Why this Alumni Couple chooses to give back

Shaun Tan MBA’98D, Head of Global Finance Shared Services at Manulife and Lim Chwee Foon MBA’98D, CEO of Ekso Bionics for Asia Pacific, offered a challenge to their alma mater this year – a personal donation of €20,000 to the Dean’s Fund if Giving Day met its goal of €1 million in gifts received. Needless to say, the school now has an additional €20,000 to further advance business as a force for good, thanks to this power duo’s generosity.

Shaun Tan MBA’98D and Lim Chwee Foon MBA’98D with their son Kyle in Rome

“No matter where we lived, INSEAD has always been an integral part of our lives”
After interviewing Shaun and Chwee Foon, one can immediately tell why they complement each other perfectly. Despite their differences – Chwee Foon an art buff comfortable with life’s ‘grey’ areas, and Shaun a results-oriented risk-taking music lover – they both share an undeniable thirst for adventure and ambition. Each described the other as being “full of life”, which is what initially brought them together while working for Arthur Andersen in Singapore at the start of their careers.

Also evident from the get-go is another shared interest – their sense of belonging to the INSEAD community and strong belief in the ethos and future of the school.

“INSEAD truly opened doors for us. It made us unafraid of venturing beyond our comfort zones to actively seek new opportunities and experiences and make the most of them,” said Shaun. 

In active pursuit of the path less travelled
Post-INSEAD, this is exactly what the couple did, spending close to a decade running global businesses in Europe before relocating to China for a front row seat to the country’s explosive transformation. Even Shaun’s basic understanding of the language wasn’t a deterrent. With the help of two tutors and immersion in the environment, he can now say that he is comfortable doing business in Mandarin. Just as tenaciously, Chwee Foon dove head first into developing the healthcare sector for The Linde Group in China – from scratch.

Together, they also ran the National Alumni Association (Shanghai Chapter) and organised INSEAD’s first Alumni Asia Forum in 2013, which saw some 320 alumni descend upon Shanghai from across the world.

The duo credit INSEAD for much of their trajectory thus far and find it especially beneficial having both attended the school’s MBA programme, as it helps them to challenge each other to go further and be in sync when it comes to business discussions. 

However, they are also quick to point out that it is not all about the “piece of paper”.

“INSEAD has enriched our lives and brought forth so many opportunities. Since graduating, we have worked and lived in various continents and cities – adapting to vastly different cultures, social norms and business practices. These experiences have broadened our horizons in every sense of the word and given us unique opportunities to learn and grow. But at the end of the day, it is not about the fancy brand name, it is about what you do with it that matters,” shared Chwee Foon.

Giving back to pay it forward
On why they chose to give back to INSEAD, the dynamic couple said that they wanted to ensure the school continues to serve as a beacon of excellence and transform lives for the better. They therefore decided that an unrestricted gift to the Dean’s Fund would be the best use of their contribution.  

“Dean Ilian Mihov used to be our macroeconomics professor during our time at INSEAD. We would call him the ‘Rockstar’ as he would turn up in his cool leather jacket,” recounts Shaun. (“You should put that in the story!” quips Chwee Foon.) “Ilian gets INSEAD, he is INSEAD, and we trust in him and the school to use the funds in the way they see fit.” 

Alumni support, they added, is particularly important for INSEAD – which does not have the advantages of a large endowment or affiliation with a state-funded university – to continue to punch above its weight in the area of quality business education. 

Another huge motivation to give was the value of the global INSEAD alumni network. “When you get an INSEAD education, you don’t just get an MBA, you get membership to a unique lifelong community. Many of our best friends and mentors are from INSEAD and they’ve very much been a big part of our lives,” said Chwee Foon. This community, Shaun adds, is “the real asset” of being a part of INSEAD. “We want these same opportunities to be available to others.”

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