From poverty to petroleum entrepreneur
Founder, Strike Petroleum Pte Ltd
Certified Independent Director (SID)
Master of Business Administration (MBA)
Hard work and perseverance to overcome the poverty that pervaded his childhood has led Mr Andrew Wong to excel at his chosen profession and become a successful entrepreneur in the South East Asia oil industry.
After graduating from a MBA at the University of South Australia, Mr Wong was inspired to start his own petroleum company, Strike Petroleum Pte Ltd, based in Singapore – cementing his place as an authority in a field he has now worked in for 45 years.
It was not an easy decision to make but it certainly turned out to be the right one. Now, 17 years on, Strike Petroleum is going from strength to strength in an industry predicted by Global Market Insights to be worth over $13 billion USD by 2023.
Mr Wong’s career has been an extraordinary example of a whole-hearted approach to realising a life of his own making – to fulfil his vision and dreams and to ensure his family does not live in poverty.
“I tell people, without apology, that I was brought up from a poor family and had the privilege to know what poverty means to me. So my desire in life was to get out of it,” says Mr Wong.
When he was hardly a year old, Andrew’s mother took her children (Andrew and three older sisters) by wooden boat from Singapore to her ancestral home of Hainan Island, China.
“She had hoped, at least, that we would not go hungry as her mother owned a padi (rice) field. But we soon discovered it was not what she had expected and that we were all required to work hard in the fields in order to survive. When I was six, my eldest sister wrote to our father to tell him how miserable life was there and he applied for a visa to return us all back to Singapore.
“Being poor is not shameful, because it is not your own doing but the circumstances you are in. One can rise up by taking a good look at the intrinsic strengths within and start to build up a vision to achieve one's goal in life.”
After completing his Singapore-Cambridge ‘O’ Level Examination and understanding that his parents would not be able to afford to help him finance tertiary education, Mr Wong decided to pursue a career as a teacher. The Singapore system allowed him to study and work in the profession in order to achieve his qualification, which he completed while also serving his mandatory National Service.
Then in 1972, Mr Wong decided to take an opportunity to work in the Marine Marketing Division at BP Singapore. This was his first foray into the oil industry where he discovered a passion for the industry due to its highly service-oriented nature. He also discovered a passion for marketing and business development.
“Everyone has an intrinsic value to discover and no one is ‘good for nothing’. In my early years I was quick to discover my strengths and interests but I also had challenges to overcome.
“I made the mistake of comparing myself to other sales people, who were long in the industry and all have the ‘gift of the gab’ – so I felt intimidated at times. But I quickly learnt that my clients preferred my ‘listening ear’ to their needs and how sincere I was in my service to them so I took a different path from my colleagues and our sales were the highest in the company.”
For the next 25 years Mr Wong worked for a number of petroleum companies, most notably as Deputy Managing Director cum General Manager of the Multi-National Company ELF’s Singapore Division (now merged with Total Oil) – a role he held for 17 years.
“During this time there were many interesting opportunities to learn, particularly when my French boss at ELF asked me to venture and carry out business developments in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam, where I realised I also had a talent for resolving cross-cultural challenges.
“During my tenure at ELF I had the privilege of attending international symposium meetings in interesting places like Madeira and Morocco. I also won the 1990 Best Determines Meilleur Vendeur and received a two-week paid holiday to Spain to watch the Formula 1 in Barcelona!”
Mr Wong said that being brought up in a poor family where his siblings were not able to access university, made pursuing higher education a life-long goal. In 1994, while working at ELF, he decided to enrol in the University of South Australia MBA Distance Learning Degree.
“I was in the 5th Intake of UniSA’s MBA program. The uniqueness of this course was that it had an ALP (Action Learning Project) to be submitted at the last semester of our course. The ALP has truly helped me in my career as I often think five years ahead of what we do. Someone said ‘change is the only constant,’ which is so true – especially in marketing where some sales strategies and methods can be obsolete or changed over time.”
Mr Wong is quick to point out that running a business holds many challenges that require determination to overcome – but there are key lessons that can be learnt to sustain success.
“When running your own company it is important to be focused and devoted to your core business and to never give up. It can be trying and challenging at times – or most of the time – but customers and associates look for such companies which can give good returns in providing reliable goods and services for the long haul.”
"I have learnt the curves of three recessions in my career,” said Mr Wong, describing how the marine industry can be particularly at risk during economic uncertainty. However, having weathered economic ups and downs Mr Wong kept his company in good health throughout the downturn, even securing a fully paid 60 year property lease in 2009.
Now, Mr Wong has found some time in his busy schedule to join the esteemed University of South Australia Singapore Alumni Committee to help other alumni attain their own aspirations and support the work of the university in the region.