From the high seas to career heights: A life shaped by learning
Overcoming family poverty to work as a seafarer and becoming the first in his family to graduate from university, Lenz Lim’s career has been far from conventional.
Born in Singapore, Lenz says he had a “tough” life, growing up in a “very poor” family and working all of his school holidays from the age of 12.
A talented student, he completed all his secondary education, doing his ‘A’ Levels at Hwa Chong Junior College (HCJC) a top Singaporean junior college.
“But as my parents were very poor, I (then) decided to...enrol into the Maritime Academy. With eight siblings, I knew they couldn’t afford to send me to the university,” Lenz says.
“I started bringing home much-needed money when I started my internship as a cadet engineer during fourth year.”
“At age 21 I returned to Singapore to serve compulsory national service in the army for two and a half years.
“I continued sailing after finishing my army stint. I worked hard, studied hard and became a marine chief engineer at age 28.
“After achieving my professional engineering qualification, I began work as a Repairs Manager with shipboard cargo company MacGregor Group (SGP) Pte Ltd in 1993.
“But I soon decided to pursue the degree I had missed — a business degree to augment my engineering knowledge.”
The next step to corporate advancement: A business degree
A lecturer advised him that combining his skills and experience with a business degree from a well-regarded university would take him far. And Lenz has never looked back, becoming fully immersed in the International Study Program and the Gippsland campus.
“(The lecturer) had good foresight, and he was right. Monash Business School’s Bachelor Business (majoring in Management and Marketing) catapulted me toward corporate advancement. The perseverance, hard work, unwavering spousal support and juggling between study/work/family paid off,” Lenz says.
“I completed my four years of studies in 1999, and graduated in 2000. I achieved my self-actualisation and made my parents and family proud – and while pursuing my business degree, my third and fourth children were born.
“As a child from my era — and from a very poor family — being able to attain a degree was a dream come true!”
“Among those that taught me were Dr Shahid Yamin, Mr William Hoe, Madame Alicia Wong. All of them were good and dedicated teachers. It would be wonderful to see them again and express my gratitude.”
How a business degree paid off
After graduation in 2000, Lenz’s work commitments and family kept him very busy.
Armed with his Bachelor of Business, Lenz was quickly promoted to various roles within MacGregor, including the Head of Cruiseship Department, Customer Relations Manager (Asia) and Director of Business Development (and Acquisition).
In other maritime roles, he also spent seven years at sea with the Norwegian company Havtor and Danish company Maersk Line as a marine engineer.
Lenz was head-hunted in 2007 to run the local branch office of Finnish accommodation company ALMACO Group Oy.
“After much consideration, I took a dive into an area I had not entered before – running a company,” Lenz says.
“But that decision would not have been possible without my Monash Business degree. It gave me confidence. I helmed the company for ten years, with a good gross margin for the company in every annual audit,” he says.
“As an entrepreneur with a Marine Engineering qualification and Bachelor of Business (Management and Marketing), I worked in collaboration with major ship builders, both local and overseas, such as Keppel FELS in Singapore and Hyundai in South Korea, during this time.
“I have gained a lot of experience throughout my working life as a senior manager, company director, and senior advisor working with international colleagues and clients in the maritime and offshore industry.
“I also picked up knowledge and expertise in analytical skills, international business, management, human resources, accounts, team work, engineering support, procurement, securing multi-million purchase orders and dealing with the administrative and statutory side of the business.
“In this line of work I gained hands-on experience with engines, generators, boilers, mechanics, electrics, HVAC and refrigeration, piping, as well as operating workshop machinery and welding, pneumatic and control engineering.
“The life of a seafarer is rather extraordinary. It is strange and sad to think that many people do not know that such a profession exists!”
Lenz’s ultimate reward: Retirement
Lenz is now retired after a full career bolstered by his business degree — and loving every minute of it.
“I always planned to leave the commercial world before I turned 60, and dedicate my time to my passions and hobbies,” Lenz says.
“I stuck to that plan. Today I enjoy giving back to society – through alumni networks, the labour movement and church work.
“It’s a pity that I did not meet any other alumni from Monash during my working career, otherwise I believe my life would be even rosier. But I became an active member of Monash University’s Alumni community after I retired.”
“I also enjoy spending time reflecting on the years I spent at sea, the business world that my Monash degree had brought me into, leisurely travelling and seeing the world, as well as spending more time with my wife, my four children and their spouses/partners.”
Lenz’s three tips for Monash Business School students
- Get your birdcage ready. I remember this advice from one of my lecturers — if your birdcage is not ready when an opportunity comes along, the bird will fly elsewhere. By birdcage, my professor meant the business degree we were studying hard for. How right he was! Be proactive, have good foresight, and prepare so when you have won your degree, you are ready when opportunities arrive.
- When one has studied diligently and achieved good results, remember the others that sacrificed in some ways to make it happen. Especially our parents, our spouse and children. “饮水思源, yin shui si yuan, when you drink water, think of its source.” This value taught me to be grateful for what I am today. A single person will not be able to do much unless they have the support of those around them.
- When you succeed in life and grow older, remember those who helped you unconditionally, be they your alma mater, your company, your colleagues or your customers.Treasure this fundamental traditional value that one has to give back to society. Gifts, such as a degree, our intelligence, our skill, are on loan to us — not for our own consumption — so that we can help people in need