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fab people

Andrew TanJune 22, 2006

Andrew Tan

A Dime Among Coins
I was working then for the AIM Funds Management in Toronto (2001 - 2003) as a web designer. As a mutual fund company with billions in assets in 25 countries, it flourishes as one of the last white-shoe establishments around (white guys holding top management rank). Don't get me wrong, this isn't a hit piece on racism (honestly, I don't think there was any at AIM)). Anyway, out of all the upper-management white guys in pin-stripe suits, out emerges this vice-president for Human Resources who didn't seem to belong - he's Chinese looking, wears long-sleeve shirts (instead of a suit), speaks with an accent, brings his pack lunch and eats in his office.

A Banana (white on the inside, yellow on the outside) in Wonderland
Usually, an oriental working in North America has to work twice as hard and be twice as brilliant as his white collegues to make the rank. Hmmm, there must be something about this guy. He remained a curiosity for me. What's his genius?

We Know the Color of your Underwear
There's a group within the company that conducts training seminars, workshops and employee orientations. Better than any other group, these guys talk to more department heads, vice-presidents and division heads of the company. If there's some brilliant brass walking along mahogany-paneled corridors (figure of speech) to his/her corner-office, they would know. Likewise, if there's a lemon within upper management, they'd know too. Curious, I tugged one of them, went into a tête-a-tête to loosen him up, then asked him,

"....in your opinion, who in upper management displays superior qualities that sets him apart? Someone who left a mark on you?"

One of Three
He paused, pondered on the question, and gave me three names, 2 of them I already forgot. The third name was Andrew Tan. I smiled inside. I was actually hoping for that answer. Why Andrew Tan? He said Andrew has an uncanny ability to communicate with people, he can lucidly convey an idea, is a sincere person and beyond politics - he's just doing his job the best way he could. People trust and respect him. Little did I know that in time, I would experience first hand what kind of a first-class guy this Andrew is.

First Encounter
My first encounter with Andrew was towards the small office kitchen. We were both heading there to heat up our food. There was only one microwave oven. Who gets there 2nd will have to wait in line. He knew that, I knew that. We both wanted to be first. Both our pace increased steadily hoping to get there first without being too obvious. He got ahead by a split second...darn! He opened up the microwave oven, and in a surprising gentlemanly demeanor, he looked at me and said, "...after you!". HA! He got me. He got me big time!

Evolution Anyone?
That started a conversation where we exchanged laughs and ideas...mind you, complex ideas - not your water-cooler kind of topic. In the short 10 minutes, we talked about evolution and the genetic imperative for adaptability. When we bid each other 'good lunch', I think we both had a concealed grin knowing we found someone we could have an interesting conversation with. As in Casablanca, it was the "start of a beautiful friendship".

An Incompetent in our Midst
My next encounter with him was about an unpleasant situation, but it underscored the person behind the position. I had an incompetent manager and I couldn't shut up about her incompetence (because it was adversely affecting my productivity). Complaining against your boss wasn't the kind of thing you do at AIM. It didn't matter if I was right. It embarrasses the manager and the person who hired her. It also puts the entire department on the spot to be having an incompetent running the show. Well, I didn't care much what corporate logic they used. I was prepared to be sacked. If I can't do my job right, what's the point in staying with that company?

The Dirt Diggers
The company wanted me out. But they wanted to fire me for cause (read: no severance pay). They looked for dirt, but couldn't find any - tardiness? I was never late. Absentism? In the 3 years I was employed, I was absent perhaps once. Not knowing my job? I was banging on management's door to streamline the work flow and implement specific efficiency measures for higher productivity. No, they couldn't find dirt.

Tight Wire Act
Enter Andrew Tan in the picture. At his level, he usually doesn't involve himself to such low-level aberrations, but I guess it was his way of showing importance to what seemed like a friendship we shared. How he dealt with the situation was human craftmanship at its finest. He was a company man, first and foremost. He protected company interest but he had in him a fairness that left both parties satisfied in knowing that the best compromise has been equitably reached.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place
I could imagine it was a difficult situation for him. He knew I was right - that our little web team did have an incompetent for a boss. I wasn't the only one complaining. The company was bound to lose good people if nothing was done. But as a company man for HR, he had a mandate to 'troubleshoot' the messenger but not the message*. Dealing with the 'message' was upper management's mandate (not HR), but they looked the other way. Because I wouldn't let up, ultimately, he had to shoot the messenger for saying, "the emperor has no clothes". I completely understand how Andrew was constrained to let me go. I'd do the same thing if I were in his position. The operative question is, could I have done it with the same level of sensivity and fairness? That is really what separates the men from the boys.

Free Flowing Conversation
The incident did not dampen our friendship. On occasions (after I left AIM), I would invite him to join me for lunch. We would talk endlessly about everything under the sun - history, science, human nature, philosophy, etc. I couldn't get enough of him. His insight has a corruscating analytical brilliance that begs for more incisive illucidation. Perhaps it was an easier setting for both of us - leisurely chat with no corporate decorum to worry about.

Ending Thoughts
It's been years but I continue to think fondly of our conversations. I found in Andrew Tan a person hungry for knowledge, and whose appreciation about human nature transcends many layers. He's a decent man who remains unencumbered by rank in the totem pole. He transcends his corporate clothing revealing the real man beneath.

--- TheLoneRider

* Since I left, 2 more good people left the department with the same complaint. Eventually, the incompetent manager was sacked. The person who hired this manager eventually left the company as well. I suspect somebody did try to address the 'message' but behind closed doors.

Comments? Email webmaster@thelonerider.com

Reader Comments:

Andrew TanAndrew Tan
(29 Dec 2006) ...it's always good to hear from people who are happy about how we treated them, even though they should naturally be upset because they were downsized. (Apologies for using corporate-speak. I still can't say the "D" word. It's the difference between "died" and "passed on").

Anyway I then thought of you, and wondered what you've been up to and if you've found IT - whatever "IT" is that you're seeking. When you find it, let me know what your quest was, before you tell me what you found.

Anyway Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

P/S Thanks for those overly kind words on your site. It is dramatic, well written, and very flattering.



Andrew MitchellAndrew Mitchell
(11 Jul 2006) You've turned into a gypsy! I look at thelonerider.com sporadically to see what you're up to. I recently flew out to the California Desert for a grass roots kind of music festival and I thought it was a real LoneRider thing to do...not quite Burning Man but not that far off either. Enjoyed your piece on Andrew Tan...when did you become such a professional writer?...keep burnin!

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