The first time Ng Yi-Xian went away on a mindfulness retreat, he was so burnt out from launching a new international school that he just had to get away from it all. During those 10 days in Colorado, the executive director of Etonhouse International Education Group experienced the restorative effects of meditation. “I found an inner peace I’d never felt before. For the first time, I could feel my own heartbeat.”
Upon his return, he decided to find ways to share the practice with those who would benefit the most from it. With a strong belief in cultivating the young having inspired the founding of the Etonhouse Community Fund in 2015, Ng decided to integrate the two.
Last year, he launched a Mindful Movement programme aimed at providing youth in rehabilitation homes with another avenue to manage their emotions. “We are trying to create an alternative option for these girls, taking them from ‘fight or flight’ to ‘fight, flight or pause’,” he says. The interactive programme is currently available in eight homes.
For Ng, 35, this is just one of the ways he is strengthening the family legacy. Before joining the group that was founded by his mother and uncle in 2015, he had a high-paying hedge fund role in America. He gave that up to immerse himself in the business and now oversees Etonhouse’s entire operations.
Last year, the group achieved over $100 million in revenue. It currently runs 120 schools in over 12 countries, including China, Japan, Indonesia and the Middle East, and offers preschool and K-12 education to over 12,000 children.
Among them is the international school Middleton – Ng’s brainchild – targeted at expats but with a twist: affordability. “We assume all expats have high incomes but that is not necessarily true,” he says. Fees at Middleton are capped at $1,500 per month, compared to the average $2,400 at other institutions. Launched three years ago in Upper Bukit Timah, Middleton has grown to include a second campus in Tampines. The first campus might have kindled his burnout, but it showed Ng’s savvy in targeting unmet needs in the education field. And it’s not just about a business opportunity. He is all too aware of the significance of his job.
“When you are investing, you generally make one big decision to buy or sell – or do nothing. In my current job, it is more varied, and I have to make many decisions. Schools are webs of relationships, and the most human of organisations because you are shaping the future. You can’t help but be mindful when you are influencing lives. You could say this is more complex.”
Indeed, Ng has brought his personal brand of management to the workplace. Besides channelling the benefits of mindfulness into Etonhouse, he is also keen to positively impact the lives of his staff. He has gone on half-day mindfulness workshops with his team and led short meditation sessions. He also encourages them to sign up for professional development courses to strengthen communication skills. He observes: “These have really changed the way we conduct discussions at work.”
Ng does leave one aspect of the business to the experts, though: pedagogy-related decisions. Still, he has been reading up on educational methods and is an advocate of Etonhouse’s inquiry-based learning, which he says offers children a greater sense of ownership as they learn.
“The ‘why’ of our whole company is shaping the future through education,” says Ng. “When I speak to the children and look at the work they have done, I can see tangibly what they have achieved.”
(Related: Colin Chen: A happy meal)
Satisfying his wanderlust Before I came back to Singapore, I took one year to travel the world, visiting places such as Europe, Morocco, the Middle East and Africa.
Finding balance My twins will enrol in an Etonhouse preschool at 18 months. For work-life balance, I don’t talk a lot about work at home with my wife.
Deep dive I made a bucket- list deep diving trip to Chuuk Lagoon in the central Pacific last year. Now that I am a father, the only diving I do is for ocean clean-ups.
Photography: Vernon Wong
Videography: Vernon Wong & Ashruddin Sani
Video Editing: Ashruddin Sani
Text: Adeline Wong
Grooming: Dax Lye
Music: Bovi By The Grand Affair & Sunny Morning By Bruno E from Youtube library