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through trade career development

Ben Wong is a self-made man. More than dreaming of success, he is a doer who makes things happen. From being an English teacher, Ben now heads Global Sources Direct and Startup Launchpad, Asia’s largest hardware trade show, a platform that links startups to online and offline retailers around the world.

Lessons in sports applied to life and business

Positive, eloquent and driven, Ben said lessons from playing sports back when he was younger helped him get ahead in business, and in life. He is a visionary —but more than knowing what he wants and where he wants to be, it was open communication, a great sense of teamwork and determination to achieve his goals that pushed him to always strive to be better.

“I grew up around sports, I did wrestling, football, basketball, baseball and I think that helped me build my character, the character of being able to work in a team and understand that everyone has a role.”

But everything worthwhile also takes time, and more often than not, there will be pivots, and more valleys than peaks along the way. However, Ben emphasized that teamwork in business, more like in sports, means sticking together despite tough times and setbacks that are inevitable.

“When everyone’s in sync, you’d be unstoppable.”

Open communication

Ben, a Hinrich Global Trade Leader MBA scholar at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, started as a copywriter for Global Sources and worked his way up to special projects manager and executive assistant (EA) to the then owner of Global Sources, Merle A. Hinrich. He almost quit two years into the job, but open communication with his superiors propelled his growth in the company. In 2017, Ben is already on his ninth year with Global Sources.

Ben receives recognition for his high productivity in 2009 while working as a print copywriter for Global Sources.

“What helped me was that I communicated to my manager all the time on what I require to be better at my job; whereas, I think, my colleagues at that time were more quiet and depended on their manager to teach them what is required for them to do their jobs well.

“Through that whole process, I learned that in every step of the way, constant communication is important to make sure that your manager knows where you’re at and what your deficiencies are and how it can be solved with your manager’s help.”

Ben said Global Sources has always been supportive of his career because —aside from a two-way communication— he would always ask what more he can do for the company.

“A lot of people complain about their companies, saying my company doesn’t do this for me, my company doesn’t help me succeed; but I strongly believe that your faith in a company belongs to yourself. You really need to communicate to your managers, to the company, what you need to be successful and to help them know. If the company realizes that you are growing as a business professional and you want to do that by helping the company, they would always be supportive, but if it’s just about helping yourself, then that’s a big question mark.”

By supporting the growth of its employees, Ben said companies can count on employees being loyal and caring to grow the business further in return.

“It is super, super important for every company to look at how to grow their employees, train them and provide them enough resources for them to be better, but it is the employees’ job to communicate what they need. When both communicate really well, you get a lot of good people that come out to help the company because, in the end, the employee will feel that they’re really part of a business family as they feel that they’re able to grow and contribute to the growth of the company.”

Know your strengths and weaknesses, take risks

Having a mentor also helped Ben big time in handling difficult situations and people faster and in constantly improving himself through constructive feedback.

“Mentors are always good because these guys bring a load of experience whether it’s on dealing with people, dealing with a situation that they’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of time. Additionally, they too have gone through a test of what worked and what didn’t work … so learn and leverage from your mentors as much as you can.”

For people starting their trade careers and future Hinrich Global Trade Leaders, Ben noted the importance of setting goals, knowing your strengths and weaknesses, believing in your abilities and the value that you can add to your workplace.

“You really need to have a good understanding of who you are as a person. Are you the type that wants to be a CEO of a large company, or are you content with just doing something that has a lot of value to you? You need to define that first.

Second, when you start becoming a business professional, you need to know and be aware of the people around you. If you’re a positive person, people around you will also remain positive; but if you go in there and you’re very negative, people around you will not be willing to help you.

Third, never, never, never be content and comfortable. I think contentment or being comfortable is super dangerous, because that’s when you kind of give up.”

The key to persevering through hard times, he said, is also to remain optimistic. Bad things happen all the time, but it is up to the individual to choose to bounce back, or stay down and allow difficulties to take him down.

To the younger Ben, and the younger generation, he would advise to not be afraid to take more risks. “Take risks, keep going, try to execute, and be okay with failure.”

Entrepreneurial beginnings

Being the head of Global Sources Direct, responsible for developing cross-border O2O distribution channels for emerging brands and startups from the Asia Pacific region and Startup Launchpad, Ben helps hardware startups find distribution channels offline through B2B tradeshows and tech conferences, showcasing at least 300 startups to more than 63,000 global buyers from 149 countries.

However, everything did not come easy.

Ben took a risk to come to China fresh out of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Business and Management, to try his luck in a place where he believed opportunities are and will be.

“After I graduated, I took a small risk and went to China. The only way for a recent graduate to get a job there was to be an English teacher, so I took that job and about four or five months later, I found a job with Global Sources. That’s when I really started my career.”

While teaching English, Ben started his own businesses. He opened a firm for custom-tailored websites and a copywriting company for China manufacturers. Both companies had to close down eventually.

“That was when I decided, hey, it was good to have this good entrepreneurial spirit but I really need a lot more experience. That’s when I decided to go back to the corporate [world].”

Ben has always been entrepreneurial, and it runs in the blood. Raised in New Jersey, US, and originally from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, he recalled how at an early age, Ben and his siblings were taught to be responsible for making things happen for themselves. As a child, he already had a self-made mentality.

“I was always entrepreneurial, and my parents were also quite entrepreneurial. They opened their own Chinese restaurant in the US.”

Ben said that he grew up with a kind of self-made mentality and not with a silver spoon in his mouth. It was more of “Hey, we have very little in our pockets and we have to make things happen.” He added that having that attitude really helped him to always strive for something better, to always strive to exceed the status quo.

Ben talks about how corporations can better help startups scale up during a panel discussion at an event in Hong Kong in 2016.

Defining success

Success for Ben is all about family and seeing his peers succeed.

“When I was young and aspiring, I would say I want to be a multimillionaire or a billionaire, or I want to run a big company. However, I started realizing that what’s most important to me is my family. And I think, being able to provide my family a comfortable lifestyle, that is success for me … It’s no longer that big company I want to run, or a multimillion-dollar business, but being able to provide well for my family … If I’m able to achieve that, then I’d say that I’m successful.”

But success does not happen overnight. Ben said people starting a career may have to give up some things while working their way up—and that is OK. It is just a “constant process of changing your priorities at different stages of your life and weighing what’s important to you at that point in your life.” A strong drive to succeed will also keep you trying until you realize your goals, he added (Starting up a career)

“I still remember having a conversation with my dad. He asked, ‘Ben, what do you want to do with yourself? ’I said, ‘Dad, I want to be able to support you guys one day.’

When I graduated, I wanted to make $70,000[a year], but then I decided to take the risk and earn $800 a month as a teacher in Shenzhen, China, and that’s when my Dad started asking me what I’m doing with my life.

He said my goal has completely shifted; he didn’t believe in me, and that’s when I told myself, ‘I’m going to prove you wrong.’ Even until today, I’m constantly trying to prove them wrong in a positive way.

That is when I think there was a big change in my perspective … that someone told me I couldn’t get things done and I took it as a challenge in a positive light and continue to make sure that that point of my life is proven wrong. Having drive is super important.”

Hinrich Foundation and pursuit of excellence

His continued pursuit of excellence and constant self-evaluation led Ben to aim higher and strengthen what he thought was his weakest point then —finance. About five years into Global Sources, he started looking for opportunities to support further studies, and that’s how the Hinrich Foundation helped changed his life forever.

“I can’t thank the Hinrich Foundation enough for helping me through that process. I was the first Chinese University MBA scholar at that time. At my MBA, I met so many people that were just like me, also striving to do great things in life. We were able to sit in one room, work together, solve problems, come up with business ideas, and travel around the world to pitch our business ideas. I went to Iceland; I went to Rio, Brazil; I went to Singapore.”

Ben’s experience while in the MBA program of the Chinese University of Hong Kong includes a visit to Sao Paulo, Brazil, to compete for the Hult Prize award in 2014.
Ben’s MBA experience also includes a visit to Iceland in 2015 when his team qualified to join The Negotiation Challenge, an international negotiation competition.

Ben recalled how meeting like-minded people during his studies became a “game-changer” for him.

“It brought back memories of me being in a sports team again. A lot of the people were coming [together] from different industries; some people were very strong in finance, some people were very strong in marketing, and some were strong in sales. By combining[us] into groups where people have different strengths, we became a very strong team.”

Pursuing a trade-related career allowed Ben to affect the lives of many people and contribute to a bigger cause of development. He said trade has a significant factor in how the world progresses because it supports the exchange not just of goods, but of knowledge and technology.

“I think without trade, the world will not be where it is today.”

Giving back

Eventually, Ben sees himself starting his own business “that actually helps people” owing to his very socially responsible nature.

“I want to help the elderly. I think that the elderly are forgotten around the world…the ones that did not have a good upbringing are forced to be on the streets… I want to find a way to help them so once I take care of my family, I want to take care of other people’s families.”

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