Aliza Knox: Singapore is well-organised and good at getting things done

Interview by Molly O'Brien, Marketing & Communications Specialist, Advance

“Singapore is amazing, well-organised, and good at getting things done.”

TwitterGoogleBoston Consulting Group – these are just a handful of the impressive company names you’ll find on Aliza Knox’s resume. Having grown up in the US, she began her post-college career in Australia and then settled in Singapore. Aliza and her family are multi-lingual, transcontinental “globosapiens” – and a perfect fit for Singapore.

How did you originally find yourself living in Australia? 

After growing up in different areas of the US, I really wanted to move overseas after I finished college. I was most interested in going to Asia but didn't have any Asian language skills. I'm usually pretty persistent; in hindsight, I don't know why I didn't figure out that I could just go to Hong Kong or Singapore. I was looking for neighbouring alternatives on a map, and there was Australia - an English-speaking country (one that also had nice beaches) close to Asia.

Can you remember what it was about Australia that really appealed to you?

Without meaning to sound facetious, “Crocodile Dundee” was a really big hit, and Australia just seemed like a really fun place to be!

Before I arrived, I found myself a job in consulting. To be honest, I didn't really know what consulting was when I started, but I had an MBA in marketing plus some experience in finance – which was apparently the perfect fit!

The first six months were great. The second six months were a little harder, trying to cement friendships while working long hours. But somehow, around the one-year mark, it all came together and I started to really like all of it - the work I was doing, living in Sydney, and the people I was meeting.

After another year of living in Sydney, I started dating a man from Perth to whom I'm now married. Eventually, I convinced the Boston Consulting Group to transfer me to Asia, as I still had the continent on my mind. We originally moved to Singapore for just a couple of years and ended up staying for four.

We moved to the US for a few years and then I took a job at Google on the condition we be transferred back to somewhere in Asia. Our children had attended a Mandarin immersion school so I was interested in China, but Google needed someone in Singapore so that’s where we went. We’ve been here for the last 10 years, and we’re not planning on leaving anytime soon.

Was part of the reason you wanted to be in Asia so your kids could grow up in a multicultural society?

Yes. Our kids were already bilingual from attending the immersion school in San Francisco. It’s important to us that they have a world perspective, not just one from a particular country. We sent them to a Chinese school in the US and an American school in Singapore. We value living in different places and being exposed to different perspectives, so it was important to us to provide that for our children.

You’ve worked with some very impressive companies such as Google, Twitter and Boston Consulting Group. Do you have any particular career highlights? 

All these companies have been really great places to work. The highlights have been helping companies establish foundations and build businesses in Asia. I got Twitter up and running in Asia from my living room in Singapore; I was also one of the early people for Google in Asia. I was the second person in Singapore for BCG where I launched our Financial Services Practice in Asia and helped build our nascent business in the region.

One of the most fulfilling aspects of my career has been helping younger people develop, especially women. There are quite a few junior people I've worked with who are now in really successful careers of their own. I think they could easily have done it without me, but I'm hopeful that I helped them progress a little faster.

What's is the most challenging part of living in Singapore?

One of the nice things about moving here if you're an expat is that there’s a large community of people in similar situations who are friendly and welcoming. On the flip side, a slightly challenging part can be integrating with the Singaporean community, it takes longer and requires a bit more effort.

When I first moved here, almost 20 years ago, a higher percentage of expats were here because their company sent them. More people have moved here by choice now so there’s a bunch of really interesting people from all over the world who want the experience of living elsewhere or bringing up their children as second or third culture kids.

Was there anything that really surprised you when you moved to Singapore?

There are a lot of live-in domestic helpers here. Not everybody chooses to have help, but if you have a two-career family, the fact that you can more easily afford great help than in countries such as Australia or the US is just amazing.

What do you think is something that Australia could really learn from Singapore? 

There may be trade-offs in terms of government structure, but one thing almost any country can learn from Singapore is effective planning and implementation, whether it’s tackling objectives such as creating a “smart nation”, providing water on an island with limited resources, or fixing a drainage problem at a major intersection. Singapore has the structure and processes in place to tap into relevant expertise, create a plan of action, then execute it in appropriate timeframes.