Joseph Kwok: Advance Asia Advisory Committee member

Originally from Singapore, Joseph Kwok chose to go to UNSW to obtain his bachelor’s and master’s degrees before returning home to embark on a career in financial services. He’s now the CEO and General Manager of SooChow Securities CSSD (Singapore) Pte Ltd.

Joseph has always aimed to keep close ties with Australia. He is the President of Australian Alumni Singapore and President of UNSW Alumni Singapore Chapter. In 2018, he joined the Asia Advisory Committee of Advance along with other Asia-based members helping Advance to forge stronger links between Australia and its international talent.

We caught up with Joseph to talk about his work and his commitment to help alumni to stay connected with their universities.

Interview by Tammy Lee, Marketing & Communications & Digital Manager, Advance.

As a leader in a financial services firm, what’s the most exciting and least interesting part of your job?

I joined SooChow Securities CSSD (Singapore) Pte Ltd, a Chinese state-owned financial services company, in Dec 2016. The most exciting part of the job has been to grow the headcount from 3 persons to 25 persons and from one without any business activity to having business activities in fund management, corporate finance, dealing in securities and research. The least interesting part of the job is bureaucracy and the numerous reporting requirements associated with being a Chinese state-owned company.

Tell us more about your role as President of Australian Alumni Singapore and President of UNSW Alumni Singapore Chapter.

I have been involved with the UNSW alumni Singapore Chapter (UNSWAASG) since 2009 after attending the UNSW 60th Anniversary celebration in Beijing. But it took me several years before I became more active and finally becoming President in 2017. As President of UNSW, I see my role as continuing the past Presidents’ efforts to keep UNSW alumni in Singapore engaged. It also reminds me of the good time I had with UNSW.

Being involved in Australian Alumni Singapore (AAS) was a natural extension of my involvement with UNSW as many other committee members of Australian universities alumni are also active in AAS. I started my AAS involvement from 2015. I saw the growth of AAS led by Immediate Past President, Christopher Cheah, who inspired me to contribute and eventually take over from him in 2018 to continue with the mission to grow AAS. Being the President has been very demanding as AAS is a non-profit organisation relying on the generosity of our sponsors, partners and contribution from volunteers. However, I see AAS as an important platform for Australian alumni in Singapore who each share a unique Aussie experience and can come together to strengthen the bond between the two countries.

What opportunities have these alumni organisations afforded to graduates?

Alumni organisations help to keep up the spirit and bond among the graduates of Australian universities. Through regular get-together sessions, alumni are connected among themselves and to their universities. It is important for Australian universities to keep their graduates engaged constantly. Only when the alumni are still emotionally attached to their universities will they feel the need to give back after graduation. Individual university alumni play an important part in this function but given the generally smaller alumni pool in Singapore, activities organised by individual alumni tend to be cosy with smaller turnout.

AAS serves as a platform for Australian universities to partner when they engage their alumni in Singapore. With pooled resources, AAS can harness multiple parties and increase economics of scale to organise quality activities for all Australian alumni. Alumni tend to prefer events with a larger turnout as it can make networking more meaningful and efficient.

How did you hear about Advance and join the Asia Advisory Committee?

AAS Immediate Past President, Christopher Cheah, linked me to Stefanie Myers, Advance Asia Director in Apr 2018. I was then invited to an Advance event that same month where I met Michelle Garnaut who is a Board Member of Advance. Subsequently to that event, I was informed of the establishment of the Asia Advisory Committee and I was invited to join given my good network of Australian alumni in Singapore through AAS.

As Australia has a growing relationship with ASEAN, what’s your advice for other alumni to make use of their international experience back home after their study?

Most Australian cities are cosmopolitan and when one studies in an Australian university, one will be exposed to diversity which should be embraced. Friends made during university days will probably stay as your friends for life. The friends made in an Australian university will probably come from different countries and background. Such friends could come in useful when one returns home as you may need them for your work or even to meet up on holiday.  

What did you enjoy most during your study?

I enjoyed the nice Australian weather for most of the year and even during some hot weeks in summer, the nice sandy beaches helped cool me down. There are many places to explore and activities to participate. Coming from Singapore, the great value that Australian wine offers is simply irresistible. Lastly, most Australians are friendly and happy to extend their help.

Any reason you chose Australia over other international destinations to study?

The milder weather is certainly the main draw as I did my high school in Toronto which had very cold winter that I didn’t enjoy. Proximity to home is also another plus as I didn’t have to travel too long to get home. In addition, Australia also has good quality education with a high global ranking.

Did your Down Under experience exceed your expectations? What was the most unexpected thing?

I certainly wished I had stayed longer Down Under as I really enjoyed my time there. The most unexpected thing is for me to make good friends with people from different nations, ethnicity and background.

How did your Australian education help to advance your career?

An Australian education gave me the technical knowledge to launch my financial career. However, what sets me apart is that being on my own overseas taught me to be independent, so I can resolve matters on my own with an independent mind. Being able to face the ups and downs in Australia alone also trained me to face adversity with strength which helped me overcome difficult times in my career.

What are your recommendations for visitors to Singapore?

For visitors, the first thing not to miss is our world best airport with the largest man-made waterfall with many amazing amenities as soon as you arrive. Then you will enjoy the fantastic skyline that Singapore’s Central Business District offers with Marina Bay Sands standing out with its infinity swimming pool at the top. Food is another attraction and do check out the hawker centers that serve authentic local food at a very reasonable price (despite Singapore being ranked the most expensive city in the world). Lastly, although most Singaporeans may seem to be always busy, they are very friendly!