Three years ago, Cheri Tng took her first steps into the world of case consulting by joining a case competition organised by the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nestlé.
The experience was a great adrenaline rush for the then-Year 2 student at the NUS Business School.
“I remember staying up with a couple of friends to complete the case in one night. It was tiring, but also very fulfilling,” she says.
The team emerged second, a sweet reward for what was only their first foray into case competitions. Hooked on the challenge and excitement, Cheri soon joined the NUS Case Consulting Group (CCG), and eventually took a memorable trip to Oslo, Norway, in 2018 to represent NUS at the BI International Case Competition alongside three team-mates.
The NUS Business School team at the BI International Case Competition: (from left to right) Tan Hong You, Shirri Lim, Cheri Tng and Preston Ang.
Following three months of intensive training which included tackling 30-hour cases over several weekends, Cheri’s team flew the NUS flag high, overcoming tough competition from top business schools across the world and placing third.
With the trip fully funded by NUS, the quartet were able to meet new friends from different cultures, travel around Oslo, and learn about the Norwegian way of life.
Cheri and her friends witnessing the Northern Lights during their travels in Oslo.
Cheri would go on to take part in the John Molson Undergraduate Case Competition in 2019 and clinch second place at the Copenhagen Business School Case Competition with her team-mates from NUS CCG. Representing NUS in case competitions remains one of Cheri’s favourite memories of her time at NUS Business School, which she described as “one of the best periods” of her life thus far.
“My time in NUS was very dynamic, and what I really enjoyed was the opportunities I had and being able to meet the people that I met,” she reminisces.
“I feel that university is a time of opportunity. And at NUS, as long as you wanted to venture out and try your hand at something, there was an opportunity waiting for you, whether in the form of overseas stints, leadership roles or competitions.”
Friendly and inquisitive by nature, Cheri had entered NUS not really knowing what she wanted for her career. “I thought that NUS Business would be a good fit for me because the degree is broad in nature and allows me to explore different avenues. I also really liked the vibes I felt on campus, and speaking with people from the school on Open Day gave me a good sense of the many opportunities NUS had to offer.”
In addition to seizing overseas opportunities as an NUS Global Merit Scholar, Cheri made many friends and explored myriad interests by joining different clubs and activities.
Cheri and children from a village in Luang Prabang, Laos.
As a freshman, the first thing she did was join an Overseas Community Involvement Project to Luang Prabang in Laos, which expanded her social circle and allowed her to explore her growing interest in social impact.
Then, she joined the Management Committee of the NUS Students’ Business Club where she served as the Director of BizConnect and shouldered the responsibility of organising networking activities for students to meet professionals and pick up career development tips along the way. She also dabbled in case competitions whenever she could.
“These early experiences gave me a clearer idea of what I wanted to do in the future,” she says thoughtfully. “I learnt that I’m extroverted by nature. I love conversing with people and learning from them. I also really enjoy solving problems, and it excites me to research a topic, think deeply about a problem, and develop insights and solutions.”
“It taught me that a lot of things can be done if I put my brain to work.”
With a firmer grasp of what made her tick, she then honed in on her key passions.
“I joined the NUS Case Consulting Group (CCG), and eventually led the club for a year alongside two partners. That was where I developed my interest in consulting, which has been very helpful in my current work as a consultant,” says Cheri, now an Associate Consultant at Bain & Company.
“And because I’ve always been interested in social impact and sustainability, I joined Bridges for Enterprise in Year 2, which complemented the hard knowledge and consulting skills I was learning through CCG.”
Cheri and the NUS Bridges for Enterprise team.
Formed as the Singapore chapter of an initiative that began in Cambridge, Bridges for Enterprise (BFE) connects students and professionals with struggling social enterprise start-ups. In her first project as a consultant with BFE, Cheri found herself tasked to help a social entrepreneur in Kenya running an alternative waste business.
She recalls, “It was my first-ever proper consulting project. The company was based all the way in Nairobi. At some points, the team struggled to fully comprehend the landscape or attain information, such as about the slums in Nairobi, and we had to find different ways to tackle the problem.”
The entrepreneur behind the company in Nairobi had built her business around selling alternative fuel briquettes that were environmentally friendly and safe for people to use. She also wanted to help the many youths in Nairobi who fall into delinquency.
“Our mandate was to create a franchise distribution system that allowed her business to thrive while helping at-risk youth,” Cheri recalls.
The project would continue for two more cycles after that. “It was a really meaningful experience.”
After becoming President of the Singapore chapter of BFE, Cheri was tasked to rebuild the club. Under Cheri’s leadership, the club membership was boosted, and new divisions – consulting, finance analysis and start-up recruitment – were formed.
Amid the flurry of these activities, Cheri found the time to take up several internships.
With a chuckle, she let on that far from being a superwoman, she simply tried her best to be mindful of her workload and act within her means.
“Looking back, it does look like I was juggling a lot. But I was always clear about why I wanted to join every activity – each was enjoyable in its own right.”
This involved weighing the opportunity costs at every turn.
“I constantly evaluated my trade-offs at every turn. For instance, whether taking up an opportunity would mean giving up idle time or if I might actually be risking things closer to my heart such as family time. I wanted to make sure I was not giving up on things that were fundamentally important to me.”
She quips, “Thankfully, university was four years, so I could stagger my activities throughout my time at NUS.”
One of the highlights of Cheri’s student life was going on the NUS Student Exchange Programme to Italy’s Bocconi University. While in Europe, she embarked on a number of solo trips and immersed herself in the cultures of Switzerland, Croatia, Slovenia, France, England, Scotland, Denmark, Spain and more.
Cheri posing with her trusty bike, which was her mode of transport home after a long day of outdoor activities at Lake Bled, Slovenia.
Among her many exciting adventures, a trip to Lake Bled on the brink of winter takes the cake. Besides rafting and even taking a dip in the freezing waters, Cheri ziplined a whopping 4 kilometres across the Dolinka river and over the protected valley of Sava Dolinka. Even after missing the last bus home, Cheri picked up her bike in the spur of the moment to cycle uphill through the countryside to explore the famous Vintgar Gorge.
Cheri’s colourful student life has imbued her with the knowledge and skills that have proven handy as she embarked on working life in the middle of 2020. However, the soft skills have been just as important as she frequently works with different clients and team-mates.
“I learnt how to form good relationships with people of different backgrounds and personalities, and how to be patient when working with others.”
Asked to encapsulate her NUS experience in three words, she offers, “Dynamic, meaningful and self-defining.”
“At NUS, you realise that the world really is your oyster. I pursued things I never thought I would have pursued, and took up opportunities and met people who made my undergraduate life very fulfilling.”
The power of choice truly defined Cheri’s undergraduate experience. So, it comes as no surprise that she hopes others would similarly leap at the myriad opportunities offered at NUS.
“If you only have time for one thing, then just choose it, commit to it, and do it really well,” she says emphatically. “Focus on what matters to you. Make careful choices on how you want to spend your time and be disciplined about the things that are truly important to you.”
(All photos in this story were taken before the COVID-19 pandemic, unless otherwise stated.)