Alumni Interview: Ms Grace Ban

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Grace Ban

About Ms Ban:

The bulk of my working career was in spent in retail and marketing. I spent 2 years in Metro in public relations cum marketing and 35 years in various positions in the American multi-national company Estee Lauder Companies – 20 years running brands like Estee Lauder, Clinique, Aramis & Designer Fragrances, Bobbi Brown, La Mer among others, and then as Managing Director for 15 years running the Singapore operations covering areas of sales & marketing, communications, finance, human resources (talent management & development) and supply chain. My first job was marketing in an engineering company selling cold room services and refrigeration equipment.

I spent my pre-university years in ACS Barker Road 1973-1974. These were the days before ACJC. I was in the arts stream.

What’s been keeping you busy lately?

Since I retired a year ago, I have been spending time with family and friends and God. I have done some consulting and mentoring my university alumni as well as advising friends and past business acquaintances. The past year has been very busy as 3 of our children went to university and our daughter got married. My husband and I managed trips to Melbourne, London & Paris and a 25-day cruise and tour to the Caribbean and Brazil.

Personal/ career choice

What led you to choose the beauty industry?

I graduated from National University in Business Administration and whilst many of my classmates chose banking and finance, I interviewed for marketing roles. I always had a penchant for fashion, beauty and brands so that’s where I headed.

Tell us about your time in work. How does what you do now compare to what you did when you first started working?

When I first started work, I wanted to get my hands dirty to understand the environment and work processes. No task was too menial to do and the more the merrier. It was very operational. Building your people network was important.

As one matures in your career and gains more experience and wisdom, the role morphs into visioning and strategy and inspiring people and developing talent. By ourselves, we cannot do much but by creating dynamic teams, much can be accomplished.

Not many ACSians, at eighteen, have in mind a definite career path they would like to pursue. How set were you on your career when you were still in ACS?

That’s very true. In our days, there wasn’t any form of career counselling and not many opportunities for job attachments. Unlike some friends who were sure of what they wanted to be, I had no idea what I wanted by way of a career. However, I always had an interest in fashion and beauty from a very young age.

If you hadn’t pursued your current choice of career, what would you have pursued instead?

Probably still in management and leadership but in the service industry like travel or education…

Challenges

What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced in your line of work?

You need to be well-rounded in your skill set and be able to adapt as the retail industry evolves quickly. For example, digital marketing in the last 10 years has changed the way we sell to customers. Today customers choose brands, not the other way round. Finding, engaging and keeping consumers to brands has become the new paradigm. Anticipating and meeting consumer needs is very dynamic. It’s also a people industry and inspiring people to do their best work has always given me great deal of satisfaction.

What advice do you have with regard to keeping yourself sufficiently motivated when you work?

I’m a perfectionist and I like to raise the bar for the team very high. When we devise how to reach that, we reinvent ourselves to be ready for the next new challenge.

Be involved and contribute back to your industry. I would volunteer to sit on Spring Singapore and WDA project councils, allowing me to learn from other peers and get insights into other industries as well.

 What are some of the challenges facing young people in your line of work? What advice would you give them?

Some of us don’t dream big enough. Identify your own vision and purpose, find the ways to accomplish them and take your teams along with you.

ACSians in the workplace

 Are there many ACSians in your area of work? Are there any distinctive qualities that may be observed of ACSians in said area of work?

We don’t ask about our academic credentials, as we would rather focus on other qualities like talent, energy or ideas. Having said that, Tang Wee Sung of Tangs is an ACSian and he is an icon in the Singapore retail industry.

How has an ACS education prepared you for your career in the beauty industry?

An ACS education builds your character and confidence. That prepares you to take on the world. I have many classmates whom are still friends and I count them as valuable support group even until today.

Do you have any advice for ACSians who would like to pursue a career in the beauty industry, or in public relations?

After the initial glitz of the beauty industry, it’s your brains and hard work that is going to make you successful. You may need to stand out of the crowd with a USP (unique selling point) to get noticed initially, but after that, it’s your skill set that will pull you through. Like many other industries, the beauty business requires strategic thinking, operational skills, financial acumen and analytical know-how first to diagnose the retail landscape, competitive forces and identify opportunities even before any creative juices start flowing.

If you are passionate and hard-working doing what you love, the money will come. Not sure where your talent lies? Speak to your parents, relatives, close friends and even teachers/ coaches who can tell you what they observe you to be good at. I recall my friend who said ‘Grace was always reading fashion magazines in the library” I didn’t even remember l I did that. Getting part-time work in a brand or company you admire during school holidays is the perfect segue into a career in marketing or sales.

Time in ACS

What did you remember best of your days in ACS?     

I had chosen to do my A-Levels in a co-ed school. Prior to that I studied in Raffles Girls Secondary School. In my class of 40, there were 8 girls so that alone was a big change for me. The boys were a playful and noisy bunch and you learn to fight back or use your feminine charms (hahha). Being in a Methodist school and attending chapel was a new experience as well.

Do you have a favourite memory of your time in ACS?

Swimming lessons, which we thoroughly disliked. So we made every clever excuse to escape it. Class parties were fun.

Colourful students – I recall vividly a fellow student who walked into the exam hall and when he sat down, immediately asked the examiner what was the earliest time he could leave the hall. The teacher scolded him and asked him why he bothered to even turn up. Today, this student is a high achiever so he must have really bucked up!

What was the one most important lesson you learnt from your time in school?

To make friends – many of them will be friends for life. To support them in their time of need. A class mate contracted cancer and passed away. Our cohort made a collection to support his wife and children – that manifests the ACSian spirit of compassion and caring

To value your teachers – they recognise and help shape your interests and views.

If you could change one thing about your time in ACS, what would it be?

I enjoyed every moment of my time there.

Defining ACS

What makes an ACSian?

I find it hard to define but the values, behaviours and spirit are shaped in the classroom and halls of the school and they carry on into your adult life.

What does ACS stand for, to you?

It was the high point if my school days not so much in terms of academics but in the social skills in life. And also for cementing God-fearing values that will shape your choices and decision making in career and life.   

Personal

What’s your personal motto?

To deliver on my word.

What qualities do you most admire in others?

Integrity, compassion, resourcefulness, generosity and being God-centred

What do you appreciate most in friends?

That they are, and will be, there for you in all circumstances

What would you consider your greatest achievement?

To have taught my children life skills including the love of the Lord.

Future

What direction do you think ACS should take, moving forward?

I am in awe of the ACS brand and suite of schools and its vision and purpose of building exceptional men and women of character so I would say keep moving up and on.

If you could give your eighteen-year old self one piece of advice, what would it be?

Believe in yourself, seek guidance and counsel, be humble, be compassionate & loving to those around you.

Is there anything else you would like to say to present-day ACSians?

To be proud to be an ACSian requires you to uphold the values of ACS and do your part in contributing to your school, your industry of choice, your church and society.

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