1. Home
  2. Careers
  3. news
  4. I was a commando who trained with Navy SEALs. Dealing with risky situations helped me navigate the corporate jungle.

I was a commando who trained with Navy SEALs. Dealing with risky situations helped me navigate the corporate jungle.

Kwan Wei Kevin Tan   

I was a commando who trained with Navy SEALs. Dealing with risky situations helped me navigate the corporate jungle.
  • Kwong Weng Yap, 46, served in the Singapore Armed Forces as a commando.
  • He joined the private sector after serving in the military for 13 years.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Kwong Weng Yap, a former commando with the Singapore Armed Forces. Yap left the military to join the private sector. The following has been edited for length and clarity. Business Insider has verified his employment history.

My interest in the army predated my enlistment. It began when I was a cadet in the National Cadet Corps (NCC), a military cadet corps for youths in Singapore.

My time with the NCC fuelled my passion to pursue a career with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). I especially wanted to become a commando.

To me, becoming a commando wasn't just about serving my country. I thought it would allow me to test my limits.

I enlisted in 1997 and spent 13 years with the SAF. While in the military, I had the chance to train abroad — I went to Australia and spent time in the US under the Navy SEALs training program.

One of the greatest challenges I faced as a commando was when I attended the SAF's Ranger course. The 65-day course was a grueling experience. I remember being subjected to extreme stress, sleep deprivation, and hunger.

The Ranger course challenges one to develop their leadership skills, and to be able to execute a mission with high standards. It wasn't just about endurance, but about motivating your fellow soldiers in a demanding environment.

Looking back, the course was an important rite of passage.

Leaving the army for the private sector

I was in my mid-thirties when I decided to leave the SAF. I wanted to challenge myself by breaking out of my comfort zone.

While I had earned some small accolades during my military career, I knew I wasn't fully ready to jump into the private sector. However, I went ahead, sent out many resumes and talked to many different employers.

It's now been 11 fulfilling years that I have spent in the private sector.

My first job out of the army was in Myanmar, where I joined an industrial conglomerate as a general manager. Then, I took a chance at entrepreneurship when I co-founded a travel startup in Vietnam.

After spending about five years in Southeast Asia, I returned to Singapore.

Looking back, I've applied the skills I learned in the army to my career. As a soldier, you're sometimes put in very risky situations — and people and their lives are at stake. That forces you to approach problems from a completely different perspective.

When you take principles from military life and apply them in a different context, like business operations, naturally, not all of them will be relevant.

However, some areas align.

In the private sector, you might need to make a big business decision. My experience taught me that you need to focus on the strategic outcomes of what the company wants to achieve. There are times when you'll go with your gut and times when you need to think objectively about things. You just have to be very honest with yourself about what's working or not working.

Additionally, the SAF focuses greatly on efficiency, operational safety, and positive results and outcomes. That made me very mission-oriented and mission-driven — and it helped me when I was thinking about things like revenue and ways to make processes more efficient.

Life in the private sector is a lot more fluid

Things in the private sector can change very quickly. Major events like the Ukraine war or the US-China trade war can greatly impact businesses.

When things change, companies have to change as well. There could be pivots in their lines of business, strategies, and workforce practices. You might have to relocate your business to save costs or to tweak your business model entirely.

This means that things are a lot more fluid. You have to be able to adapt quickly.

But if I were to liken corporate life to my military experience, I would compare working in the private sector to parachuting. It's all about survival when you're jumping out of the aircraft — you're focusing on landing safely as you fly through the clouds.

I think it's also important to enjoy the journey while not losing sight of the mission. You might go by gut feeling, paired with an understanding and ability to understand the wind conditions and carefully steer your parachute. Sometimes, you have to make split decisions — and timing is always of the essence.

Some mourn the loss of camaraderie and the sense of purpose when one leaves the army for the private sector. And in the military, things are straightforward. You serve your country, you do your duties, you run operations, you do it to the best of your ability. You don't expect rewards to come back to you.

So, it's true that the private sector is inherently transactional, albeit in a different way. You want to make money when you sell a product or service to someone.

But at the same time, I guess life is all about transactions. I may not like that, but that's just something I've accepted.

Popular Right Now