Why asking interviewees ‘What makes you happy?’ is so important, says CEO of Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities, Mr Kenny Lim

Also, in this interview: advice for those who wish to make a mid-career switch to the social service sector, and greater insight into Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities


To many in the working world, Mr Kenny Lim’s career sounds like one that they would like to emulate. He started out fresh as an engineer at key corporate organisations such as Mitsubishi and Dunlop, before getting his Masters in Business Administration and rising through the ranks to management positions in sales and operations in Mercedes-Benz Asia and MOTUL Asia-Pacific.

However, the continuous pursuit for high KPIs, high profits and high pay checks slowly took its toll on him. It came to a point in his life where nothing meant more than the pursuits of promotion via office politics and sales via my customers. “The family suffered as I was an absent parent and spouse. They had to fend for themselves and carry on without me. I was carrying work stress home, I was often irritable, snappy, grumpy, angry and took it out on the family,” Mr Lim shared.

“Looking back, I wished I had more time to spend with my family and be there for them when they needed me.”


Mr Kenny Lim (third from left) at an event promoting family harmony at the THK Family Service Centre @ Bukit Panjang


After twenty years in the corporate sector, Mr Lim wanted to focus on activities beyond materialistic goals. His involvement in volunteer work at church to help the less privileged gave him a fresh perspective, and a growing calling to serve in the social service industry. A turning point came when he gave a box of Ferrero Rocher to an underprivileged boy during one of his volunteer activities.

“He took it, clung to my hands and kept saying thank you repeatedly. It was only a box of chocolates but it meant a lot to him. It really made me think back to when I was once chided by a customer for giving him an $800 bottle of wine, because he felt he deserved a $1,000 bottle,” he revealed. “The contrast between those two incidents made me feel that it was time to re-examine my priorities and what made me happy. The joy from the boy gave me such comfort as compared to the anxiety and stress I got from pursuing my materialistic goals.”

He finally made the career switch, joining Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities as the Chief Executive Officer in July 2016. “I enjoyed the voluntary work [at church], and it gave me more satisfaction than being the group general manager of a $120 million turnover and 100 pax company with 2 subsidiaries,” he commented.

Mr Lim’s own experience while contemplating the career switch eventually led him to ask all candidates he interviewed:


What makes you happy?


“When I was making the switch, it was a question that I kept asking myself, and why I truly wanted to make the switch to the social service sector,” he explained. “From the candidate’s answer, you can tell a lot about the person’s inner being, personality, state of mind, stage of life, goals and dreams. From there, as the organisation, we can also know what we can do for the candidate as well.”

Of course, the switch for Mr Lim to the social service sector was not all smooth-sailing. Being in the sector, especially one that was new to him, came with its own set of challenges. Some of the key challenges he faced were managing expectations, both his own and of his own colleagues. “When I first arrived, some of the processes needed some fine tuning, facilities needed upgrading and investments needed to be made, but the real challenge was building a relationship with my new colleagues,” he noted. “I decided to visit them at the place of their work, dive into the issues together with them, be present in person at their events, face the challenges with them and build a personal relationship with them by enquiring about their families, interests and hobbies.”

Despite it all, he kept his calling in mind and emerged with a greater sense of purpose and many lessons learnt from the people in Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities. “In this sector, people aren’t entirely motivated by bonuses, salary increment and promotions unlike the corporate world,” he mused.



Mr Kenny Lim presenting an award to one of our long-service staff at the THKMC 5th Anniversary Dinner


“In a world where people are turning more selfish, materialistic, counting the costs and asking what’s in it for me, people serving in this sector sends a very clear message that CHARITY is alive and well. It has really taught me that when people work with passion and the sincerest of heart to serve others than self, nothing is impossible.”

A person in particular that has impacted him is the Chairman of Thye Hua Kwan Moral Society (the parent company of Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities), Mr Lee Kim Siang. “What really struck me when I was here was Chairman Lee and how he built the entire THK group to what it is today in 39 years, with no more than sheer will and the heart to do the right thing to start with. To me, it was a real testimony that one shouldn’t be afraid to do the right thing and over time, people will follow.”

With the nation’s present challenges, a heart to serve others and an ability to adapt to changes are the keys to take on changes in society and people’s attitudes, both for the organisation and staff.

“I hope that people in THKMC can see the value that they bring to others, and the huge potential to do more. The social service sector is a very important sector not just in a utilitarian sense, but it is also a light of conscience that reminds others that there is another set of values other than what the world espouses,” said Mr Lim.

For those who wish to make a mid-career switch to social services, Mr Lim is the go-to person for advice. “Be totally honest with yourself, and check your reasons for embarking on this switch,” he advised. “Once you know why you want to do something, it will get you through all the tediousness of the how and the what.”