Eric Sim Managing Director UBS Investment Banker, son of Singapore prawn noodle shop

Ep 112.1: Confessions of a hawker’s son turned MD of UBS with 2.9 million LinkedIn followers | Eric Sim (former Managing Director, UBS)

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Welcome to Episode 112 Part 1!

STIMY Episode 112 Part 1 features Eric Sim.

How does a shy boy with no social skills, who failed his mathematics & went to school smelling of prawns every day… become the Managing Director of UBS?

Just ask Eric Sim.

Eric Sim, CFA, is the author of the book “Small Actions: Leading Your Career to Big Success” which was nominated for Business Book Awards in London in 2022. Previously when based in Hong Kong, Sim was a managing director at UBS Investment Bank and also an Adjunct Associate Professor of Finance at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Currently based in Singapore, Sim is the founder of the Institute of Life (IOL) with a mission to help young professionals achieve success at work and in life. 

In Part 1, we learn all about Eric’s journey to becoming the Managing Director of UBS.


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    So This Is My Why podcast

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    Who is Eric Sim?

    Eric had a hard start to life.

    ❌ Eric didn’t just fail his maths.

    He also failed his English Literature & History papers and had to work at his father’s prawn noodle shop before going to school.

    ❌ He bombed his first job in FX Sales role at DBS Bank.

    ❌ He failed all his job interviews in London (which he attended wearing a chicken suit!).

    • 2.52: Forced to drink oat milk & selling prawn noodles
    • 5:27 Carving potatoes was a lie!
    • 6:43 Developing an inferiority complex (+ learning everything!)
    • 9:16 Sending an unsolicited application to DBS Bank
    • 12:35 Restarting his career at Lancaster University
    • 14:36 Wearing a chicken suit for interviews at London’s financial banks


    So I went to Oxfam I went to buy a suit, which was two size bigger than my size because there wasn't my size... I'm like size zero. So with this chicken suit, a suit so big, I can hide a chicken, I went for an interview in London. Within 20 minutes, they threw me out. I went for four different companies, four different banks, and none of them lasted for more than an an hour. I ran out of money so I have to come back and that was 1997.
    Eric Sim Managing Director UBS Investment Banker, son of Singapore prawn noodle shop
    Eric Sim
    Former Managing Director, UBS Investment Bank

    Becoming Managing Director at UBS Investment Bank

    But Eric’s story doesn’t end there.


    ✅ Figured out how to leverage on his unique background, i.e. as the son of a hawker & bartender, to build a unique personal brand & score his first job;

    ✅ Found an amazing boss, Prasanna Thombre, who believed in him & gave him all the international opportunities he needed; and

    ✅ Built relationships that meant that his future jobs were all referred to him.

    Eric learned very quickly that you need to do more than just your job to thrive.

    And we talked about the cultural nuances of working in different Asian cities (including Ulaanbaatar!), what it meant to be the Managing Director, why he would go to the same restaurant x4 a week!! & how he networks to build the relationships he needs.

    • 16:15 The Asian Financial Crisis & Prasanna Thombre
    • 20:53 Moving to Citi
    • 23:41 Working in Shanghai & witnessing the liberalisation of China’s financial sector
    • 24:52 Chinese business culture
    • 25:55 Cigarettes
    • 28:09 The importance of being friends with all the chefs
    • 30:31 Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
    • 31:38 Why Eric keeps getting referrals for jobs
    • 32:33 Why Citi was Eric’s dream job
    • 35:09 Did the wealthy look down at Eric?
    • 37:11 Why being a hawker’s son helped Eric as a banker
    • 40:14 Meeting Hawker Chan
    • 42:53 Becoming Managing Director at UBS (investment banking)
    • 44:30 Was Eric a successful MD?

    External Links

    Some of the things we talked about in this STIMY Episode can be found below:

    Eric Sim Managing Director UBS Investment Banker, son of Singapore prawn noodle shop

    Ep 112 Part 1: Eric Sim [Managing Director, UBS Investment Bank]

    Eric Sim: So just before I graduate, wistful thinking I tried to get a job in London.

    I didn't even own a suit.

    You go to this British banker, they're very formally dressed. So I went to Oxfam, which is a charity organization. I went to buy a suit, which was two size bigger than my size because there wasn't my size. I'm already on the smaller side in Asia, so when I went to UK I'm like size zero.

    So with this chicken suit, you know, a suit so big, I can hide a chicken. I went for an interview in London. Within 20 minutes , they threw me out. I went for four different companies, four different banks, and none of them lasted for more than an an hour. I ran out of money so I have to come back and yeah, that was 1997.

    The Asian financial crisis hit. The Indonesia rupiah right from 2,500 weakened to 10,000. So it's very difficult to imagine. And even SGD dollars weaken from 1 US dollars to 1.4 SGD depreciated to 1.8. So about 20, 25% depreciation.

    Ling Yah: Hi everyone!

    Welcome to episode 112. Part one of the So This Is my Why Podcast. I'm my host and producer Ling Yah and today's guest is Eric Sim.

    Now Eric is the former managing director of UBS with over 2.9 million followers on LinkedIn. He's also published a book. Is an adjunct professor and speaker, and made it to the LinkedIn top Voices for Singapore and also the LinkedIn spotlight for China.

    Now, as with all STIMY interviews, we dive deep to uncover who Eric is.

    From how he was a shy boy with no social skills and who failed his mathematics, his English literature and history, while helping his dad to run his prom noodle shop to studying engineering at NUS.

    Then working in an FX sales role where he realized he was terrible at his job. Thankfully, he pivoted out. And his career took an upward trajectory.

    So if you want to know what it takes to be a managing director of ubs, why Eric left while he believes in personal branding, building second career, and honestly how he even gained 2.9 million followers on LinkedIn, then this is the episode for you.

    And if you haven't done so already, please do consider subscribing to this STIMY newsletter where I share all the tools, frameworks, and stories from successful people on how they've built their lives, personal branding and also how we can prepare ourselves for the future of work.

    Now are you ready?

    Let's go.

    Eric Sim: I was quiet, timid, underweight in school. I was forced to drink this oat milk. There's an auntie who will chase after me .

    Ling Yah: To grow.

    Eric Sim: Yeah, to help us grow because I think during the 1960, 1970s, Singapore was poor. A lot of kids were under nourished. And I have to also help my father at a Hawker store.

    My father sold prawn noodles for 30 over years. I helped him since primary school until I was second year in the university, and that's where I learned some of the skills that I'm still using today. Learning from my father, and also interacting with the customers, interacting with people around me.

    You know, they could be selling pork. My father sold prawn noodles, other people were selling grocery. And I remember the next door was a fishbowl noodle shop.

    Ling Yah: I noticed in my research that your father actually started his prawn noodle shop 10 years before you were born.

    And you said that he'll be selling a hundred bowls daily. But you also have two younger sisters. So was it a family affair? Was it all of you chipping in or was it just you because you are the son?

    Eric Sim: Yeah, it was just me. I was the only boy and I feel obligated because nobody wants to go, including me. I also didn't want to go, but if none of us go, the store cannot service the customer fast enough. Weekday is okay. So on Sunday especially that market is super crowded and my father only has one helper, so I have to help out. And when my father's helper fall sick, I have to skip school and go down to the hawker stall as well. Mm-hmm.

    Ling Yah: I mean it's not an easy life. You would get up at seven, be there by half past seven, you still have work. You said you would smell of fish all the time. I noticed you once said at the time you didn't think much of your father, so is it right to say that you felt resentful that you had to be in this position?

    Eric Sim: Resentful, just something. It's just hard work. So when you're young this is physical work, right? And have to get up early. That means I got not much of nightlife. Can you imagine you're a teenager, saturday night you cannot go out too late.

    Christmas Eve, new Year's Eve, I cannot go out too late because the next day is public holiday and I have to go and help.

    I remember there was once I stayed maybe until 5:00 AM with my friends and by seven I have to be down. 10:00 AM at the store, I was like dozing off. It was very, very tiring.

    Ling Yah: I can imagine. And what about I supposed to rest of your family, cuz I noticed that even when you were very young, you were very into self-improvement. You were always taking classes that were in addition to whatever you were doing.

    Where did that come from? Was education something that your parents really instilled in you cuz your mom was illiterate?

    Eric Sim: Yeah. Both my parents didn't know much about school. My father went to school, maybe primary one, primary two. My mother can't even read and write. Except her own name.

    So there was once my mother was trying to ask me to eat more vegetables, eat potato, and she said, Hey, you know, the foreign kids, they were carving animals out of potato to entice me to eat. And next day when I went onto the school bus, I told the boy next door. I said, Hey, do you know that the foreign kids, the western kids, they're carving animals out of potato?

    He laughed. He said that that's not possible. Not only that, he told the entire bus of school children. Of course, the entire bus laugh at me.

    So that means that what was told to me by the most trusted person in my life is not true. So there's nobody I can trust. That means whatever knowledge that I have, I need to think, very carefully.

    So I think that made me lose my confidence. Then I develop inferiority complex. So I think the only way to overcome that inferiority complex is to get more knowledge. So I have a folder, a very thick folder full of certificate. I'll learn anything

    . I'll learn like this racing car type of driving.

    I'll do sailing. I even went to learn singing so I can sing better at the karaoke.

    First, I learned the technical stuff like cc plus plus photography, so many, many courses. And those courses were not very relevant to my work cuz I was an engineer by training then was in banking. But now they all start coming back because I need photo editing skills to post on LinkedIn.

    And the design course that I've taken over the years is now coming into play and, designing my book as well.

    Ling Yah: Racing, selling, designing books. That all sounds really fun. But why on Earth did you end up choosing engineering after doing so many different things? It doesn't exactly strike you as anyone as glamorous or fun.

    Eric Sim: Yeah. All this was over time. All this sailing, design I think was more like after my engineering degree. So from primary school until university, I was just following the majority of the people. So my senior go to this particular school, this secondary school, I'll just go. Then the next batch of senior will go to a junior college. I'll just follow.

    Half of them did engineering, so I went. Plus I fail my English in school. So I need to choose a major that doesn't require a good command of language.

    Ling Yah: How did you decide after doing the entire Bachelor of engineering that you wanted to do finance?

    Eric Sim: Okay, at that point, right, I said that enough of following people. If I follow people, then I will have a very average life, a very boring life. I said, life cannot be like that. So from then on I went on the other extreme.

    People will use Cannon camera, I will use Nikon. People use pc, I'll use Mac. So I start using Mac in 2001. I'm a early adopter. Of course, all my engineering classmate went into engineering or engineering related. So I say, let me do something different. Let me go to banking and do some marketing or sales, because that is where I was. The area of communication and social skills.

    Ling Yah: You ended up joining DBS Bank and you joined even though you missed a campus recruitment event, and you sent an unsolicited application letter. What's the story behind that?

    Eric Sim: Yeah. So I was in school and I bump into a classmate of mine.

    His name is Paul Leong. He told me, Hey Eric, there was a DBS campus recruitment. Did you go? I said, I didn't know about it because we in engineering, how would I know? But he's very savvy because he wanted to go into banking. And then he went to find out all this information.

    He said, oh, don't worry. HR said can write in unsolicited. So I took his advice and I wrote in to say that I graduated from engineering degree. I would like a job in DBS bank, maybe in the area of marketing or, or sales. And they called me up for interview. I went for one round with two hiring manager and next thing I know I went to HR for interview and I got a job.

    It was a big milestone, because DBS bank was a very well known bank in Singapore and my parents were very proud cuz they, they know this bank. Although I must say that the pay is much lower than engineering. So I still remember very clearly I was paid 1,800 Singapore dollars.

    If I have gone for engineering job, I may have gotten like 2,500 if I'm lucky, right?

    Because with a second upper honours, I may have gotten like 2,700. That means I could have gotten 50% more than 1,800.

    Ling Yah: But then you kind of make up with the bonus, right? Which is like 30,000, I believe, which your colleagues then used to splurge on the fancy holidays.

    Eric Sim: Yeah. The bonus was not bad, but at that time, I didn't know about the bonus. All I wanted to do is to do something different than what I had done before.

    Ling Yah: That's so interesting. You wanted to do something that was different against the status quo. You managed to impress the interviewers. You had that great story about you working as a bartender. And then in terms of that big milestone as an fx corporate sea level was also that sailor was also the biggest mistake in a way.

    So did you feel as though at the time, oh, I shouldn't be going against the grain. This was a big mistake. I dunno why actually won.

    You said that the mistake was to not follow what everyone else was doing because the first time you decided not to do that, it sounds it turned out that it was for a role that didn't suit you.

    Eric Sim: Yeah. So when I went to DBS bank, then I realized that this is not my world because everybody is savvy, right? Because they come from business school, they know what banking is, they know what foreign exchange is. I've got no idea about foreign exchange.

    I'm supposed to sell that. I don't even know how to book a restaurant. So when my boss asked me to book a restaurant for client meeting, I called up the restaurant, I say hey if we are late, can you take care of my customer first? Then my colleagues all laugh at me because the restaurant wouldn't care or wouldn't know who, who is customer and who is the host, right?

    But then at that time, I was so ignorant. I've never really eaten at the restaurant. I was always eating in the hawker Center. So I found that I needed to beef up my banking and finance knowledge and also have to develop some social skills and people skills. So I decided to quit after two and a half years.

    Ling Yah: So did you think that Lancaster was your way of restarting your entire journey because you end up going to study finance, right?

    Eric Sim: Yeah, so I say I need to do finance because I already did the engineering part.

    I was very interested in the quantitative finance part. Because there is a part of finance that use calculus, stochastic calculus, a lot of statistic and regression.

    I said that would be something that I'm interested in and also because if I can show my skills in that area, I can use less of my social skills. That means I will not be judged just purely based on the way I talk. So I went to apply for scholarship. It's from British Council, I think for Chevron scholarship or Raffles scholarship.

    It's given out by the uk government. So I applied for that. Applied for a few schools. Unfortunately, I was not offered a scholarship. So now I have to decide, do I want to spend 20,000 SGD, at that time was just 20,000 SGD, but that's all my entire savings. Now, without the scholarship, should I still go?

    Cus initially, my plan is without scholarship, forget it. Then after about two weeks of thinking, if I don't go, I need to wait for one more year. I may not get a scholarship, so the problem's gonna be the same the following year, and I will still be having this miserable life because I didn't do well and my bosses didn't think too highly of me.

    So I say, okay, I need to prepare like 11 to 12 months worth of living allowance plus school fees. I had one month short. I still went hoping that maybe I'll eat less or I tried to find a job, over there. That's when I went and it was a good decision despite against my mother's wish. For my mother DBS Bank is already a good bank.

    You know, thousand eight, $2,000 is good money. Why throw that away? Because when you go overseas for study, one year you got no more income and there's no guarantee you get a better job.

    Ling Yah: And then you came back from UK . And then it turns out that it was really bad timing. It was when the 1997 Asian financial crisis struck and you were jobless for six months. What was that period like?

    Eric Sim: So just before I graduate, wistful thinking I tried to get a job in London.

    I didn't even own a suit.

    You go to this British banker, they're very formally dressed. So I went to Oxfam, which is a charity organization. I went to buy a suit, which was two size bigger than my size because there wasn't my size. I'm already on the smaller side in Asia, so when I went to UK I'm like size zero.

    So with this chicken suit, you know, a suit so big, I can hide a chicken. I went for an interview in London. Within 20 minutes , they threw me out. I went for four different companies, four different banks, and none of them lasted for more than an an hour. I ran out of money so I have to come back and yeah, that was 1997.

    The Asian financial crisis hit. The Indonesia rupiah right from 2,500 weakened to 10,000. So it's very difficult to imagine. And even SGD dollars weaken from 1 US dollars to 1.4 SGD depreciated to 1.8. So about 20, 25% depreciation.

    So very fortunately, I went in 1996. Had I waited a year, had I thought maybe let me save a bit more money then I wouldn't have gone because whatever savings I have, if I converted to pounds, it may not be enough. And probably, you know, you don't have the confidence that you can find a job after you come back because you never know this Asian financial crisis, how long it's going to last.

    Ling Yah: So you came back, Asian financial crisis happened. It's a good thing you decided not to stick around for one more year to have a little bit of extra cash and then you end up going into risk management.

    I mean, like you said before, at that time that you actually had two job offers. You accepted the smaller job at Standard Chartered because of the boss Prasanna Thombre. And you used like amazing words to describe Prasanna.

    He believed in you and therefore you decided to accept this smaller job and he helped to build this strong foundation for your career. Who is Prasanna and how did he influence you?

    Eric Sim: Yeah, so I just give you a bit of the backstory. I couldn't find a job and my objective of going for this masters is to work in London and work in front of office because I was from front office.

    There was no front office job, there was no structuring. I wanted to do the derivative structuring, and since I cannot find that, I decided to change tack. I say, okay, let me look for a middle office job, a risk management job. Then I applied a few, I got a French bank, BNP and I got Standard Charter Bank.

    Both quite similar role, but BNP at the time was much more international. And I think I went for the interview with the HR. I've forgotten whether I met the boss or not. Even if I have, that means I didn't have deep impression of him.

    With Stan Chart, I met my boss, Prasanna Thombre. He thinks that I'm a good fit and he's really giving me the, the vibe that he's going to train me up, develop me.

    He offered me decent pay rise compared to my DBS bank job. So I went and true enough he decided to send me to London shortly after I joined. You know, a few months into my job they say, okay, Eric, you go to London for six months. So I was able to enjoy London cause my dream was to work in London, right?

    So I realized my dream of working in London and I got that confidence back because he believed in me. I think that's very, important for the early careers listener out there. Your boss right can make a huge impact on you.

    Companies like big brand name. Yeah, you put it on your cv, you carry your business card is good, but how much leeway and how many mistake you can make. And how willing are you to try new things in your job depends on your boss. So he gave me that. You know, I failed my English, but I still wrote article. I wrote a calculation or bank capital and submitted to Derivative Weekly.

    I say, Hey, I'm gonna send this article. Can I add your name? He say, yeah, okay. That means he supported me and was published. First time ever I was carrying that magazine, the Derivative Weekly magazine, say my name on it. They decide to publish. I was a nobody. And not only that, one week later, somebody more senior, like the super big boss came to me.

    He was the Southeast Asia head. He came to the middle of his section and say, who is Eric Sim? You know, he just go around and I say, I'm Eric Sim. So something is wrong. Maybe I wrote the article without telling corporate communication, without telling HR. Only my boss knew.

    So he said, follow me. I said, oh, follow him. So I, I followed him. Then went to the global head, the markets global head. So him and his one down, all the departments heads were there, each carrying a photocopy of my article about bank capital. So I said, oh no, I'm gonna be fired, for not informing corporate communication.

    And the big boss, his name is Mike Risk, asked me, did you write this article? I say, yes. Then another senior management say, you wrote it personally? I say, yes, I wrote it personally. Then HR was there. So the big boss said, okay, give Eric a sport award, which is like maybe 3000 Singapore dollars.

    Because at that time, nobody within the risk department or even within the front office is knowledgeable enough to write about bank capital because it's a very complex calculation and is it's a complex method. There are many things to consider when you talk about bank capital. So without my boss personnel, I wouldn't have written that article because imagine your boss is always picking up your mistake.

    You wouldn't dare to do that. And if I cannot try new things, how can I grow?

    Ling Yah: I suppose that writing an article would constitute one of the risks that you mentioned before, that you started to take because you had a boss who believed in you then.

    Eric Sim: Yes. Yeah.

    And also then I went on to Hong Kong. He also sent me to Hong Kong.

    That means he believes that I can do well without supervision. Right. He will send me to London and Hong Kong. That means he was not there to supervise me and he think that I can still deliver my job.

    Ling Yah: At what point did you decide it was time to move on?

    Because to get to Citi, you said that you were looking and everyone only wanted to hire you as a risk manager, and you entered Citi because of an ex DBS colleague, Terence.

    Eric Sim: Yeah. It happens quite coincidentally. My boss resign personnel decided to leave. Then my DBS bank ex-colleague, he went to iti and then he called me to say that his boss is looking for somebody to do risk advisory, to advise customer.

    So I went for, for the interviews. That time I didn't know that my boss was has already resigned. So I went for interviews and seems like I did okay because I have both risk management as well as sales experience. I'm from DBS Bank. So the Citi boss feel that I'm okay. Quite a good fit.

    After three rounds of interview I got a job. So now is whether to resign or not. When I knew Prasanna resign then is very easy for me. . Yeah, he left and there's no reason to stay. I got along so well with the front of office people.

    They said, if you wanna front of his job, just tell us, you know, we can transfer you. I say, it's okay, just already sign with Citi. Just let me go. You know. So they match everything. They match the pay increment, the title. But I thought I shouldn't let my friend down, Terrence, because he already introduced me and then I, I should go.

    Ling Yah: So if not for Terrence, you have stayed on.

    Eric Sim: If not for Terrance, then yeah, I, I guess I wouldn't have a choice but to stay on in a job without a good boss.

    Ling Yah: Standard Chartered and Citi, were they very different culturally, working inside?

    Eric Sim: Difficult for me to compare because I was in a different department, right.

    I was in risk management. Then I went to front office, I guess Citi is really a global bank. And although I didn't have Prasanna down there, I have Terence, a buddy to take care of me.

    Plus I make very good friends and they really moved me around. I spent eight years with Citi . After four years I saw that China was liberalizing its financial sector.

    So in 2005, I asked the big boss. I first asked the China boss, can I come and work for you? He say, okay. Then this is Paula, right? Yeah. Paula say, okay. And then I've got another boss r Rigo. He was the Asia sales head. I got his blessing. So I went with him a couple of months.

    He was settle up and it was really good benefit. They give me a container, I can ship my entire house if I want to. Allowance, business class. And then in Shanghai I got a four bedroom apartment and only me and my wife. So we can only use one bedroom. . Yeah.

    Ling Yah: What was it like being in Shanghai at that time and then you witnessed China's financial sector being liberalised, unpegg ing.

    Eric Sim: It was a great, great time. Yeah. In July of 2005, one of my colleague, he sent me a message to say, Hey RMB unpeg against the dollar. I thought he was joking because the currency was peggec for like 10 over years. Then by 6:00 PM the news were up because he was locked with other bankers in the room.

    So they were told around five something, but they were locked in the room. They got no access to mobile phone, but I think he managed to sneak in and he sent me a message. It was a good time to be there to witness that. And also I was able to contribute a lot, cause a lot they are learning and I was able to bring my technical expertise on products to China to train the China team.

    And also it was a very good chance for me to practice my Mandarin and also understand Chinese business culture. I was dealing with some state-owned enterprises. I was also dealing with much bigger transaction and closer to the customer as well.

    Ling Yah: What is the chinese business culture?

    What are some of the things that we should be doing, but we tend to overlook or not be aware of?

    Eric Sim: In China, one of my customer told me in Chinese. So if you wanna do the transaction, you need to work on the person.

    Ling Yah: That's quite common throughout Asia though. Yeah. I had one VC who said that he worked in Europe and that was very different from Asia where you have to be friends for three years, play golf and then they'll talk business.

    Eric Sim: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

    So you need to do a lot of that. There was some drinking, a lot of entertainment. I have spent 10 hours with a client. I don't even spend 10 hours with anybody else. So that was eye opener. Make me really learn. And also maybe as a Singaporean, sometimes we tend to follow structure. That is a step by step. There's a process.

    In China, things are more fluid. You need to be flexible, adaptable, before you can do do business.

    Ling Yah: What were some of your most memorable moments with clients that you did, which really left an impact on the client? They became your friends and later on worked together.

    Eric Sim: One of my client during a meeting was smoking and then he threw a cigarette at me. Across the table. I took the cigarette. In China, it's okay not to smoke. You can take the cigarette and don't smoke, but drink. You have to drink. So after the meeting, I food the working level.

    I say that your leader, they don't use the boss in China. I think your leader is not so polite. Throwing the cigarette at me. Then he said, no, no, no, no, you misunderstand. He treats you like a friend. That's why he throw the cigarette at you across the table to offer you. If he still use both hand to offer you the cigarette, they means you're still at professional level and you're not gonna do the business.

    True enough, few weeks later, I closed a big transaction with the customer because we have developed to a, a friends level. And that's what you need to do. So it can be some misunderstanding. You think people are rude to you, but not in that case. So that's something that I learned and I really appreciate both the boss and the working level.

    I mean, they treat me with sincerity. And until today we are in touch. I'm going to Shanghai soon, so I'm gonna meet up with them.

    Ling Yah: How do you end up making friends with these people? Because I do remember at the very start you said you were socially awkward. But you have to be friends, you have to be able to know all these different people and make them feel at ease.

    Eric Sim: I offered some training. I said that before you buy the product, from us, maybe you should learn what this product is. So let me give you a training. And one of the night I couldn't join the networking events. Other bankers gone. I didn't go.

    So they asked some of my colleagues and how come Eric is not here? Then my, my colleagues said that Eric is at home practicing his Mandarin speech and the training for the next day. So they thought that I was professional as well. And basically I'm sincere.

    I told them the risk of the product and I explain it clearly to them. I didn't say that this is the best product for you. I tell them the upside and the downside.

    Ling Yah: This around the point where you started learning that I have to really know the restaurants well. This is something you wrote about a lot in your book, going to the same restaurant all the time, the chefs are your friends.

    Eric Sim: Yeah. Knowing the restaurant well is important. Very, Something very small, but everybody can pick it up. So usually when I go to a new city, if I live in that city, or if I know that I'm going to travel there very often I try to get one, two, or three restaurant. I'll frequent those restaurant.

    And I remember when Marina Bay Sands just opened. If you remember Marina Bay Sands that there's a ship looking structure and there is a restaurant called Sky Park 57. I went to that restaurant five times in four weeks. I knew the menu, I knew the manager. You know, they give me the mobile phone so I can make a reservation.

    So with that, when you bring customers there, people address you by your name. So your customer will feel better. So you'll be off to a, a good start. And there's one restaurant in Singapore, it's called EL 40.

    It's in Singapore Land Tower. If I walk in, at least three people will greet me.

    Ling Yah: Is that by name?

    Eric Sim: Yeah, by name. And sometimes I haven't been there for a long time. They still remember me. And without saying anything, they will fetch me ice, honey, lemon, because that's my usual drink to start off. That's how good they are.

    This is something that we have to do to develop that relationship. But of course, this popular restaurant, they are really good at their service. They can make exception for you, right? Because sometimes your customers may not eat certain things. Like for example, in Hong Kong have, have got a favorite sushi restaurant.

    I brought my Indian customer there. He is a vegetarian. So I called the chef said, can you make a vegetarian sushi? No problem. Done. I went there. My friend was very happy to have a vegetarian sushi.

    Ling Yah: So I suppose since we are on the topic food, I have to ask you before I go on, what's the top places to go to eat in Shanghai? Also in Hong Kong?

    Eric Sim: In Hong Kong, I go to the Rose Coast restaurant. Yo Gay. I also have a nice restaurant that I go near Wan Cai, cuz I usually stay at the Grand Hyatt and this near where I live. Shanghai, I haven't been there for a while now. The one store that I go is and now it's a franchise.

    I'm not sure whether they're still there.

    Ling Yah: Now we've talked about all the different places that you've been. You have also been to this place called Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia. What was it like?

    Eric Sim: Oh, it's amazing because at that time there was a mining boom. I think I was with Citi then. There was a mining conference, so I decided that I should go there and find out about the place.

    So I had a one day of conference. Then after that I went for photo shoot in the countryside, staying in this little hut. I was also thinking of investing in the real estate there in Ulaanbaatar. So I thought it must be very cheap, right? Because Mongolia is so huge. Population is so little, but around Ulaanbaatar, it's not so cheap because everybody wants to stay there.

    I said, why, why don't you build something further up? But when you build something further up, who is going to bring you the water and electricity? So, end up everybody crowd around this small little place. So I thought this is also a lesson learned. I said, oh, if you build something, the infrastructure must come with it as well.

    Unlike Singapore, you got water everywhere in Singapore. Not, not in places like Mongolia.

    Ling Yah: You then went from city to UBS. And I noticed again it was because an ex colleague asked whether you were keen to move to Citi. Why is it that all these people seem to constantly refer jobs to you from other banks?

    I mean, what do you do to cultivate these relationships?

    Eric Sim: I think it's a social capital. Number one is sometimes don't try to win a battle and lose a war, right? For small transaction, you know, share the credit, share the revenue. Then you build relationship over the long run. I mean, if you make a bit more, but you need to fight and strain the relationship.

    Then nobody's gonna call you because they know that if you join the bank that they are in, they're going to fight with you. But for me I'm an easier person to work with. And also if there's something good, there's some good deal, , I let them know. I'm lucky also that People like to work with me and when there's a good opportunity, they think of me first.

    Ling Yah: You called Citi your dream job. Mm-hmm. , was it your dream job?

    Eric Sim: Yeah. It was like a family. You know, some people say that your job is not your family. But in Citi it is like a family.

    Very close to people. And I remember one of the global boss came from London or New York and run the business for about two years.

    So suddenly from DBS Bank, StanChart more local culture than to international. So there were drinks and drinking with big bosses until to 3:00 AM going to party.

    And he was talking about one book by Malcolm Gladwell at that time. Tipping Point is very first book. And he said that this is a good book. So I say, okay, good book then. Yeah. I'm interested. Next day when I went to office, you know, after drinking and to 3:00 AM I went to office like 7 30, 8 o'clock in the morning.

    Tipping Point, that book was on my table. How did my boss, who's the global head can wake up so early and get this book. How did he get this book? So I was very impressed. I'm like four hours below him. Why he bother to do that? Yeah. So that make me feel I'm a part of the community.

    Ling Yah: And was that just a culture for everyone, no matter how low you were, they will always help you?

    Eric Sim: I think, yeah. Generally it's the culture. But with me, because I show them around the local food. I go to their house to show them how to use Mac. I guess I was the first adopter of Mac, so anybody who wants to use Mac I'm their private tutor.

    So I get to meet a lot of the big bosses family as well.

    Ling Yah: I found an interesting LinkedIn post that you wrote six months ago. Mm-hmm. And you actually said at the time, except for leaving Citi after eight years mm-hmm just to go to UBS. In most decisions I made, I was happier when I took that action as opposed to doing nothing remaining status quo.


    So does that mean you were unhappy to leave Citi for UBS?

    Eric Sim: So the first six months was very tough at UBS because it's more intense. Investment banking is more intense, right? Half my career in city was in global markets. That's more family.

    Second half, I was in the investment bank. Then now this is true pure investment bank and the people around me, most of them come from privileged family. They go come from good schools and they know what to do, and the good bankers who need two phone calls, they can reach anybody in that country if they're the banker for that country.

    I felt a little bit out of place. But fortunately after six months, I got used to it.

    Ling Yah: It reminds me of a story you often tell about how you realize that your hawker story was something that you could embrace and was very, very unique and people were actually very interested. Mm-hmm.

    I've noticed lots of people who are in the rich rich, the up top , alon. mm-hmm , a lot of them are actually genuinely very interested and want to help. Mm-hmm. . But there are also some people who are, I would say a little bit more, you can feel as though they look down upon you, but they don't actually say it out loud. Mm-hmm. Can't pinpoint exactly. Yeah.

    Did you ever sort of think, oh, actually I don't want to say this story because I know these specific people look down and treat me differently, and they'll probably talk about me behind my back as well. Or do you just go, I'm gonna embrace this because this is who I am and I can see the value of it over time?

    Eric Sim: I don't think the people look down on me. There's nothing to look. I'm far, far below them in terms of wealth and net worth.

    People look down on you when they're being looked out upon or they feel that you are a bit of a t hreat then they look down on you. So for me, I'm no, no threat. Right. They probably can sense, they may not know my father was a hawker, but from the way I talk, the way I spend, they can tell maybe I'm not really in the same league as them.

    Although I was MD. It was a friend, his name is Cha. He's Singaporean based in Hong Kong. So I got to know him maybe the first two years in Hong Kong when I moved there. Then he was introducing me to his friends, Singaporean, Hong Kong people and other friends, and then he would always say, you got to listen to Eric's story.

    Say, Eric, tell your story. I said, what story? story is always there to talk about. Then he did that a few times. The first few time I refused to tell the story, I said, there's nothing to this. I, I leave this style of life. There's nothing to read, right? Well, it is not interesting to me. I don't think people are interested.

    Then finally one time I sit there and I feel people are generally interested. They're also intrigue. Then I incorporate that into my speeches in, I think 2015. Yeah.

    Ling Yah: You even brought a knife for one of your presentations.

    Eric Sim: Yes. Singapore Association in Hong Kong say that Eric do talk around Hawker.

    So I say, okay.

    What we can learn from Hawkers for our career.

    Ling Yah: Can you share a bit? Do you remember what you said in that presentation?

    Eric Sim: Yeah. So I say number one is productivity. Hawker, right? The Hawker stall where the knife is, where the cleaning cloth is, has got a fixed position, that means when you close your eyes, your hand can still reach the cutleries, the chopping board.

    And then for me, that's how I set up my working desk in the office as well. When I close my eyes, I can reach out to my stapler. So that means you don't need to think. The universe must be super efficient and productive because the margin is low. If you work too slow, you're not gonna make a living.

    So that is one. And you see hawkers, they wear almost the same thing to work. My father wore a white t-shirt for 30 years. Same brand, and he will buy like half a dozen of those. So I say, okay, maybe I can learn from him and also some customer service. Yeah, to treat customer well.

    There was once I decided to cook for myself. I first helped my father at around, you know age of 10 to 12, I was just cleaning the tables, then slowly progressing to cut the ingredients, slicing the prawns and chili. Then finally I can cook for myself. So cooking for myself, I need to go into the cooking station.

    But at the time, I was also washing the bowls. So the way when we wash our bowls is not under running tap. We have a three pail system. The first pail is with the soap solution. That's where we soaked the dirty bowls. Second pail of water is clean water. The third pail is clean water.

    So after washing, we'll use a sponge, clean the top and the bottom of the bowl, and then take the whole chunk and dunk it into the second pail. Then the third pail. This is how we wash.

    It's clean, but after you wash 30 to 40 bowls, the second pail of water start turning milky. And so you're not so confident of your own washing.

    So when I was cooking for myself, I turn around, there was a washing tap at the cooking station. I turn around and washed the bowl again. Because sometimes you go to restaurant, do you ever find a small little bit of noodle on the clean bowl that they serve you? Yeah. So I didn't want that.

    My father caught me washing and he told me sternly but softly. He said, don't ever do that.

    It's very ugly if the customer sees it. If the bowl is clean enough for the customers, is clean enough for you. So either I wash the bowl very thoroughly until I have confidence, or I just accept what it is I need to treat the customer and myself the same.

    So when I went to banking, whatever products I sell, I make sure it is the product that I will buy if I were in the same situation as the customer.

    Ling Yah: Speaking of Hawker live, running Hawker store reminds me of, and you've mentioned him before, Hawker Chan, who I actually also interviewed on this podcast as well. But you obviously will have far greater understanding what it was like for him to get to that point. Were you surprised when you first heard that he won the Michelin Star?

    Did you think that was ever possible? And what was that just meeting him?

    Eric Sim: No, no. I mean, I never heard of him before because I was in Hong Kong when he was given that award. So when I heard he got an award, I flew back from Hong Kong to Singapore to go and see him and try to interview him. I went there during lunchtime thinking I can have lunch, but the queue was super long and I see hawker Chan is not very tall.

    Maybe like 1.55. Yeah. He was taking order, I say a Michelin chef chopping chicken away and taking order. How can it be? Because the Michelin chef that we thought of the one just supervising, right? So I said, can I come and interview you? He said, you wait, wait, wait. So I waited for about three hours until like three, four o'clock.

    When he finally sold out. Then he took a break, then I interview him. So I say, Hey, you wear a uniform. You're just selling your soy sauce, chicken noodle for $2 50 cents Singapore dollars. And you put on a uniform. You say, yes, he has six of this uniform and one of his uniform has a logo on it. His shop logo.

    He said that one is a special occasion and it was also the one he wore to collect the Michelin star in Sentosa.

    Ling Yah: He told me at the time, he had no idea what the Michelin was and why everyone made a big deal.

    Eric Sim: Yeah. And he took MRT to go to that Michelin event. And I think he was happy, but I think he still continue to sell at the same price.

    He said that that's about the price for the Chinatown market. So I thought he has good integrity. He didn't took advantage of that to raise price. He continued to work hard and he worked, I think a hundred hours a week.

    He got a rest day, but on the rest day he's not resting. The shop is closed, but he's there preparing the week long of saucers and ingredient and he starts very early to come and make the chicken early in the morning.

    Ling Yah: Yeah. What was most touching for me was just saying that without his wife, who also works with him, there will be no Hawker Chan.

    Eric Sim: Yeah. You know, you usually need a partner. One person cannot do a job. Yeah. Like for me, I fortunate to have people around me to help me do my LinkedIn live, to shoot video.

    You know, I got teaching assistant and with book, right. I got co-author. So usually you need one partner or two to help you.

    Ling Yah: So just before we go to all the exciting stuff, let's touch on the fact that, well, at UBS you actually became the MD. And you said that MD positions are generally not advertised.

    Mm-hmm. So how did you come to be aware of it and what was the process like? You said nine rounds of interviews, which is pretty intense.

    Eric Sim: Yeah. So Paul, my colleague from Citi joined UBS. Then he called me. So I went for nine rounds. It's MD position so many departments have to interview you because I'll be working with various department and if one person say no, then they cannot hire you.

    I was also very lucky because one of the big bosses in UBS I also know him through Citi. So he also joined. So he put in a good word for me. They also check around your market, your reputation, because banking is quite a small circle of people at that level.

    So I guess when they check around, my reputation is not bad and they decided to hire me.

    Ling Yah: What does it mean to be the MD of UBS?

    Eric Sim: It's just a nice title, you know.

    For me when I was there, it's nothing I still have to put in the hours, the work. Just that we get to fly business class and I get to stay at five Star hotel, but sometimes, you know, I reach the hotel at 11:00 PM.

    And because I reach late, I don't know they run out of room, so they'll give me a two room, suite. Two bedroom with a kitchen. I only sleep one side of the bed for seven hours next day, 7:00 AM I'm already checked out to have a breakfast meeting. So sometimes they're given all these luxury things, you may not have the time or the mood to enjoy.

    Ling Yah: Would you consider yourself to have been a successful MD?

    Eric Sim: I think so. Brought in enough deals and also I train a lot of young people. Whether I'm successful or not, I test it based on how people treat me after I leave. I still got a lot of juniors still coming to me.

    I left five years ago, so yeah, people still coming to me, so I'm very grateful .That means I must have done something right for people to want to be seen with me, stick around with me doing podcasts, doing Linkedln live with me. And whenever I teach in the university, they volunteer their time.

    Ling Yah: And that was the end of episode 112 part one. The show notes and transcript can be founded at

    If you haven't done already, please do leave a review for this podcast. It really helps this podcast to grow and reach other people and also makes me feel.

    Less of a crazy person talking to the wall.

    And please do stick around. Check back this Wednesday because part two with Eric Sim will be released. And we start off by learning why Eric decided when he was doing so well as managing director at UBS, that he was going to leave his job. His thoughts on how he built his 2.5 million followers on LinkedIn, the opportunities that has brought.

    The importance of having a second career, personal branding, writing a book, and the difference between publishing and marketing in both English and specifically in China. Also, we will have a special bonus episode where all the questions that you asked for us, questions from the audience will also be released.

    So do stick around because it will be great, and I'll see you this Wednesday.

    Eric Sim Managing Director UBS Investment Banker, son of Singapore prawn noodle shop

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