Bank chief Bahren Shaari rose from humble beginnings to top corporate job

Professional boxer Muhamad Ridhwan (far left), who was named Berita Harian Young Achiever of the Year, with Bank of Singapore CEO Bahren Shaari, who received the Berita Harian Achiever of the Year award.
Professional boxer Muhamad Ridhwan (left), who was named Berita Harian Young Achiever of the Year, with Bank of Singapore CEO Bahren Shaari, who received the Berita Harian Achiever of the Year award.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Growing up in Kampung Tanjong Irau, a village in the Sembawang area, Mr Bahren Shaari had to walk or cycle 5km every day to the bus stop to get to Ahmad Ibrahim Secondary School.

But the grind of daily travel did not take a toll on his studies. He made it to Hwa Chong Junior College, and later received a bursary to study accountancy at the National University of Singapore.

As a young auditor looking to join private banking, Mr Bahren sent out about 100 applications before he finally landed a job at American Express Bank.

The 56-year-old has since risen through the corporate ranks to become the chief executive of Bank of Singapore. Last night, he received the Berita Harian Achiever of the Year award from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for his professional achievements and contributions to the community.

Despite his success, Mr Bahren said he remembers all too well what it was like as a rookie.

"I didn't have someone I could go to for career guidance. Many jobs and opportunities come from networks, and I didn't have that either."

Now, whenever he receives a CV submission, he forwards it promptly to the human resource department or tries to refer the candidate to more suitable employers.

In the past 30 years, he has taken up various key positions, including as alternate member of the Council of Presidential Advisers and board member of the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore.

 

He has been a non-executive and independent director of Singapore Press Holdings since April 2012.

Mr Bahren, who is married with three children, is also actively involved in Club Heal, a voluntary welfare organisation that helps people with mental illness, and their families. "If I can make life easy for people, help them in one way or other, I will be very happy," he said.

Speaking at the award ceremony last night, Mr Bahren said his biggest break came when he was hired by Swiss Bank Corporation.

"My bosses there took a chance on me. They gave me a shot. I am glad they looked at me and saw not race or religion or background, but someone they felt had some potential. They gave me a chance to prove my worth."

Swiss Bank Corporation merged with Union Bank of Switzerland in 1998 to form UBS, and Mr Bahren held the post of managing director in the organisation before he joined Bank of Singapore in 2009.

There is a need to create opportunities for members of the Malay community to pursue their dreams and aspirations, Mr Bahren said.

"I am reminded of the need for us to be an inclusive society," he added. "I am reminded of the need for us to always champion equal opportunity."

Berita Harian editor Mohd Saat Abdul Rahman said Mr Bahren is "an inspiring model who rose from humble beginnings to achieve what he has today".

Professional boxer Muhamad Ridhwan received the Berita Harian Young Achiever of the Year award.

Mr Ridhwan has three SEA Games bronze medals and frequently gives talks in schools and prisons. His gym, Legends Fight Sport, offers free membership and classes to underprivileged youth.

The 30-year-old, who made his professional debut in 2016, has won 11 fights so far. In September, he lost an International Boxing Organisation super bantamweight (up to 55kg) world title to Namibia's Paulus Ambunda.

While he admitted that he was disappointed, he said he was determined to win his next fights.

"The best way to inspire others is to win my fights... I don't fight just for myself, but also my family and for Singapore. I am sick and tired of people saying Singaporean (boxers) cannot make it," he said.

"If you love something, you should put 100 per cent into it."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 01, 2018, with the headline 'Bank chief rose from humble beginnings to top corporate job'. Print Edition | Subscribe