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

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

“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.”

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