The man who brought indoor skydiving to Singapore can draw a number of parallels between the exhilarating sport and HR, which helps him manage his team.
iFly Singapore's founder and managing director, Lawrence Koh, speaks with Human Resources about his job, how he de-stresses and the hardest call he's ever had to make as a boss.
How did you get to where you are today?
Never give up! I always tell myself “hard times don’t last, but our glories will last forever”.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make as a boss?
To restructure the departments to be more effective and removing unnecessary layers of reporting lines between middle managers and very experienced senior directors. It created some tension between team members as they had to occasionally deal with conflicting instructions due to the misalignment of functional objectives and the organisation’s strategic goals.
What did you learn from that?
What I learnt from that was while there is a great value in decentralising the decision making processes, it is equally important that before policies are implemented and actions are taken by the respective functions, there must be a system in place to ensure these are aligned to the organisation’s strategic objectives.
When you’re struggling with stress, how do you unwind and re-energise yourself?
I will just get into the wind tunnel and fly! I also have two cute dogs to play with, and it is scientifically proven that man’s best friends can help humans de-stress and feel happier.
Do you think many HR leaders make it to CEO?
It’s possible. However, imperative to this progression is developing knowledge of all critical functions of the business and how they synergise with each other to serve the master objective.
HR leaders can become effective CEOs as they own the unique knowledge of talent management and are able to apply it effectively by finding the best fit and to realise the resources’ maximum potential, granted they are versed with the business management aspects.
How can HR become more strategic?
HR professionals need to be able to identify present and future business needs and align HR policies to serve these areas of interest.
Their role of institutionalising policies to support the organisation’s strategic objectives ensures companies are able to remain competitive and maintain a sustainable growth.
What’s your view of HR as a necessary business function?
People are critical to the success and management of the businesses. This is akin to team formation skydiving. The trust and bond between skydivers involved in the formation is vital to the safety of everyone involved and the success of executing the high risk maneuvers.
You can draw similarities between skydiving and HR?
The HR function is similar to the coach who selects and assembles this team. They have the responsibility to identify the right people, provide the right infrastructure and training to ensure they can serve the needs of the business.
Ultimately, they need to know how to develop their talent pool and develop them individually to be more than what they are, and finally effectively synergise these resources to create value for the organisation.
What’s the best thing about HR at iFly?
The transparency and work-life balance. I encourage and allow my instructors to go for jogs around Sentosa during work hours, as long as we have enough staff to meet with the operational demands required at that point in time.
We want to make sure everyone is fully aware of the businesses developments and performance, to not only keep them in the know, but also to give them opportunities to step-up and see where they can possibly add value beyond their existing scope of work. We have set aside budget and time for team building. Part of these activities is a quarterly “shutdown” for our operations and getting everybody down to have a meal together, like a big, extended family.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
At the risk of sounding cliché, I must say it is being able to live and enable dreams everyday at iFly Singapore. I set up the company in 2011 because I wanted to share my love for flight and indoor skydiving with Singaporeans. I am humbled to share we’ve hosted over 120,000 visitors to date.
We’ve been able to provide our employees with unprecedented opportunities to pursue a unique career in the sports and hospitality industry. For example, two of my employees have set a Guinness world record for the “Longest Indoor Freefall”. Together with a regular indoor skydiver, the three of them motivated each other to fly in our indoor skydiving wind tunnel at 193 km/hr, for 4 hours 2 minutes. That is equivalent to falling 772km from orbit.
How do you make sure you hear and understand the needs of your employees?
I have an open door policy. I want to create a close-knit family and most of my staff here have been with me from the beginning. On a quarterly basis, I do employee performance reviews, ending my sessions with: “If you could implement one thing at iFly Singapore to make things better, what would it be?”
If you want to get a job in my company, you must... be passionate, a team player, humble, willing to learn and most importantly, love to fly!