Zicklin Leadership Series — Owh Kian Ong

Owh Kian Ong with Donald Vredenburgh

The first series of the semester borough Owh Kian Ohn to the 7th floor. Mr. Ong serves as the Vic President for Marketing and Refining.  He earned his MBA from the Harvard Business School and his bachelor’s degree from Baruch College in accounting.

Mr. Ong introduced himself though a secret story from his undergrad days at Baruch. He was a raised in NYC and is a product of the public school system and the blackouts.  As a badge of honor he produced a lighter that he carries ever since the blackout days.  The auditorium at 23rd and Lex saw the young Ong and his freshman sweetheart attending free movies.  At one memorable show with Redford and Newman his girlfriend lost her earring.  While she was searching the dark  floor, the young Ong sensed a “hero” moment and produced his lighter.   A lighter in full light mode produces a large flame and within  3 seconds his girlfriend had one less eyebrow.

Your secret is safe with us.  Professor Vredenburgh steered the conversation back to leadership before any more stories leaked out.

What it’s like to work and  manage in the energy industry?

Ong:  Energy is essential and the price is volatile and geopolitical.  It is an industry that requires huge scale —  a 9 trillion dollar industry.   You tend to have a much longer horizon, 10-20 years or more, than other industries.  We try to not let the market sways our actions.  However, you must embrace volatility in the oil business.

Has your leadership had to change over the years and positions?

Ong: Style, yes.  Values, no.  Treating everyone fair is one of those core values. Over 25 years, style most certainly changes, especially in different locales.  It really refers more to managing up.  Team members and subordinates I treat as I treat  myself.  In some cases, I lead from the front and in others (e.g. research and development), I lead from behind and let others choose directions that fit their competencies.

What are the traits that constitute good leadership?

Ong: People, direction and results.  With people it’s about building trust.  Then developing talent and effectively creating teams.  With direction, the first piece is strategic thinking (i.e. connecting the dots).  It is about inspiring innovation.  Results is about continuous improvement.  That never stops.

What should a person in a lower-level position to show leadership ability?

Ong: As you enter into a company or industry, even though you’re entry level, do you have people abilities, do you have direction and can you connect the dots?  You need to pay your dues, take on project and show that you have discipline and collaboration skills.  It’s not about excuses.  Deliver the results.


Questions from the audience:

How do you build up resilience?

Ong: It’s not a question of will you fail, but when you will fail.  The test becomes what YOU will do when that inevitably happens.  What are the values that will carry you.  Control what you can control.  The outcome will be what happens. You then have the knowledge that you did what you could do.  By the way, you know people not when things go well. You really know people when things go bad.

Do you aspire to be more than what you are now?  What’s the next step?

Ong: The oil business is still fun.  I suppose that transitioning to significance is a next step.  Looking for a more impact on people and of course anything energy related.


Many thanks to Mr. Ong for taking the time to return.  and much appreciation to everyone at Baruch who made this happen.

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