Scott Bales is a reformed banker who found himself setting up shop in Cambodia. Scott now lives in Singapore and travels across Asia sharing his knowledge on innovation and digital transformation.
What’s your story?
I’m a reformed banker, that found himself in Cambodia back in 2008 building one of the most exciting and meaningful banking businesses in recent history, Wing Money. Since then I’ve embarked and involved myself in no less than 30 ventures – some failed, some were huge successes, many still battle on today. The battle hardened and I found my calling working with large companies to transform them into modern connected, innovative companies. Running parallel to this, my hyperactive mind has been engaged as one of the most respected thought leading minds on innovation and digital transformation. I’ve been a keynote speaker at many events, the most recent with brands like Google, Standard Chartered Bank, Saxo Bank, Vodafone and Microsoft, along with talking at other industry conferences.
What excites you most about your industry?
I enjoy a good bit of problem solving, the more complex and strategic, the better. Piecing together the dots that few even see as related, I thrive on this and the constant hypothesis formation really gets me going. I am therefore entrusted to test new information often. Lastly, I love my work because it takes me all over the world to meet some of the most amazing people.
What’s your connection to Asia?
As a child, I dreamt of working in Japan, so I learnt Japanese. But my first Asian appointment was actually in India in 2005. Since then I’ve lived in India, Cambodia and Singapore and I travel regularly to almost all Asian countries. I’ve made attempts at learning Khmer (Cambodian), Mandarin, Hindi and Bahasa. Many would say I’m an Asian man trapped in an Aussie body.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
I live in Singapore, which I love. It’s a great country to base a global business. It has some of the most efficient infrastructures, direct connections to the cities I work in and continues to attract great talent, which is vital in my line of work. There is a constant battle between Singapore and Hong Kong. Each has their own pros and cons. I love the heritage and vibe of HK, it has a soul that stimulates. Singapore has better weather. Both offer so many opportunities to innovate with government support.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” When you help people find ways to solve their problems, not only are you helping them that one time, you are also passing on experience, knowledge and skills for them to use in their lives. The impact gain is long-term, not short-term. Nothing comes easy and nothing is impossible.
Who inspires you?
I love seeing a positive impact on humanity. Anyone that finds a purpose to improve the outlook for our species is always admired. But, it has to be bold, confident visions, executed with purpose. It’s hard not to admire the efforts of Elon Musk.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
The breakneck speed of evolving technology. The world never sleeps. There are some really great minds out there solving the first world and third world problems. But the ongoing piece of the puzzle that blows me away is just how naive senior people choose to remain when faced with the overwhelming realities of the new digital economy. Oh, and don’t get me started on some of the pro-gun debates.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have done more due diligence for a venture business that I invested in. While I am grateful for the way things turned out, because armed with that “swimming in unknown territory” experience, I am able to understand the challenges faced by many. I wouldn’t really do things differently as I am a firm believer that experience shapes who we are today, but to be more prepared when things go south would have been good. I think far too many people keep things to themselves and fail to share or seek feedback from others. I wish I had opened up earlier in life, to share my thoughts and feelings, and sought to engage the feedback of others.
How do you unwind?
Travelling. My work allows me to travel which is a plus side! I speak at events across the world and I try to have some downtime in between to refresh my mind and soul, to be inspired by things I see or even find my next topic to write or speak about! My place of peace, however, is on my bike. I’m a passionate cyclist, so I often travel with my bike to ride in new cities. Cycling helps me find the clarity I need in a complex world. Plus it is a great way to physically challenge myself.
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Bali. I love its culture and the peace of mind vibe, that it gives every time I am there. People are friendly and welcoming and the food is amazing. It’s also where I got married. If I had to choose a close second, it would be Chiang Mai, mainly for the cycling.
Everyone in business should read this book:
Simon Sinek’s ‘Start with Why.’
Shameless plug for your business:
Not only do we teach and advise, we build and deliver. We help our clients’ businesses to innovate and we build a portfolio of innovative options to transform their organisations.
This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews
Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.