From bully victim to winning motivator
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.
“I used to be bullied in school, because I was weak in sports. 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.
“I decided to take 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.
“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.”
“During my secondary school days in Penang, 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.”
“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.
“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 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.
“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!”
“I have been blessed with being surrounded by loving family members, supportive mentors and likeminded 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
“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
“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.
“At just 24 years old, I was the youngest participant and subsequently, winner among the 45,000 entrepreneurs.”