ESD senior Bai Xuefei followed Mr. Walter de Oude, CEO of Singapore Life, under the CEOX1Day program by Odgers Berndtson for a 1-day experience of life through a CEO’s perspective.

Walter de Oude, the founder and CEO of Singapore Life, walked into the office and gave me his warmest welcome. This very moment marked the beginning of my day shadowing him as an entrepreneur and CEO.

I came to Singapore Life’s Buona Vista office early on 7 March. I didn’t even have the time to get nervous as I was greeted by the friendliest colleagues in a very cosy environment. While waiting and sipping on a cup of coffee, I noticed more conversations were ongoing between staffs as people started coming in for work. And talking with colleagues was exactly the first thing that Walter did after he came back to the office. Walter told me his typical day usually starts with conversations to make sense of the latest work progress and to provide direction if needed. Such clear communication is vital in a startup environment to build trust amongst employees and within a team. Walter’s leadership is therefore delivered through four leadership capabilities, sensemaking, visioning, relating and inventing as introduced by Ancona[1] (2005), and at the same time, enables effective interpersonal relationships.

Next came the first few agendas of the day, an interview with Global Views Monthly, an internal management meeting and an external meeting with potential investor and business partner. I noticed that Walter can talk to different people with ease as well as making the listeners at ease to keep the conversations going. He has the ability to manage various conversations, for instance, explaining to the press with simple terms and engaging potential partners with confidence. The success that Singapore Life has achieved in such a short period of time won’t exist without Walter’s stakeholder management and interpersonal skills. In his opinion, managing people with different work style in the same team is one of the most difficult tasks that requires techniques and patience.

After three back-to-back meetings, we hopped in a taxi to attend the Independent Wealth Management forum. Walter spoke at the panel about how to sell insurance effectively to High Net Worth clients. What came after were two meetings at their WeWork office regarding branding and external collaborations. I was amazed by both the breadth of knowledge and the amount of energy he had at work. In fact, this was not even considered as a busy day since he sometimes continues to work at night. At the end of the day, Walter quickly touched base with me. He shared with me his unbridled inquisitiveness since young and how he wanted to make a difference and established Singapore Life. It is his firm belief in what he is doing that drives him to learn more and towards greater achievement.

Towards the end of the day, I asked him about what he wished he could have done back in university. As I will be graduating in August, I have been asking this question around so that I won’t leave too many regrets in university. Walter shared with me his regret about not taking enough courses outside his curriculum, and surprisingly, some dating tips. My CEO for 1 day thus ended in a warm conversation and laughter. This unique and once-in-a-lifetime experience gave me the opportunity to interact with a sincere and transformational leader and to learn from a real entrepreneur. Inspired by Walter’s great personality, broad spectrum of knowledge and passion for work, I hope I can make the most of the rest of my time in university and apply such leadership skills in an organizational context upon graduation.

[1]Ancona, D. (2005). Leadership in an Age of Uncertainty[PDF]. Cambridge: MIT Center for eBusiness.


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