published date: 20 October 2017
written by: Annabeth Leow
Scuba company Asia Dive Academy is still in the red after more than 10 years in business, but chief executive Jacki Ng is unfazed.
“Our sole purpose can’t be driven by profit,” he tells The Straits Times.
He concedes that it is an an unconventional approach for a businessman – but then again, the secondary school dropout and former gang member is an unconventional individual to begin with.
Asia Dive Academy, which generates annual revenue of $4 million to $6 million, still looks more like a start-up than a mature small business. And he considers it “a social enterprise, more than a commercial activity”.
Still, Mr Ng, 41, hastens to add that this is “not because diving can’t make money”. “But making money actually comes second for us,” he says. “The ability to change someone’s perspective, to care for the environment – that’s what our main goal is.”
Singapore may not seem like a natural harbour for the business, given its lack of suitable dive spots. “It’s like starting a diving business in the desert,” he jokes.
published date: 21 July 2017
written by: Adelle Chua
4 lessons on how this “ah beng” was able to turn his life around
Jacki Ng remembers an incident from when he was 14 years old. He was at a fast-food joint, looking at the menu. The fillet caught his eye, but he pronounced it wrong when he ordered it. The other customers and the staff snickered.
“I was so embarrassed. It was at that moment I became aware of the disconnect between myself and the society I live in,” he says.
What a gap it was. He was not even in school at that time, having dropped out a few years before. Ng was a certified “ah beng”—local slang for hooligan or gangster. He became exposed to such a life as early as when he was nine years old and selling newspapers on the streets.
This circle of friends led him to experiment with a dangerous lifestyle—frequenting discos in the afternoon, drinking; doing petty theft; and serving as lookouts for older friends engaged in criminal activities.
“While I was never charged, or jailed, I was questioned during investigations,” he says. Worse, he saw his older friends get locked up and meted out harsh penalties—some even the penalty of death—for a life of crime.
The change was never sudden, but more and more Ng felt this was not the life he wanted for himself. And the first thing he did to connect with society was to learn English. “It was not my native language. I wanted to improve my command of English so I can make new friends,” he says.
His new friends exposed him to a new world of disc jockeying and motorbikes. These new fields piqued his interest and boosted his confidence; he decided he wanted to go back to school to make something of himself. “I started reading novels, even though I was so slow that by the time I was on page 20 I had forgotten what had happened on page 1.”
And because he found that he could learn a new language if he really tried, he realized he now had the ability to accept more knowledge. He enrolled in a vocational institution, satisfying his natural curiosity about how motor vehicles, and later on, computers, worked.
A gradual, but certain, transition
How was that open mind worked for Ng? He set up a business selling cars and air-conditioning units when he was in his early 20s. Unfortunately, the business failed. And then he worked for a series of companies where he built his skills in information and web technology.
He joined some friends for scuba diving one day and became interested in this sport as well. He became so eager to learn that in 2004, or just two years after his first dive, he became a diving instructor.
Testing the waters
At first blush, it seems odd that the Asia Dive Academy was established in Singapore—a city state with no natural reefs and a high cost of living. No doubt, there were highs and lows, but now under Ng’s stewardship, ADA seems to flourish.
His main contribution was the introduction of technology into what is a highly personally interactive business.
“I noticed that 40 to 50 percent of my time was spent in work. I had to deal with registration, coordination, logistics, booking, replying to emails, and fund transfers among others. I realized that this kind of information-heavy business would be different in a city like Singapore, and also different in a rural area where the resort is located.”
He started to develop a software with some friends for streamlining the administrative and customer-service functions of the business. Because of the enhanced tech aspect, “we are able to know the preferences of the customer, assess their risk level, help them plan their trips, and offer discounts and packages for them,” he says.
Asia Dive Academy caters mostly to Singaporeans or Singapore-based expatriates. In the beginning, the diving resorts were in Pulau Tioman, Pulau Dayang, and Pulau Aur in Malaysia. These days, most of the customers—urban professionals who cannot afford to be away from their jobs too long and so can only spend a brief weekend away—prefer Pulau Tioman.
Curiously, Ng likes to look back on his beginnings and marvel at how his experiences, good and bad, helped him become the entrepreneur that he is today.
1. Openness to diversity
Different people have different perspectives. “Since we have different backgrounds, we do not see the situation in the same way,” Ng says. This is how he is able to put himself in the shoes of others in the process—understanding them more.
2. Worst-case situation mindset
As a child, Ng was used to seeing things going wrong. He became more realistic because of this, and has become more accepting of risks he encounters in the business.
As a child of 12 or 13, Ng saw one of his closest friends getting the death sentence. Compared to this predicament, bankruptcy in a business pales in comparison. “I have learned, early on, to withstand anything that life throws at me,” he says.
“Profit is good, but it is not the be-all and end-all of business,” Ng says.
According to Ng, to truly be successful, one has to be able to do his part in solving real problems. For example, in ADA, Ng encounters children in resort communities who could have been him when he was younger. “I am able to relate them to my own childhood and I understand why they make such decisions. These children do not have many options so we do our best to engage them and teach them about environmental conservation, marine life, business, and the like.””
2017 started with a bang for us as we have achieved the Approved Training Organisation (ATO) status from Workforce Singapore (formally known as Workforce Development Agency).
Workforce Singapore is a statutory board under the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) which oversees the ‘transformation of the local workforce and industry to meet ongoing economic challenges.’
Workforce Singapore’s key focus is to help workers meet their career aspirations and secure quality jobs at various stages of life. This is in line with ADA’s vision of providing high quality training to people who aspire to be part of the dive tourism industry.
We have been transforming our training standards as the demand for quality workers in the dive industry increases. We believe that Singapore is in a unique position where the best dive locations in the world surround her.
In the next few years, as those places are becoming more and more developed, there will be an increasing demand for professionals who possess adequate skills and knowledge to either work in the inbound or outbound areas on this industry. Currently, there are plenty of courses which teach people how to dive. However, education with regards to running a dive operation or dealing with tourism and hospitality in the dive context is duly lacking.
Being an ATO allows us to provide Workforce Skills Qualification (WSQ) courses. WSQ is a national credential system that trains, develops, assesses and certifies skills and competencies for the workforce.
Hence, we are proud that our government has put a small vote in the relevancy of our industry!
If you are looking to start a career in diving, be sure to check out how ADA can give you a leg up here.
ADA received an award from PADI Asia Pacific recently for “Recognition Of Outstanding Contribution To Instructor Development” for 2014.
Thomas Knedlik, Director of Training for PADI Asia Pacific and Johnny Chew, our PADI Regional Manager, both came down to Singapore and presented the surprise award during our ADA Appreciation Night 2015, where we acknowledge the outstanding contributions of our dive professionals and other dive industry players.
ADA’s CEO Jacki Ng, and COO Ricky Koh were on-hand to accept the award, on behalf of ADA and the entire IDC Team, including PADI Platinum Course Director Richard Mei, myself and all of the staff that make the IDC happen. Without all your great work, we would not have been able to get to where we are now, so our thanks go out to you!
And we would also like to thank PADI Asia Pacific for their continued support in Singapore, without which our progress in Instructor Development would not have been possible. And special thanks to Thomas and Johnny for coming down and presenting the various awards to our instructors for our App night, thank you and we hope you had fun!
Yesterday, the EFR Instructor Trainer Course was held in Singapore at ADA, conducted by Trainer and PADI Examiner Rob Scammell. In this course, the candidates will be able to teach people to become EFR Instructors! Which is good news for everyone in Singapore; More trainers, more instructors, more emergency Responders!
Congratulations to them all and especially to ADA’s three new EFRI Trainers, or EFRITS (pronounced eff-rits) as Andrew likes to say, Ephraim Ang, Hu Lunchi and Andrew Wong.
I bet you can’t wait to get teaching EFRI in 2016 right? 🙂
We have been working with the Singapore Management University Dive Team or SMUX Dive Team, for 10 years this year.
That is a long time, now that I am looking back. It’s been a great journey and partnership I would say.
I am glad that we have had the opportunity to train or educate the next generations of divers coming from SMU, many of which will and have become the future business leaders, public servants, financiers, lawyers, fellow educators and other prominent and influential players. I hope that even just a fraction of them, are touched by scuba diving such that they will become ambassadors for the environment. Then, we have truly done right.
And the SMUX Dive Team Managers over the years, are the students leaders that get elected and essentially chosen to make the decisions for the team. Over the years, there have been 10 of them and I thank them for their support and in many cases, friendships.
2005: Er Jun
These student leaders are the ones to really make it all happen and many of them have come to be woven into and form part of our crew and culture.
So thank you and hope to have a continued partnership that works for everyone.
Ricky and I just visited the Ocean Reef Headquarters in Genoa, Italy for business and training.
The Ocean Reef compound is rather large, as we found on our first day. We were taken for a tour of the factory and the rest of the facilities. We first visited the Research and Development Areas, the show rooms, the servicing stations and the office areas. It’s really nice to see where and how things are made.
One of main aims for the visit, was to get trained in servicing of the Integrated Dive Masks (IDM), regulators and underwater communication systems, and this took four full days of training.
We spent some time learning about the products first of course, how they are made, the design, very interesting from an engineering point of view. This was of course followed by hand-on servicing.
But we also had to be trained to actually use the IDM and other Ocean Reef Products in their indoor pool. Ricky has had training and experience with the IDM already, but for me it was my first time. Guess what, it was quite fun! Thankfully, the pool is a heated indoor one, if not, I would have died.
I really enjoyed it. Being able to breath through your nose instead of your mouth will be something many divers might actually prefer. My favourite part was the MRT or Modified Rhyme Test. This is a communications test. What happens is that one person will say a word at a time, and we would record what we heard. It is to train our hearing and pronunciation while using the Ocean Reef communication systems. “Did you say MARK, BARK, PARK, LARK? or… FARK?”
We were trained to service the entire integrated mask system including the 2nd stage and mask.
The Second stage is designed to deliver a higher volume of air because the air has to be delivered into the mask rather than the mouth directly. After four days of work, we can now proudly say that ADA is now an International Training Center for Ocean Reef products. We will be launching our full face mask training and servicing in Singapore in 2016, so look out for it!
We marked the second year that MV Nautica has been running in Singapore with the MV Nautica Birthday Party in October. Thanks to all the boat crew and dive crew that have made all our trips and events successful. It has been an interesting and fruitful 2 years and we will continue to learn and improve as we go.
This year, apart from the party, Eugene has designed another collectible:
We hope all the attendees enjoy the commemorative T-Shirt to mark this milestone, and those of you that missed out on that, come join us on trips on MV Nautica, or learn more about Liveaboard Management in our business training.
If you have been to PADI website or read the training bulletins and Undersea Journals, you should have already come across PADI’s new ReActivate Program. It is essentially the new and updated version of the Scuba Review. If you have not completed a PADI IDC lately, you may not have actually encountered the complete PADI ReActivate yet, so here are the answers to a couple of the most commonly asked questions about it.
What is PADI ReActivate?
The PADI ReActivate Program is a semi replacement for the Scuba Review and it consists of 2 parts.
1. A fully Digital Knowledge Review – Online for Computers, or the Interactive Reactivate Touch for tablets or mobile devices.
2. In-water Skills – Much like a scuba review except now, they are more tailored to the diver’s needs, by conducting an interview with the diver to evaluate how comfortable the diver is, as well as to discuss what skills and techniques they want to practise.
The skills that must be conducted are:
Mask removal and replacement
Neutral buoyancy and hover
Emergency weight drop
Alternate air source ascent, with the diver acting as both donor and receiver
Any other skills the diver would like to practice, or the dive professional feels they should
Upon completion of the PADI ReActivate Program, we can issue a replacement certification card that shows the original certification date plus the new ReActivate Date.
Is the PADI Scuba Review no longer Valid?
No, it is still valid as a PADI Program for now, just that it is no longer in the Instructor Manual. It is meant to replace in Scuba Review in all ways, except that:
The PADI ReActivate minumum age is 13
This is due to child protection laws in the USA regarding the internet.
So hang on to your Instructor Manual 2014, the Scuba Review is still perfectly valid and in fact necessary for refreshing the skills of divers below the age of 13, until further notice.
What does ReActivate Thru Date Mean?
This date is more of a reminder to diver that basic knowledge and skills deteriorate over time so if they have dived in some time, they should consider taking a continuing education course to brush up their skills with a PADI Pro, or even take ReActivate again. PADI Certification Cards DO NOT EXPIRE.
Should I refuse Diving Services to a Diver when it is beyond the Reactivate Thru Date?
No, PADI Certification Cards DO NOT EXPIRE.
You can use this as a tool to access diver readiness along with the normal logbook and certification card checks and asking the diver directly about their recent dive activity.