Irene Ang is perhaps every Singaporean’s favourite local comedienne, or at least someone most of us would have heard of. Any millennial who grew up in Singapore will likely identify her as Rosie Phua from Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd – the on-screen wife Gurmit Singh’s PCK.
But now, many see her as an entrepreneur and CEO of FLY Entertainment, and a role model to look up to. From her modest CEO salary, to her love for hosting events and giving motivational talks, we can sometimes still see her on Singapore television, but as well as in film-making as a co-producer for local film My Love Sinema.
A few months back she was interviewed on 93.8LIVE, where she shared her life stories, regrets, and aspirations – a no-holds-barred exposé of her life.
Here are some lessons we took from it.
1. No Need For A Degree To Run A Successful Business
You may have read about her life story, or even heard about it from her talks. Her childhood was anything but smooth. Her parents split when she was still studying; her mother a drug addict, her father a gambler. She also had to cope with several bouts of depression during her formative years, and even attempted to commit suicide several times.
Although she attended Junior College, she had to drop out of A’ Levels as she couldn’t afford the exam fees. Instead she began working right after graduation as an insurance agent, before having her first taste of the entertainment industry as a stuntwoman on Channel 8.
Admittedly, she wasn’t that interested in acting even after landing lead roles, but what she was passionate about was the industry, and wanted to change the state of it for the better.
That was when FLY Entertainment came in and from there, she created a network for local talent to be properly managed and negotiation of fair contracts.
When she started out, she had no formal business training, only bits of knowledge she had picked up while working at American Express.
Since 1999, the agency has grown to encompass several business units and subsidiaries – mostly created out of a need or crisis to address industrial needs. One example is FLY Academy, aimed to discover new local talent.
2. What You Are Good At May Not Be Your Future Career
Irene was actually a well-rounded sportswoman in the past.
In secondary school she was a medal-winning swimmer, but stopped short of going into it more seriously. Unlike her peers, her family couldn’t afford trainings at country clubs. They weren’t able to give her necessary moral support as well – something she shares as being very important.
When she started working, she was introduced to fencing by a friend as a means to keep fit.
She was so good at it that she even went to the SEA Games, won a medal, and was scouted for a scholarship in France. However, she turned the offer down to stay with her aging grandmother.
3. There Is Always A Solution To Every Problem
As someone who was suicidal at a young age thinking that problems couldn’t be solved, she has grown into an entrepreneur with the belief that every problem has its solutions.
She explains that we shouldn’t worry about our ego or being laughed at when in need of help. Many who are in dire situations tend not to ask for help for those specific reasons, on top of not having anyone to trust.
She further explains that she had a friend who was saddled with debts thanks to an ex-boyfriend.
The friend then made a deal with the credit card company and managed to pay it off after 5 years. That was when Irene learned that there are always solutions , even if they might seem unreasonable.
At the end of the day, we should talk to people capable of helping us, because our pride certainly isn’t going to.
4. Support The Local Talent
One of the reasons Irene established FLY Entertainment was to help local talents receive the recognition and the support that they deserve.
With even veterans being grossly underpaid in the local entertainment industry, she hopes to change clients’ mindset, and so far it’s working well, although there’s still more work to do.
Financial backing for post-production of films is one area she feels needs help, as this is where Singapore is lacking. Irene expresses that even “all the Singapore movies put together cannot even be compared to one Hollywood movie”.
Local films too should be given more exposure by cinema operators according to Irene. She even made it a point to expand the exposure of local productions to the younger generation by showing students more local shows instead of Hollywood films.
Above all, she believes that even a Singaporean can potentially win an Oscar, and would like to see that happen at least once in her lifetime.
5. Forgiving Others
As stated earlier, Irene’s parents haven’t always been around for her. After the divorce, her father left the family and her drug-addled mother went in and out of prison.
Irene and her brother were mainly raised by her grandmother whom she cares greatly about. Being with her grandmother, Irene was also influenced by how forgiving she was.
Ever since she started her own company, she has done a fair bit of reflection on herself and her family.
If she didn’t forgive them, she may regret it for the rest of her life, especially when they are not around anymore.
Now, her parents are both her employees. Her father is a driver, while her mother is a cook, and through Irene’s support and counsel, they have managed to hold down these jobs longer than any of their previous ones.
Life Is Ultimately About Decisions
While Irene has regrets in her earlier days, like not pursuing sports or passing her A Levels, for her, life is ultimately about decisions.
“I decided to go with the unsafe. I decided to have an adventure because the first time, I decided to be safe, so the second time, you know what? With the S$2,000 I put into this company, I have nothing left. So let’s just take flight and see where the flight takes us.”
Feature image credit: hnworth.com