Tan Chin Hwee – A Remarkable Journey

By Deborah Hewes

In a world where success is often measured by academic achievements and eloquent speech, Tan Chin Hwee’s story stands as a testament to the power of determination, resilience, and the ability to overcome challenges.

Growing up in a modest rented flat in the Toa Payoh township of Singapore, Tan’s childhood was marked by financial constraints and the daily struggles of a lower-income family. Despite the odds stacked against them, Chin Hwee, and his siblings defied expectations, collectively earning a remarkable total of nine scholarships. It was a significant achievement that not only propelled them into higher education but also positioned them to give back to their community in meaningful ways.

Throughout his schooling years, Chin Hwee grappled with language and communication difficulties.

“In school when I was growing up, I chose Mandarin as my first language instead of English, unlike almost all pupils sitting for the PSLE papers at Pei Chun Primary School in Toa Payoh. It was not because I love Mandarin but that I feared the English language. My English was so bad at that time that I was often laughed at. I could not pronounce words well and was always confused with the ‘b’ and ‘d’ consonants. I was terrified of speaking in English.”

One pivotal moment in Chin Hwee’s journey came when in 2001, DBS Bank awarded him a postgraduate sponsorship to study at Yale University. It was a dream come true for Chin Hwee, a chance to pursue his academic aspirations on an international stage. However, his path was not without obstacles.

His challenges were further compounded when, at the age of 31, while studying at Yale University, he received a diagnosis of dyslexia and other learning differences.

Initially, Chin Hwee grappled with the implications of his diagnosis. He questioned whether needing extra assistance meant he was not “normal” or capable. However, with time and reflection, he came to view his diagnosis not as a limitation but as a unique aspect of his identity. Rather than allowing it to define him, Chin Hwee embraced his differences and forged ahead with unwavering determination.

At Yale, Chin Hwee refused to take the easy route. Instead of sticking to familiar subjects like Finance and Statistics, he challenged himself to explore the realms of Social Sciences. Enrolling in courses such as Yale Law School and Bahasa Indonesia language classes, he pushed himself to step out of his comfort zone and engage actively in discussions and debates.

Chin Hwee’s resilience and commitment to growth did not go unnoticed. He was awarded a research assistantship role by Professor Jeffery Sonnenfeld, a significant recognition of his academic abilities and determination. Beyond academia, Chin Hwee continued to seek opportunities for personal and professional development, speaking on various topics and moderating at prestigious conferences like the Milken Conference in Los Angeles.

In 2024, Tan Chin Hwee was honoured with the Yale School of Management Donaldson Fellowship, a prestigious recognition that acknowledges individuals who epitomise the school’s mission of educating leaders for business and society. This fellowship celebrates Tan’s remarkable personal and professional achievements, showcasing his dedication to addressing complex challenges and driving positive change in the world. As a recipient of the Donaldson Fellowship, Tan stands as a shining example of resilience, determination, and the power of the human spirit. Congratulations, Tan Chin Hwee, on this well-deserved honour, and may your journey continue to inspire countless others to pursue their dreams with courage and conviction.

Today, Chin Hwee looks back on his journey with gratitude and humility. Despite still grappling with pronunciation challenges, he recognises the progress he has made since his humble beginnings in a cramped rental flat. He attributes much of his success to the unwavering support of his family, the opportunities afforded to him by institutions like Yale, and the invaluable lessons learned along the way.

“As I reflect on my journey, I realise that success isn’t about the absence of challenges, but rather the courage to confront and overcome them. While I may still struggle with pronouncing certain words—much to the amusement of my children, who never miss an opportunity to tease me about how I say ‘Taylor Swift’—I’ve come to embrace my journey, dyslexia, and all. It’s a reminder that true success isn’t measured by perfection, but by the resilience to keep moving forward despite the obstacles in our path.”

 As we celebrate dyslexia success stories like Chin Hwee’s, let us be reminded of the power of resilience, determination, and the unwavering belief in one’s ability to overcome adversity. Tan Chin Hwee’s journey is a testament to the indomitable human spirit and serves as an inspiration to all who dare to dream and defy the odds.

ABOUT TAN CHIN HWEE

https://som.yale.edu/story/2024/five-alumni-named-2023-24-donaldson-fellows

Chin Hwee Tan currently serves as chairman of the Energy Supply Resilience Advisory Panel with the Energy Market Authority (EMA). He is also chairman of SGTraDex.

Tan received the Distinguished Financial Industry Certified Professional Award from the Singapore government in 2013. In 2014, he was honoured as a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and World Cities Summit Young Leader and received the Nanyang Alumni Award from Nanyang Technological University, his alma mater. In 2015, he received the World Outstanding Young Chinese Entrepreneurs Award from the business newspaper Yazhou Zhoukan and the World Federation of Chinese Entrepreneurs Organisation. He was also voted by the Hedge Fund Journal as the emerging top 40 absolute return investors globally and recognised by The Asset for managing the Best Asia Credit Hedge Fund.

He earned an MBA in 2003 from the Yale School of Management, where he was T.A. for finance and R.A. for four professors and captained the cross-country team. He also completed a postgraduate course at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in 2011. He is a chartered financial analyst and a certified public accountant in Singapore and Australia. He graduated in 1995 with a Bachelor of Accountancy from Nanyang Technological University (NTU). During his days at NTU, he was the president of the university’s Mensa club and the president of the university’s Photovideographic Society.

Tan has sat on the boards of various organisations in the public and private sectors. The positions he held include: member of the Resource Panel for Government Parliamentary Committee for Finance and Trade and Industry, member of the Advisory Panel for Youth Corps Singapore; member of the Advisory Panel for the Ministry of Education; member of the Advisory Panel for the Ministry of Culture, Community, and Youth; member of the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s Finance Centre Advisory Panel; and member of the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore’s International Maritime Centre 2030 Advisory Committee. Tan has been an Academy Member of the Global Teacher Prize since its inception in 2013 and is involved as a judge to give out the $1 million Nobel Teaching Prize.

Tan and Thomas R. Robinson, the president and CEO of AACSB International, co-wrote Asian Financial Statement Analysis: Detecting Financial Irregularities, which was published in April 2014 by Wiley. The Chinese version of the book was launched in Shanghai in 2015, and copies were sold out upon release. In December 2020, Tan published his second book, Values at the Core, co-authored with Thomas Grandjean, which explores the role of human values in making societies prosperous and went on to be listed as one of the Financial Times readers’ Best 2021 Summer Books.

Tan was an adjunct professor at Nanyang Technological University, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and Singapore Management University. He also took on the International Olympic Committee financial advisor role from March 2016 to December 2019. Tan is actively involved in social work since his university days. One of his social initiatives was setting up the Premies Fund with the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital to help parents with premature babies cope with the financial burden.