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Meet the Team: Kerry Chung

Meet the Team: Kerry Chung

Jan 1, 2024

It’s 3pm on a Friday, and Kerry Chung, Group General Manager of SUTL Group of Companies, emerges from a meeting. This was not the first, nor would it be the last one for the day, but Kerry— who is on week six of his appointment in the company at the time of this interview—is taking it all in and working his way through.

“Eighty per cent of SUTL’s total business is consumer goods, which is more of my ground. I felt an immediate connection with that,” says the corporate veteran.

The other 20 per cent—the marina and hospitality side of the business—however, is completely new territory. But with Chairman and CEO Arthur Tay’s expansion plans—including the upcoming ONE°15 Marina Nirup Island, and pipeline projects in Southeast Asia—he is looking forward to also hitting the ground running.

“While I don’t have a yacht and don’t know how to sail, at the end of the day, managing an operation like this is still about creating personal rapport and leading people,” says the Chinese-New Zealander. These are aspects of business development that Kerry has not only finessed, but also revels in. It’s the secret ingredient that has taken him from small-town New Zealand to global boardrooms.

Kerry attributes a large part of his success to his father, who encouraged him to dream big and “do whatever is best for you and not do what we want for you as parents”. This meant moving out of his hometown of Rukuhia, in the Waikato region of New Zealand’s North Island, and finding his own path in life.

His father owned an orchard that grew a variety of fruits, including apples, pears, plums, and nectarines, and his mum manned the roadside store. Kerry and his younger siblings—he has two sisters and a brother—worked at the orchard in their free time. “It’s a very very small town, the primary school I went to had only 60 students,” recalls Kerry with a certain fondness.

His childhood was a harmonious blend of Asian culture at home and all things Kiwi outside of it— rugby games, bike rides with mates, cricket, and more.

“I was 11 years old and my father taught me how to drive a tractor. It’s probably illegal these days, but it’s just incidents like these that I remember when he was teaching me to be independent,” he adds.

As a father, Kerry also urged his two sons to follow their own path like he was taught to. Sure enough, his oldest has just completed his Master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering from Imperial College London. His younger son is also pursuing biosciences and has just joined University College London.

Kerry followed his father’s advice and chose the corporate path of life, which eventually brought him and his wife and sons—to Singapore. It may be safe to say that while his training as a chartered accountant aided Kerry’s climb up the proverbial corporate ladder in global multinationals, his ability to build and maintain professional relationships made his career pivot from the financial side of businesses to business development, seamless.

It was when he was with CooperVision, the global contact lens manufacturer, that he was presented with the opportunity to jump on to the commercial side of the business—as the Regional General Manager for Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong as well as Southeast Asia.

“It was a very steep learning curve,” admits Kerry. “The one thing that I found most interesting was when you’re on the finance side, you’re responsible for recording the financial results. Whereas on the commercial side, everything is focused on the customer and top-line revenue.”

That said, his background in finance allows him to bring a systematic and structured approach to business development and customer relationship management. It goes beyond just the adrenaline rush of securing a deal—“I am able to adopt a pragmatic approach towards what it takes to execute a business,” he explains.

Innate as some of it is, Kerry puts a lot of the acquired instincts towards the mentorship he received from two of his ex-bosses. One instance was when he had just started with American biotech company Genzyme— now part of Sanofi—in Singapore. His boss, who was based in Boston, invited him to the head office to shadow her for two weeks so that he could learn about the global business and how to navigate senior management. Kerry went on to report to her for the next four years. And the other, also from the same company, was Kerry’s Irish-born Regional President for APAC based in Singapore. He taught him the valuable soft and interpersonal skills that Kerry says he applies to his work today.

“Those two people invested their time in me despite the huge gap in our ranks. I want to pay that back,” says Kerry. So, over the past 10 years, he has focused on developing the people in his team, so that they could progress to higher positions and take on further responsibilities. “I am hoping to bring a little bit of that culture to SUTL as well. I am looking forward to the chance to grow and develop some of the team here,” he says.

“Stay connected”—that’s the mantra Kerry lives by and urges all to follow. “Don’t lose touch with people you meet along the way just because you don’t work with them anymore.” Although it’s not about receiving anything in return from these connections, “you never know what will come out of it”, he says. “In such a connected world, where much is done over email, WhatsApp and LinkedIn, there’s something to be said about just sitting down over a coffee and having a chat with somebody.”

The original article was published on the January/ February 24 issue of Longitude, ONE°15 Marina’s Club magazine. Read it here.