Exclusive: Against the odds
Who inspires you?
There are two people who have inspired me and they are both from my previous jobs. One of them was my manager from my first corporate job at American Express, who taught me the different aspects of business such as telemarketing and sales. As I came from a difficult family background, I did not have a figure that I could rely on. Thus, she mentored me and believed in me strongly. She pushed me to expand my boundaries and reach for greater heights.
I also look up to my previous supervisor at AIA who has now become a mentor, a friend and even one of the investors at FLY. When I was working there, he made his employees a first priority. He made it a point to take us out for meals, and often wrote notes of encouragement to us. I learnt from him that in business, it is important to love your people first before results can be earned.
What is the unique culture at FLY?
We find the fun at work. We are creative, and we dare to do things that not many would do. However, we are disciplined as we deliver results and push each other like a big family. I believe that it cannot always be about work and it is essential to add a tinge of fun to our daily grind.
What is your leadership style?
Decisive and straight to the point. In terms of management, I do not tend to beat around the bush, especially when it comes to making important decisions. If I do not like something, I will point it out right away. Despite that, I do not hold grudges against anyone. When a new day arrives, we start afresh and learn from our mistakes.
On top of being the CEO of FLY, you are still pursuing acting roles and taking part in numerous events as a panel speaker. What keeps you going?
It is the people that keep me going. I like watching people grow and being a part of that growth and influencing them to be even better. I have a strong desire to make a difference in other people’s lives. Personally, I feel that I have lived the day well when I am able to make people laugh through my acting roles, and when I pass on what I have learnt to the people around me through my talks.
How do you achieve a positive work-life balance?
I try to make time for things that matter. Family is my first priority. I make sure that that I organise family dinners, take my nephews and nieces out, and have quality time with each of my family members. Sometimes, you do not have to physically be there to spend time with them. Rather, it is the things you do or the words that you say, like sharing your day with them.
Second level leaders also play a strong part in this aspect, as you can leave them to run the business. I have learnt to let go of a lot of things in terms of trusting the heads of departments to run certain business units and meeting them individually to go through the department’s progress and projects.
You founded FLY during the initial stages of your acting career. Was it difficult to break away from that limelight and be seen as a businesswoman?
When I started FLY, I had a one-track mind. Of course, there were a handful of people who tried to scare me by saying that the business would not go far. What I have learnt is to have a curious mind and not be afraid to ask when in doubt. It was tough during the early stages as I had no training to depend on and I struggled to understand financial statements and marketing structures. However, I learnt from my mistakes and am especially thankful to my older clients who were happy to guide me through that. Today, we are working towards building FLY to become more structured, without taking away our unique “fun” culture.
FLY has grown significantly since it was founded in 1999, and has now expanded to have several separate divisions and subsidiaries. How did you do it?
A lot of the business units came from a need or crisis. Our strategy was to move with the market and to constantly think ahead. Each of the various arms at FLY serves a different function. For example, FLY Academy started as we found it difficult to find new talents in the entertainment industry. The academy holds classes to train potential entertainers and from there, we pick and showcase them to artiste managers to see if they have potential. Subsequently, we found that there were several artistes who had a change in their career paths, from being a model to hosts. We then organised acting and hosting classes to cater to this group and polish their skills.
You have various background experiences ranging from being an entertainer, motivational speaker and CEO. How has this range helped to hone your leadership skills?
My mind moves at lightning speed. My experiences have helped me in a number of ways, including minute details such as thinking on my feet and coming up with solutions fast. I believe that over the years, I have proven that I am not just an actress. I am able to direct events, understand corporate structures, key performance indicators and other aspects of business just as well as other professionals in the industry.
What leadership opportunities do you offer at FLY?
I tend to push my staff to try things that I know they are capable of. At FLY, we place a strong focus on building internal talent. I often hire or promote employees to a higher position from within, as opposed to hiring someone from the external market. I believe in training an employees’ skillset and giving them the opportunity to grow.
As founder and CEO of Singapore’s first artiste management agency, FLY Entertainment, Irene Ang runs a host of subsidiary businesses.
They include professional acting and grooming school FLY Academy, Singapore-based concert organiser and promoter Running Into The Sun, as well as rooftop eatery Fry Bistro and cocktail venue Bar Naked.
At present, FLY manages a roster of more than 50 regional entertainment and creative artistes. It also provides a range of services for the regional entertainment industry.
During her role as CEO, Ang has created her own stand-up show The V Conference in 2007 and its subsequent yearly installments.
She has also been a panel speaker for a number events including the Singapore Women’s Congress and Global Speakers Summit.
Prior to this, Ang pursued and is still pursuing acting roles. She has acted in a number of TV shows such as Phua Chu Kang and Spouse for House, which were aired on Mediacorp’s Channel 5.
Strong sense of determination
It all began with two employees and a fax machine in a small space at the back of a factory.
This was when Irene Ang, CEO of FLY Entertainment founded the business in 1999.
At this period, Ang was new to the industry and was just a year into her acting career in Mediacorp Channel 5’s local sitcom Phua Chu Kang.
The idea of creating the artiste management agency was conceived during the economic crisis of the 1990s where she noticed that several production firms began to close down. Actors and actresses were then found stranded with no salaries.
Ang was determined to right those wrongs.
Of her own accord, she flew to the US and arranged meetings with casting directors and management firms. She also went door-to-door to showcase videotapes of her artistes.
As her acting career was insufficient to push the business, Ang went into events management.
FLY then saw its first major breakthroughs, which comprised of the discovery of artistes such as Chua Enlai and Allan Wu.
According to Ang, it took a good 10 years to attract veterans in the entertainment industry, including actor Adrian Pang.
Me Myself I
I like: People who are positive and courageous
I dislike: Excuses and dishonesty
My inspiration: My clients
My biggest weakness: Being too daring
In five years’ time, I’d like to: Write a book and become a full-time speaker
Favourite quote: Be the change you want to see in the world