For these dashing honchos, style is going against the grain, and not with a little chutzpah.
TEXT CHARMAINE CHAN & CHARMIAN LEONG PHOTOGRAPHY TAN WEI TE & ZAPHS ZHANG ART DIRECTION FAZLIE HASHIM
WHAT SOCRATES SAID
ADRIAN TAN, 61, FOUNDER, AD PLANET
He’s the founder of Ad Planet, Singapore’s largest independent advertising group. Affable and ever stylish, he still shows the ﬁ re that made him a trailblazer when he ﬁrst set up his own advertising agency during a period dominated by international names. “Thirty years ago, there was a big bias against local talents,” Adrian Tan reminisces. “My crusade was to change that. I’m happy to note that many local talents have gone on to win the equivalent of the Oscars for advertising awards.”
What he doesn’t add is that no fewer than 400 of those creative awards, including honours at the prestigious Clio Awards and Cannes Lions, have been won by agencies in the group, Kinetic Design and Advertising and Germs. “I am very much for the underdog,” he says with a grin. “I have always had a lot of rebellious energy inside me, to constantly test limits and break the rules. My cause has always been to prove the impossible, to prove naysayers wrong.”
I try my best not to be fashionable. I think fashion is for the crowd and I have always gone against the crowd. Advertising is about creativity and originality, so if the shop assistant tells me something is “this season”, I won’t buy it.
My fashion icon is Socrates. He’s the one who propounded the saying “Know thyself”. You can’t wear anything without knowing who you are and who you want to be.
Having a ﬁt and toned body is important. That’s because you will wear clothes so much better. I have given up the challenge of trying to get a six-pack and am just trying to avoid the paunch. So, in one week, I hit the gym four times, play 18 holes of golf three times and walk my dog 12km. I used to be a competitive tennis player but my knee has given out.
I really like the style of the Japanese. That’s because they have this quirkiness. I like Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garcons. I also like Prada, Gucci and Etro.
I am very tactile. Fabric is important to me and it limits the kind of clothes I buy. I like the look of linen but it’s too rough so it’s a no go. That’s also why I cut the labels off all my clothes – they poke into me! Super ﬁne cotton is my favourite and my work pants are all tailored out of silk wool with a thread count of Super 150.
I don’t wear watches. I don’t like anything on my skin and things like rings interfere with my golf, so I wear my wedding ring on a chain around my neck, with a pendant made up of the letters A and T, which my wife gave me more than 35 years ago.
I have always been careful about how I present myself. I can’t recall many fashion faux pas, except perhaps when I was the guest of honour at a polytechnic graduation ceremony. I think I was wearing a suit that was a little too oversized. But it was during a period when everything was baggy!
I realise the strategy of making an impression. This is related to when I go for pitches. I have gone to meetings in red or pink jeans with a jacket. I also have a pink Paul Smith jacket, which has become a favourite because it always seems to win me the account. I also sometimes go for formal meetings dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. As an ad man, I think I have the creative licence to be different, to be a bit of a fashion rebel.
My style today. My style is about being understated and focused on the classics because money is precious. What I buy, I wear all the time, so the utility value is very high.
My management style is very ﬂat. I don’t see myself as a boss. When I was ﬁrst put in charge of a company, I was embarrassed to be the MD or the CEO, so I would leave out the title on the business card. Until someone said I had to include one, so now the title has morphed into “towkay”.
Tan is drawn to Japanese design because of its quirkiness. He’s pictured here in his own clothes. Suit from Issey Miyake, shirt from Aganovich and shoes from Jil Sanders.
CORPORATE STYLE, PERSONALISED
MARCUS CHEW, 43, CHIEF MARKETING OFFICER, NTUC INCOME
As a marketer who has worked for Adidas for over ﬁve years, Marcus Chew’s passion for slick sneakers seems almost inevitable. But even after his move to the decidedly less ﬂashy world of insurance as chief marketing officer of NTUC Income, Chew is still bringing a little sartorial ﬂair to the workplace. That Paul Smith-clad swagger is backed by a hands-on leadership style and fearlessness in the face of risk.
I have more than a hundred pairs of sneakers. That’s far more shoes than my wife has. I own many from Adidas, Nike and Asics but it’s the collaborations that I really love, because they’re all about the details. Examples include the Nike x Acronym with the latter’s signature large zippers, and Adidas Originals by Alexander Wang and Virgil Abloh from Off -white. I do most of my shopping online and I keep up with sneaker news by subscribing to blogs and websites, but I have to be more selective now, because I’m running out of room.
Wardrobe essentials are a nicely cut jacket and a pocket square to keep it interesting. When I was in London, I saw all these window displays showing off suits from Hugo Boss, Zegna and Dior but they all looked the same. So what you can do to make the look your own is to throw in a pocket square or a lapel pin and just play around with the outﬁt. It’s important to have fun with your shoes, too, but get tapered pants if you’re going to show them off.
Don’t stick to what you’re comfortable with. Try different things, see what happens and don’t worry about what people say. The perfect ﬁt doesn’t even matter that much anymore since oversized items can look stylish these days. But I think the best trick is to get a really good pair of sneakers. Your outﬁt may be drab but, as long as your sneakers pop, you’re fashionable.
Judging people based on what they wear is a bit harsh. But I think people who bother to dress well show that they care about the little things. If you can’t even be bothered to look presentable, then what do you care about?
Youth development is a cause that’s close to my heart. My family wasn’t poor, but I’ve had friends who didn’t have enough money to go to school. I once borrowed $500 from my father and combined it with my own savings of $500 to lend to a friend so he could pay his school fees. At that moment, I thought: “This isn’t something that should be happening. Education should be a basic necessity.” So I started the Future Development Programme at NTUC Income, and it supports tertiary students from the lowest income households in Singapore. So far we have spent about $2.5 million on over 1,000 beneﬁ ciaries.
Running relaxes me. I’m working towards being a Six Star Finisher for the World Marathon Majors and I just have New York and Boston left. It’s true what they say: you learn about life from running a marathon. I’ve run 11 of them; each one taught me something different. The most important lesson is that everything will pass. I was at the 17km mark in a Tokyo marathon when I thought I couldn’t go on anymore, but I told myself it’s okay to run slower and, after another kilometre, I felt better and wound up hitting my personal best. So don’t give up when you’re down, because it always gets better.
WRAPPED UP IN DETAILS
DAVID LEONG, 48, CEO, STRAITS TRADES INCORPORATED
David Leong wears many, many hats. Given his snazzy sense of style, we could have meant that literally but the founder of People Worldwide Consulting is also a man with experience in incredibly diverse ﬁelds of business. He’s set up employment agency Manpower Corp International, launched a portal and mobile application known as mKU that lets professionals share business and career opportunities, partnered the Ministry of Manpower on another app providing mobile solutions to foreign workers in Singapore, and is currently busying himself with Straits Trades Incorporated, a consulting ﬁrm that focuses on acquisition, merger and investment solutions. And all while looking sharp, to boot.
I have a rebellious predisposition. This is in relation to fashion and its repetitive cycles, because I dislike groupthink. Instead, I’m fascinated with tailoring. I like experimenting with different collars – from classic to British and Italian spread – button thickness and button hole threads. Which is why my shirts must stand out: crisp, sharp, ﬁtted and a statement on their own.
I have over a hundred cufﬂinks. I have them in various sizes. The ones I fancy most are those with inﬁnity loop or knot designs. Since I no longer wear ties, cuffl inks and belts in different permutations are what excite me before I start my day.
I don’t have a style icon. However, I’ve always been fascinated by The Godfather, so watching those suited gentlemen with their high Italian spread collars inspired me to do the same.
I am impervious to fashion seasons. Nonetheless, I do like contemplating their changes. I take what I like from each season and fuse them with my own ideas at the tailor, such as the way the peaked lapel should point, where the pockets will be and at what angle. It’s no different in business – I look at changes, take the best from each transformative phase, and keep moving.
Part of my good fortune comes from doing things most people don’t want to do, and ﬁnding the best way forward. I have businesses in human resources, IT, technology and even corporate ﬁnance and each is vastly different, but going deep and wide into each category spurs me to keep learning. I create my own space and then I thrive in it.
You’re a leader when others emulate you. Being copied is the best ﬂattery. As Lao Zi said, the best leader is one whose existence is barely known by the people he leads. True leaders will guide without force, to the extent that you think you are making your own choices; they will retire to the background once things are done.
The key to making a great ﬁrst impression? Having a glow in the eyes that give off positive energy, paired with a big, broad smile that lifts up the entire face – this is my magic combination. My smile inevitably invites other smiles and rapport with people will be made.
Anything that appeals to the senses is based on a suite of subliminal details. Whether it’s a business idea, a piece of furniture or a suit, it’s the details that make all the difference. Every stitch that pulls things together must be meticulous and dealt with care, and a good leader can stitch together shareholders, stakeholders, staff, professionals and customers into a working unit.
My biggest fashion faux pas? Probably a red pants and white shirt combination I once wore to a relative’s wedding when I was a teenager. I still get teased about it.
Leong experiments with details at the tailor to ensure his clothes stand out. The lapis lazuli bracelet (above) stand in for Buddhist prayer beads when he is stressed. Shoes from GK Mayer.