Mr Ng Yi-Xian, Group CEO and Executive Director of EtonHouse International Education Group, wants EtonHouse to nurture students who can achieve success anywhere in the world. He took a leap of faith when he left his successful financial career in the US to join the family business, but testifies that embracing change comes with priceless insights. Yi-Xian shares his story of turning obstacles into stepping stones, and the vision for the future of EtonHouse as the community leads the way to realise these aspirations.
“Mom is a very strong person,” Ng Yi-Xian describes Mrs Ng, Founder, Chairwoman and Group Managing Director of EtonHouse. “So when I came back to Singapore and saw her not looking too good, it was quite a jarring sight to see her in a vulnerable state for the first time.”
In his late 20s at that time, Yi-Xian had reached the incline of his career as a hedge fund analyst in Boston. His mother’s health scare did not carry long-term consequences, but made Yi-Xian think deep and hard about the future of EtonHouse and contemplate moving back to spend more time with his family. After Yi-Xian made up his mind, he called his mother to tell her that he wished to return to Singapore to help the family business.
“Uncertainty and fear are completely natural and normal when taking on new experiences and challenges. It's also natural for the mind to descend into what you could say is a ‘negativity cycle’. I think we all know what this is and what it feels like,” shares the avid outdoorsman, who credits his family and friends for showering him with love and support in good times and bad. “I still remember being an 18-year-old recruit in Basic Military Training (BMT) and wondering to myself midway during my 10 weeks of BMT, ‘how on earth am I going to finish this?’ I remember realising then that many men had come before me through this exact spot, so surely this couldn’t be too hard. As I moved on to more adventurous sports, I often remind myself of this. It really is more in your head than anything else.”
“I had worked as a teaching assistant after my National Service and enjoyed the experience. However, working in EtonHouse was entirely different and surprised me with many new insights and experiences,” he discloses. “I came in the door with an openness to learn. I was constantly asking the various heads and principals many basic questions and asking them to recommend books that I should read,” he shares. “This openness helped me adopt the strengths of my EtonHouse colleagues, such as their ability to make decisions with their hearts rather than only with their heads. I was amazed by my co-workers, who spend so much time building relationships and who showed me the value of forming meaningful connections. My mother, for example, would remind me to say hello to everyone, including the kitchen staff, because each relationship is important and unique.”
In time, he became a firm believer in the EtonHouse philosophy of fostering a strong sense of community, where parents play a huge part in celebrating each child’s success. “A mom started tearing up once when she recounted how teachers in EtonHouse knew every child’s name, including hers and her child’s, even though they’d just joined our school. Her child was quiet and had come from a mega school where he was not recognised. She was very grateful for teachers who knew her child well and could have a conversation with her about her child,” he recounts. Yi-Xian has come to realise the importance of having supportive people around you, adding, “my peers can give me a different perspective of whatever is troubling me. It brings to mind how the Buddha spoke of the importance of ‘noble friends and noble conversations’. Change does come from within, but having these friends helps create the conditions for it. Such things, money can't buy.”
Yi-Xian came to discover the EtonHouse open-ended way of allowing children and teachers the time and space to grow. “I learned not to micro-manage people and to guide them instead of telling them what to do.” Transitioning from a work environment that encouraged him to look at the world through the lens of a financial investor to an environment that creates magic every day, Yi-Xian recounts one particular incident that left an indelible impression on him: “I remember meeting a young French boy who presented his project about caves and caverns to me, not knowing that I’m a certified cave diver. He discussed at length about his passion for caves, and I was very impressed. Afterwards, his principal, Ms Atima, told me that the boy didn’t speak English prior to joining our school six months before, and it was the first time he had made a presentation to anyone!” What is magic to Yi-Xian? When an unexpected incident or realisation like this changes his outlook and blows his mind. “An organisation can try its best to deliberately create the conditions to foster ‘magic’. It can find these ‘magicians’ and help create physical and mental space for them, yet it can't force magic. You can create the right conditions for a plant to grow, but the growth happens on its own, albeit curated by the gardener!”
Yi-Xian has also learned not to always go with easy and straightforward choices. “My mother prioritises creative layouts over quick solutions. She once commented about a new school building, ‘this school has no heart’, even though we were operating on a very tight timeline. She had the foresight to knock down walls and create a ‘heart’ between classrooms—a common space that students could claim ownership of and where they could celebrate their accomplishments.”
As a young parent with three children, Yi-Xian treasures his newfound closeness with his parents. He divulges that he’s learned to “enjoy the dance of life”. “Sometimes your dance partner is good, sometimes your partner is bad. Sometimes your partner steps on your feet, sometimes you have no partner. When it’s raining, you can still dance in the rain. Children do that very naturally; they know how to live in the present.”
Yi-Xian reveals that he would like to establish EtonHouse as a world-class education group, which develops young people who are able to achieve success anywhere in the world. “Our ecosystem is international, and we nurture a global outlook in our students, regardless of whether the topic is conservation or cave diving,” elaborates Yi-Xian, who is wholly dedicated to EtonHouse’s expansion from a pre-school to providing a complete educational pathway from pre-school to high school.
“I haven’t set any expectations, but I would like to bump into an alumnus in the future, who will credit EtonHouse for moulding him or her. That’s all I’m asking for.”
This article was first published in 25 Tales, the Story of EtonHouse.