best schools in Malaysia.
“The competing schools of course sent their best students who were straight A scorers in Pure Science subjects, while I was struggling with Cs.
“My strategy then was to focus my team’s efforts on producing a Business Feasibility report instead, while the other teams presented formulas after formulas.
“When my team won Best Project from the Northern Region and I was awarded the title of Best Presenter at National Level, I shocked my school and even myself.
“That was the turning point where from that day onwards, my school abolished the preferential treatment policy of only giving opportunities to compete to the ‘brighter’ students from the front classes.
“Today, my school still invites me back to give motivational talks to its students, and I would be introduced as Malaysia’s National Youth Icon awarded by the prime minister, a young entrepreneur who founded a global training company, and a young speaker who facilitated a training session that President Barack Obama attended!”
When you do too much
“I have been blessed with being surrounded by loving family members, supportive mentors and like-minded friends who all helped me in carving my destiny. I also had the opportunity to pursue my degree in New Zealand, majoring in Marketing & International Business, and attend courses at Harvard University, Stanford and INSEAD.
“Originally, I was groomed to be a Strategy Consultant with the goal of becoming the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
“Then one day, I found myself inspired by the entrepreneurial stories of Sir Richard Branson, Jack Ma and our own Tan Sri Tony Fernandes which led me to take the path of entrepreneurship myself.
“To live up to the expectations that came with my university training, I joined a prestigious management consulting firm. At the same time, I endeavoured into entrepreneurship with several ventures and became a serial investor with portfolios in commodities, properties and even food and beverages.
“I also started to become an active motivational speaker as well as a coach to several CEOs of companies from across the region.
“To some people, I may have come across as a young high flier, but being so diversified also meant that I was multi-tasking way too much.
“I believe mistakes can serve as valuable feedback for us to lead our lives forward. All mistakes can become a valuable ‘income’ in the form of experiences that make us wiser.
“I believe one mistake that I committed was that of not being more focused in the early days of my career.
“Prior to founding Thriving Talents, I used to work multiple jobs and had several businesses. I was young and active, and I thought I was unstoppable.
“I was generating a comfortable income working as a high-end management consultant while owning businesses in events management, Internet marketing, online media and also had a spread of investment portfolios.
“All this came crashing down after a near-accident along the highway made me rethink what I was doing with my life.
“By 2012, I liquidated my other business interests to pursue my passion — developing the human capital capabilities in companies.
“However, once I exited from my other ventures, life gave me a hard lesson as I saw my income dwindle and I struggled to keep things afloat.
“It was then that I sought advice from successful entrepreneurs and all of them told me the same thing -- to be laser-focused, commit myself and just persevere.
“Since then, I have not looked back as I continued to grow Thriving Talents.
“When one is really ‘laser focused’ in what one is doing and do it well, the money, the influence and legacy will follow.”
Feathers in the cap
“My most memorable accolade was the honour of representing Malaysia and winning the world’s largest social entrepreneurship competition in 2011.
“Called Your Big Year in the UK, 45,000 young entrepreneurs from 168 countries gathered to vie for the prize of a one year all-expenses-paid trip around the world, to do high impact work with businesses, governments and NGOs.
“To top that off, Sir Richard Branson served as the ‘Icon’ for that competition, so when I won the award, not only did I have the chance to meet and learn from the billionaire founder of the Virgin Group, I also had the chance of a lifetime to venture out to 22 countries around the world, doing what I am most passionate about — training, coaching and developing young leaders.
“That opportunity also got me to appear on CNN on multiple occasions, and to speak at the United Nations in New York, Nairobi and Geneva.
“All this when I was just 24 years old, which meant I was the youngest participant and subsequently winner among the 45,000 entrepreneurs.’
“Following the Your Big Year win, other accolades that followed included being inducted into the Malaysian Book of Records, being recognised as a Malaysia’s Youth Icon by the Prime Minister alongside badminton legend Datuk Lee Chong Wei and being conferred the World’s Top 100 Leaders in Global Training & Development by the World Human Resources Congress.
“I had the opportunity to speak on the same platform with the top leadership coach and bestselling author Dr Marshall Goldsmith, the man whose books I read for my university thesis!”
The ultimate goal
“My goals are always evolving. Five years ago, I wanted to set up a business which would pay for my lifestyle and allow me to speak to thousands of people around the world.
“Today, Thriving Talents is my passion and it enables me to live a comfortable life while allowing me to share the stage with the likes of Branson, former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and Fernandes while addressing leaders, entrepreneurs and youths from all around the world.
“My passion for developing the skills of young leaders to make them more productive and profitable for companies has landed me work with Fortune 500 companies across 39 countries, serving as coach and consultant while travelling the world.
“Now, my goal in five years’ time is to ensure that my fellow Thrivers, all my staff in Thriving Talents, will be able to afford a better life in the form of more holidays, better cars and houses, and realising their dreams.
“Instead of thinking about impacting one million people, which is what I will do through my speaking engagements and learning products, I would rather focus on the people who will enable that to happen, and that’s my fellow Thrivers.”