Five minutes with Wee Beng Geok

Wee Beng Geok, Advisor, Asian Business Case Centre

Who or what has been the biggest influence on your career?

My mother who was the bravest person and most astute risk-taker I’ve ever met. As a girl born in the 1920s and brought up in a traditional Asian context, she never had a career outside the home. At eleven, she began running her father’s small business after he died and my grandmother was kept busy looking after six younger siblings.

My mother was the go-to person for her extended family and friends, and had an ability to connect with people of all ages. Even in her eighties, women much younger sought her friendship and advice. Through the way she lived her life, she taught me that a career has to mean more than just work or recognition. It is also an important source of enduring friendship and community, as well as self-understanding.

You have written many successful cases, including prizewinners. If you could choose any company or organisation in the world to write a case about, which would it be, and why?

The Singapore Anti-Tuberculosis Association (SATA), which in the 1960s played an important part in the fight against tuberculosis, then endemic in Singapore. With the disease now under control here, the challenge for the non-profit organisation is to carve a new path to remain relevant. It presents interesting issues of mission/vision, organisational change and restructuring, and stakeholder management.

You believe passionately in the case method. How would you convince a sceptic of its benefits?

The case method allows us to do two things at the same time. Firstly, we see the interactions of people, events and contexts through the subjective experiences of the people involved. Secondly, we try to make sense of these interactions through the concepts and frameworks we know or have learnt. As people interested in organisations, businesses and management, we need to continually do both things, and the case method allows us to do this effectively.

You set up The Asian Business Case Centre as part of the Nanyang Business School at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University. What inspired you to achieve this, and what was the main challenge you had to overcome to succeed?

When I joined Nanyang Business School in 1999, I was asked to take on a case study project which was in a more or less moribund state. I looked around and realised that while faculty members wrote occasional cases, a greater effort was needed if the case method was to take root in the business school. To do this, we needed to promote Asian cases, be it written by our faculty or from other universities or publishers. To involve the business community and other institutions in this undertaking I set up a web portal, ASIACASE.COM, as a platform for sharing information about cases and the case method and in the longer term to build a community of case users and case writers.

The main challenge was to produce cases that are relevant, interesting, enduring and of good quality for publication. For academics, case writing is often a peripheral activity, as the priority is journal publications. Some found the creation process demanded more effort than they were prepared to put in. For participating organisations, it was the uncertainty as to the amount of effort required and the desired output (which may differ from that of the case authors). In both cases, we need to reframe the goals so they are prepared to put in the time and effort.

If you could be transported into another profession for one week, which would you choose, and why?

I would like to be a vet and work mainly with dogs and just maybe some cats. My ambition as a girl was to be a vet but at that time (1960s) I was told that Singapore was an urban society with only a few chicken and pig farms – not good indicators of a promising career. This has been proved absolutely untrue today where the waiting time for a dog or cat to consult a vet is much longer than the waiting time for humans to consult their doctors.

How do you relax?

I play non-competitive squash with my trainer; attend yoga classes; meditate; play the piano; and take walks with friends and dogs.

Do you have a favourite inspirational quotation or guiding principle?

When faced with challenges, I often think of this quote from Tenzin Palmo, a London-born nun, author, teacher and founder of the Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery in Himachal Pradesh, India:

We have the responsibility to do things not because we want to, or because they will benefit us, but because many other people don’t at this point know how to do them.

 

Wee Beng GeokWee Beng Geok was Director of the Asian Business Case Centre, Nanyang Business School, Nanyang Technical University, until the end of March this year. She will continue as Advisor to the Centre until August 2015.

ABGWee@ntu.edu.sg
 

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