About Steve Okun
Steve Okun is a leader on corporate public affairs, communications, sustainability, and stakeholder engagement in Asia Pacific, Steven serves as CEO of APAC Advisors, an ESG consultancy in the private capital sector, and as Senior Advisor for global strategic consultancy McLarty Associates.
In his roles, he empowers clients, ranging from global corporations and financial service firms to social enterprises and NGOs, by providing counsel on expanding and protecting a company’s license to operate across all markets through engagement with key stakeholders and how best to navigate the collision of business, government, and media.
The AmChams of Asia Pacific, the umbrella organization of 27 American Chambers of Commerce promoting trade and investment between Asia-Pacific and the United States, elected Steven as its Chair for 2022-23.
As KKR’s first Director of Asia Public Affairs from 2011-2017, his responsibilities encompassed government affairs, communications, stakeholder engagement, and sustainability.
From 2003-2010, he created and led Asia public affairs for UPS.
Since 2017, Steven serves as the Senior Advisor in Southeast Asia for the Global Private Capital Association.
Awarded a Special Service Commendation in the Clinton Administration for his service as Deputy General Counsel at the Department of Transportation, he served in the US government from 1994-1999.
He represents the views of the business community across global media, including CNBC, CNA, and TRT, contributes commentary to The Straits Times, and does a weekly international segment for Singapore’s MONEYFM.
He received his B.A. from the University of Virginia and his J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law.
Lesson 1. Make Yourself Unique 06:32
Lesson 2. The world’s a big place 13:26
Lesson 3. Go for long walks 16:57
Lesson 4. Bet on yourself 19:02
Lesson 5. Knowing your value – lets you advocate for yourself 21:57
Lesson 6. Be generous with your time / grows your network 23:58
Lesson 7. Get your hands dirty (work) and (community) 26:29
Lesson 8. No job is beneath you / too small if it needs to get done 29:28
Lesson 9. Be passionate about what you do and show it 31:59
Lesson 10. Physical fitness improves everything 36:05
Steve Okun – Knowing your value – lets you advocate for yourself
[00:00:08] Robert Hossary: Hello, and welcome to 10 lessons it took me 50 years to learn the only podcast that makes the world wiser lesson by lesson. Here we speak with sages and luminaries, gurus, and professionals and ordinary people and dispense their wisdom to an international audience of rising leaders. My name is Robert Hossary and I’ll be your host for this episode.
[00:00:32] This podcast is supported by the Professional Development Forum, which helps diverse young professionals of any age, accelerate their performance in the workplace.
[00:00:41] Today’s guest is Stephen Okun. Stephen is a leader in corporate public affairs, communication, sustainability and stakeholder engagement in Asia Pacific.
[00:00:52] Steven serves as CEO of APEC advisors and ESG consultancy in the private capital sector and as senior advisor for global strategic consultancy, McLarty Associates.
[00:01:04] The AmChams of Asia Pacific. This is an umbrella group organization of 27 American Chambers of Commerce promoting trade and investment between Asia Pacific and the United States elected Steven as their chair for 2022 and 2023.
[00:01:22] KKRs first director of Asia Pacific public affairs from 2011 to 2017. He’s responsibilities, encompass government affairs, communications, stakeholder engagement, and sustainability from 2003 to 2010. He created and led Asia public affairs for UPS.
[00:01:44] Since 2017, Steven served as senior advisor in Southeast Asia for the global private capital association. Stephen was awarded a special service commendation in the Clinton administration, for his service as deputy general counsel at the department of transport. He served in the U S government from 1994 to 1999. He represents his views of the business community across global media, including CNBC, CNA, and TRT.
[00:02:16] He contributes commentary to the Straits Times and does a weekly international segment for Singapore’s Money FM. Steven received his BA from the university of Virginia and his J D from the university of Virginia law school. Welcome Stephen to the show. And thank you for speaking with us today.
[00:02:37] Steve Okun: Thank you, Robert, I honored and surprised that you would ask me, but happy to do it and happy to be with you again, as we’ve known each other, uh, over the years, when I would often come to Australia with, uh, with AmCham.
[00:02:48] Robert Hossary: We have known each other. And the reason that we asked you on the show is because, as I said, in my introduction, we want to get the knowledge and the wisdom from, some of the brightest minds that we have come across. And Stephen, you have been championing business in Asia Pacific you’ve, you’ve got this cross-cultural understanding of what it takes to be successful, in different cultures.
[00:03:16] So that is, I believe that is very important for our audience and for our, our listeners to understand that it’s not just what you do in your own little town, it’s what you do as a professional globally. And it’s also, these lessons can also transfer to life. Speaking of lessons, you’ve given us a list of, 10 of your lessons, which we’ll get into in a minute, but before we do that, Let me ask you this, what would you have wanted to learn?
[00:03:45] So what would you say to your 30-year-old self, if you had the chance that that is the most important lesson they should have learned?
[00:03:52] Steve Okun: I mean, I guess the, and these guys kind of get all encompassed in the, the 10 we’re going to talk about, but I may think, you know, I thought initially, you know, you very much needed a plan.
[00:04:01] You, you set out that plan and, and you followed it. Um, and that’s just not the case. Uh, so I, I think that that’s something and, and along those lines, there’s a lot of things I, you know, in hindsight I would’ve done differently of course, but I think the, the one I really would have done differently is not have gone straight from college to law school because I thought that’s what you needed to do.
[00:04:23] You know, you go to high school, you graduate in the U S you’re going to college for your four years. You graduate, you immediately go to law school because I always want to be a lawyer. And if you didn’t do that, if you somehow got off track, you wouldn’t be able to, or it’d be tougher to get to get on track. And I don’t know what would’ve happened had I taken a year off or two years off after I graduated, from, from college and, and, and gotten different experiences and certainly an open myself up to the world at a much sooner age, than I had. So, I that’s really, I think what I would say. I’ve told my 21- or 22-year-old self, you know, just get some more experiences and, and that’ll kind of lead into our discussion.
[00:05:02] Robert Hossary: It’s interesting that you say that because, I did not go to university straight out of school. I went to work, and I did my university as a mature aged student. And I only got my master’s two years ago. And I found that that experience, that work experience before I got my degree, and the experience I gained before I got my master’s was invaluable to me.
[00:05:28] Now, this isn’t the case for everybody, but rather than going straight from school straight into a university degree, I found that having that, that knowledge base of the real world. Enabled me to take these theories and apply them and know how they could be applied in my life. so, it is interesting.
[00:05:50] You say that, but in hindsight, It’s true. Yeah.
[00:05:54] Steve Okun: And certainly like, I I’m no question. I did fine in law school, but I, I certainly would have done better and gotten more out of it would have appreciated it much more had I had that break and gotten some of those experiences, even if it’s. You know, you’ve got to get up every morning.
[00:06:09] You got to work every day. You’ve got a boss telling you what to do, then all of a sudden you get back to the freedom of, of education and what you can explore and how your mind thinks. I, no question. I would have gotten more out of it. I got a lot out of it, but I’d have gotten, um, even more had I taken that break.
[00:06:23] Robert Hossary: That’s excellent insight, and listeners that is excellent advice. Okay, well, let’s move on to your 10 list that took you 50 years to learn.
[00:06:32] Lesson 1: Make Yourself Unique
[00:06:32] Robert Hossary: So, lesson number one, this is a very interesting one and I like it. Lesson, number one, make yourself unique. What do you mean by that?
[00:06:43] Steve Okun: Well, I, you know, I had always thought that I was going to have a certain plan and that, the plan I had was, and this plan, it goes back to literally elementary school.
[00:06:53] I always wanted to be in government. I always wanted to be in politics. Well, the way to do that is obviously you go to the high school, you go to college, you go to law school, you get your law degree. You go to Washington; you work in government. And that, that will take you quite a bit of time to do, but for a number of reasons, a lot of it luck a lot of it, timing a lot of it uh, actually a little bit of my own initiative. You know, by the time I was, you know, 24, so I had already done that. Right. I, got on that track. I graduated from law school. I immediately started working on, the Clinton campaign. And then when we won and you know, this is, we went in that 92. I went to the white house in 93 and in the department of transportation in 94.
[00:07:32] So a lot of that is luck and timing. It’s working for somebody like Bill Clinton. Um, and then it’s obviously my initiative in, in taking it and making that happen. But what then happened in what I saw over time over the course of my career was that. The reason I got, into the department of transportation, when I went to interview with the general counsel and I didn’t know anything about transportation law, and I said to him up front in the interview.
[00:07:58] So like, I don’t know anything really about transportation, so I don’t care there. I need, I need a young, hardworking, you know, smart lawyer. But who also worked on the campaign, who has made friends throughout the administration because he came in, as the former city attorney in Denver. So, he came in with a deep transportation experience, um, but from outside of DC, um, and he says, I need somebody with your experience.
[00:08:23] I know enough about transportation. You’ll, you’ll learn when you get here. So, I got the job, in DOT because of the experiences I had built up to that point. Then at the end of the administration, I got a call from UPS, and they said, will you come work for us and run our international aviation negotiating team.
[00:08:40] And I said, look, I’ve never worked for a private company. I’ve certainly haven’t worked in, in this sector. I’ve, you know, I’ve been on the outskirts of, of aviation negotiations, but I’ve never run one. And this is don’t worry. You know, you know how the U S government thinks, and that’s what we need. We don’t have that.
[00:08:56] We’ll teach you the rest. So, I got that job because of my unique experience, at DOT. And then UPS said, we want, we want you to move to Singapore. They said that a couple of years later, and I said, I don’t know anything about Asia. It’s the, don’t worry about it. You know, UPS, you know, public affairs that’s what we need at this point. You’ll learn Asia. So, I came out to Asia. And then when, when KKR reached out to me, I said, well, I don’t know anything about private equity. And they said, we don’t care. You know, Asia, you know, public affairs, you’ll learn, you’ll learn private equity. And so, in hindsight, looking back at what I’ve done by accident. Was that I made myself unique along the way, and I never intended to live in Asia. I never intended to work in financial services, um, or private equity, but, but all those opportunities came to me, because of how I had made myself unique along the way. And so that’s the advice I give. You know, I often get students or people just out of college, you know, what is it that they should do is the most important thing you do is you make yourself unique.
[00:09:54] How do you differentiate yourself from somebody else? It could be language. Um, it could be experiences. It could be education could be any number of things. Don’t follow the path everybody else follows. And as, as my, you know as, my boys were, applying to colleges. The advice they got from admissions officers, was similar to this, which was, we don’t look for well-rounded kids.
[00:10:18] We look for pointy kids and we want to get a bunch of different pointy kids. And then you put them all together and you get a well-rounded class. So, make yourself pointy, which is, I was like, Hey, that’s what I tell people. I just say, make yourself unique. So, I think that’s really the most important lesson I’ve learned.
[00:10:34] It’s the most important lesson I tried it.
[00:10:36] Robert Hossary: That’s an incredibly valuable insight. and it it’s incredibly valuable and powerful, advice for everyone. The question I have is how do you make yourself unique? I mean, our skillsets are all unique, because as individuals we’re unique, however, our mindset sometimes falls into this, this group think, and I believe that if I’m understanding you correctly, it’s that group think that keeps us from being unique.
[00:11:13] Steve Okun: I think it’s, it’s a little bit of an outside in as well, right? Because when, it companies or NGOs or government, so whoever, whatever employer you’re looking to work with, how do they find you? Right. And if, if, if your resume, if your bio, if your interview is no different than everybody else’s, then you’re not going to stand out.
[00:11:34] You may not, you know what? You may never get found. But if you can put yourself into a position where somebody says, I’m looking for somebody with these three skillsets, and you’re one of the few people who have those because of your experiences, because you’ve got and taken that time to learn the second or you know, I don’t, I only know one, and now you almost need a third language to differentiate yourself. There are so many people who’ve taken that step of learning a second one. So, do you differentiate yourself with your language skills? Do you differentiate yourself with your experiences by going out and at a very young age, if you go to work for an NGO, or if you go to work for the government, if you go to work in the community, you’ll get a lot more, uh, not only experience, but you’ll get a lot more authority because you’ve got to get stuff done. Right? I mean, you don’t have layers and layers of bureaucracy that where people are making a lot of money. And so, if you get that experience as a 24-year-old, and now all of a sudden when you’re 27, 20 30, and you’ve learned that you’ve had it.
[00:12:29] that’s going to differentiate you from somebody who’s just stayed at that corporate ladder going step by step by step and never had that experience. So, I think that’s, it gives you, it gives you both, it changes your mindset, but it also makes you more, more, attractive.
[00:12:42] Robert Hossary: Yeah, no, I, can see that. And it is, it is a very powerful, piece of advice.
[00:12:47] Steve Okun: And then the other thing it does, why, but you’re making yourself unique. You have no idea where it’s going to take you. Yeah, I, again, because I had made myself unique going back to when I was 24, I wasn’t doing this intentionally because I wanted to do it and loved it and wanted to go work in government.
[00:13:03] But that’s what got me the opportunity to come to Asia, uh, which I had never, even that wasn’t even on, uh, my, my radar screen. I mean, nowhere even close. So, making yourself unique is going to open you up to opportunities that you’d never thought were there.
[00:13:19] Robert Hossary: brilliant. that really is a very, as I said, powerful piece of advice, and I would love to talk about this forever, but let’s move on.
[00:13:26] Lesson 2: The world’s a big place
[00:13:26] Robert Hossary: So, let’s move to lesson number two, which also is not only a truism, but, uh, something that people tend to forget. The world is a big place.
[00:13:37] Steve Okun: And the world’s a big place. It is, is so different. And you’ve really got to work to get out, into it. And some people are more fortunate than others and being able to afford that, but others would have to work, um, to make that happen.
[00:13:51] But, my mindset and that you had mentioned this, Robert earlier, my mindset has changed so much because of the exposures I’ve had. By. Being out in, different places and working in those different places and getting out into the community, in those places. And, and that certainly has changed, how I, how I think, um, and I think has given me a different approach, um and so, boy, you’re used to just staying at home or it’s too hard to do this.
[00:14:17] It’s too far away. It’s, it’s too expensive. it’s not on my plan. Just try and make it happen.
[00:14:24] Robert Hossary: Definitely. The comment I make to, to all, our listeners who just think that their own little corner of the world is it. Get out, see more, understand more your mind will expand, especially if you’re exposed to different cultures.
[00:14:40] I was lucky enough to be exposed to multiple cultures, including in business. I was lucky enough to leave. Australia and go and work in the US, go and work in Taiwan, be responsible for the Middle East. So, I was lucky enough to be exposed to all of these multitude of cultures.
[00:14:58] The world is a big place, but let, let’s take that lesson and let’s look at the world of business. I believe in the world of business, the world is a big place, and this comes from, Being told that all you’ve got to be better than your competitors.
[00:15:12] Uh, your competition is this, your competition is that I personally don’t believe in competition. I believe in, peers in the same industry, because the world is a big place. There’s enough room for people to sell similar products to you. What do you think of, that approach?
[00:15:31] Steve Okun: Well, I’ll put my public affairs hat on because most of my businesses in that, public affairs, government, government relations world.
[00:15:37] I think all businesses, all governments, right? All countries, they, they think along the same lines they want to do what’s in the public interest. and they want to do it. If, if you’re, you know, in Canberra, if you’re in Washington, DC, if you’re in Singapore, you’re in Beijing, right?
[00:15:50] You want to do what you define as a public interest, what you need to figure out. When you go into a, either your, even your own government or a foreign government, how do they define what’s in the public interest? And then you match what you’re trying to accomplish. Get a legislation passed, get a treaty signed, get, a foreign direct investment restrictions lifted, uh, or eased, whatever it may be.
[00:16:14] You need to understand. How to make the argument that it’s in the public interest of the host government to do what, you’re requesting. and I think that would be a similar lesson, in if you’re offering a service, if you’re offering a product, how are you helping somebody achieve what they’re trying to achieve?
[00:16:32] And there’s, various different ways to do it, but I think that’s the question that, that I always ask myself before going into a, uh, to a foreign government. What is the public interest from their perspective? Not what I think it should be.
[00:16:44] Robert Hossary: Yeah. And in business it’d would be what is the, what is in the consumer’s interest.
[00:16:48] Um, but it’s, the world is a big place. So, concentrate on the public good. As opposed to what your competitors are doing.
[00:16:57] Lesson 3: Go for long walks
[00:16:57] Robert Hossary: Lesson number three is, you have to explain this one to me. I understand it, but I’m sure there’s a lot more to it. Well, lesson number three, go for long walks.
[00:17:09] Steve Okun: Yeah. I don’t know if there’s a lot to it. I mean, you look, you’ve got to give your, brain time to think. And for me, you know, I kind of really learned this when, when we got our, dog, uh, a long, long time ago. And you’re, you have to go on long walks, right?
[00:17:24] The dog, needs long walks. And so, when I would go for these long walks at night, I could think so much clearer, uh, as I was just walking, walking and walking. If that’s, I mean, that’s what, what, what go for long walks means is you’ve got to just disconnect from everything else and you’ve got to open up your mind and give yourself time to think and you analyze, whatever you’re working on from so many different ways.
[00:17:47] Is it come up with a, a sound bite that you need, uh, when you’re on media or But helping you think through what you think the public interest is, but with, does somebody else think it is or what opportunities out there for you? It works for everything, but go for long walks because it gives yourself time to think and you need that time.
[00:18:03] Robert Hossary: So, it’s the me time you’re talking about.
[00:18:06] Steve Okun: Well, me time is different. Me, time. I mean, you, you, you, you know, go, you know, go play golf or tennis or read or whatever. That’s, that’s different. This is work time in a way, right. I’m telling you, you know, it’s both, but this is work time, but you got to disconnect, and you can do this for a good 45-minute hour walk.
[00:18:25] If you can do that every night, which when I have it, I don’t anymore. But I used to, um, and I miss, I should, I don’t know why I, it, because I could do it anyway, but it really gives me. Um, at time to think and that’s, that’s different than me-time.
[00:18:37] Robert Hossary: Yeah. Yeah, no, I do see the difference and I see the benefit. I see the benefit of, uh, the disconnection of letting your subconscious just take over and process everything that you you’re needing to process for that day. that’s an excellent point. And I don’t think I’ve gone for enough long walk. So, you know, Steven, I will take you up on that and I’ll, I’ll start that tonight.
[00:19:02] Lesson 4: Bet on yourself
[00:19:02] Robert Hossary: Okay. Lesson, number four, bet on yourself. What do you mean by that?
[00:19:08] Steve Okun: I mean, there, there will be times when you come to a crossroads, in your career or you have a choice to make and, one option will be, you know, the safer option, stay with an existing job, do what you’re continuing to do.
[00:19:21] And other one will be, you’re going to have to take a chance, and you know, go out and start up your own business or, do something where it’s going to be riskier for you than staying in your comfort zone. And what I think betting on yourself is always a good bet. Uh, you know, what you’re capable of, um, and you then have to go make it happen.
[00:19:41] And so you, you, you know, now you may lose you. You’re not going to be a hundred percent, when you gamble on anything. But I think it’s a really smart bet when you’re betting on yourself. Um, and I don’t think people do it enough. I think they don’t, they don’t have faith in themselves. They look at the risk reward.
[00:19:59] They undervalue themselves. And so, I think that’s why I say, you know, bet on yourself.
[00:20:04] Robert Hossary: Absolutely. A lot of people do undervalue themselves quite drastically. And you’re not the first of our guests to. To come up with, basically believe in yourself self-confidence lessons, but it just shows how valuable that lesson is and how important it is for us to do that to ourselves.
[00:20:28] Steve Okun: Well, and that is a bet on yourself, believe in yourself are slightly different. You have to believe in yourself, but if you believe in yourself, but you don’t take action. Then, so what? Right betting on yourself is say, I believe in myself and I’m going to take this action that comes with a risk bets are risky, right?
[00:20:44] There are no, no sure thing in when you, when you bet on anything. And so, I think it’s taking it. If you don’t believe in yourself, you’re not going to bet on yourself. You have to believe in yourself and then you also have to take some risks. And that’s what I would mean by betting on yourself.
[00:20:57] Robert Hossary: Can you say that again?
[00:20:59] Steve Okun: So, believing in yourself, is it, you understand why you say I’m good? I know what my value is, but betting on yourself is taking action, right? Betting understands there’s risk when you bet and you say this is going to be a risk, but because I believe in myself, I’m willing to take this chance because I think I’m going to be uh, successful at it, or I’m more likely to be successful at it than otherwise. So, I think betting on yourself is taking it to an action level, as opposed to believing in yourself
[00:21:26] Robert Hossary: that is such a, such a subtle difference. And I never thought of that before, thank you, Steven. Absolutely spot on because yes, we all have the self-confidence.
[00:21:36] Well, those of us that do it, and I suppose we confuse that self-confidence with the action. But they are two separate things. okay.
[00:21:46] So lesson number four bet on yourself. This is why I love doing this show Stephen, because I learned something new every time, every time.
[00:21:57] Lesson 5: Knowing your value – lets you advocate for yourself
[00:21:57] Robert Hossary: Let’s go to lesson number five, which is, I would say this is linked to, uh, lesson number four, know your value.
[00:22:06] Steve Okun: Yeah, and it is linked in, and I put this kind of in the work context, but you have to understand, right. Whatever you’re doing, how does it fit in right to the, to the company? And certainly, if it’s a, again, it could be an NGO, it could be government, it could be a for-profit, but, but what is it? What’s the mission of that?
[00:22:22] It we’ll use business because that’s the easiest, right? What is the mission of that business and how do you add to the bottom line? If you’re talking about working for a for-profit organization and in, unless you know, how you directly are contributing to that mission of the company, then you’re not going to know your value.
[00:22:42] Um, and if you don’t know your value, it becomes much more difficult to advocate for yourself. So, it becomes more difficult to ask for or raise or the, you know, the, you know, if your boss says you were going to get 3% this year, so now I deserve 10% and here’s why I deserve 10% because you can articulate. The value you have brought.
[00:23:02] Now when you make that, you better be, you know, again, be willing to bet on yourself because you may end up somewhere else. If, if he disagrees with you or she disagrees with you, but it’s, knowing your value. So, you have to go and say, what is it that my boss is trying to accomplish with my boss’ bosses?
[00:23:19] And that’s when you can better advocate for yourself is to just say, well, I’m good. And I do good work. Okay. How does it tie into the business?
[00:23:27] Robert Hossary: So, knowing your value, let you advocate for yourself.
[00:23:32] Steve Okun: Yes.
[00:23:32] Um, now that fantastic. Thank you, Steven well We’re speaking today with Stephen Okun the founder and CEO of APAC advisors. And, uh, he’s recently the chair of the AmChams of Asia Pacific, as well as the senior advisor to McLarty associates and just a really knowledgeable human being.
[00:23:54] And we’re very proud to have you. Thank you very much again, Steven.
[00:23:58] Lesson 6: Be generous with your time / grows your network
[00:23:58] Robert Hossary: So, let’s move on to lesson number six. Be generous with your time and that will help you grow your network. Is that correct?
[00:24:07] Steve Okun: the networking piece is ancillary to it, but I mean, I think that, you know, you, you do have.
[00:24:12] Some, you know, uh, hopefully you feel an obligation, to share with others what you’ve learned as, others have shared with me, I’ve had so many mentors, over, over my career, from teachers, of course, but then, you know, the two general councils, I worked for the department of transportation, the partner I worked for, at a law firm, the head of global public affairs both at UPS and KKR.
[00:24:36] And I’ve sought out so many other people for their advice, so, well, when it gets to be your turn, you need to be generous with your time. And so I will, try never, ever to turn down a student, somebody, you know, right out of school and just try and just, you know, share with what you cannot by, by doing that, that is going to help you, , as well, because one of the most important things you can do from a.
[00:24:59] Uh, certainly if you’re in, in my career area of public affairs and is having a wide network, but if you can share your time with that wide network, it will pay off. Not why you do it, but it certainly, has benefits.
[00:25:13] Robert Hossary: Yeah, no, definitely not why, you do it. If you’re doing it to get pay day, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.
[00:25:21] Steve Okun: Yeah, and this is, you know, part of the hard work, the really hard work of growing a network is, you know, maybe that payday comes from one person you’ve met out of a hundred. And so that you could probably have a lot more valuable time than spending doing a hundred meetings.
[00:25:37] So hoping when one pays off, but it’s the enjoyment, of meeting people, the enjoyment of, of connecting people. Yeah. There could be a payoff. But growing your network is, a benefit. And so. You have to be generous with your time and if you’re not, then why is anyone going to be generous back to you?
[00:25:55] Robert Hossary: That is true. Running the chamber for seven years. that’s what I did. I connected people and. I was always there for the members of the American Chamber in, Australia. And that’s one of the reasons we’re doing this podcast for exactly that we want to give back. And, and this goes for all of our hosts, we’re doing it because we want to give back to our community which has given us so much. So, I couldn’t agree more with that. Be generous with your time and, you know, pay it forward is another way I suppose of saying it. Fantastic.
[00:26:29] Lesson 7: Get your hands dirty
[00:26:29] Robert Hossary: All right, well, let’s move on to lesson number seven. Okay. This is another one you’re going to have to explain. Get your hands dirty.
[00:26:39] Steve Okun: Yeah.
[00:26:40] this came from a partner I worked for when I got right out of law school. and, if you want to be good at what you do, um, and you’re working on a problem and it could be a legal problem, it could be a business from whatever it is. You gotta get your hands dirty.
[00:26:53] You’ve got to really start digging. Right? What is it that that is the issue? So, if you’re a young lawyer, you go through. You know, tens, maybe hundreds of cases trying to find right that right. One. Um, and so that’s, that’s getting your hands dirty. If you’re working on a policy issue, um, you need to attack it from every possible angle.
[00:27:16] Because only then will, you know how the public interest is defined, right. What are the, so what, you know, what are the business community think about it? What are the NGOs think about it? What does government think about it? What’s happened in the past and you’ve got to get your hands dirty. I mean, there’s no other way to find that out without doing the hard work.
[00:27:32] So, so getting your hands dirty, it’s kind of a, I guess a little bit of an American way of saying, do the hard work. You have to do the hard work? Not somebody else. Because as you’re digging and as you’re learning these things, your thinking is then going to change as opposed to, if somebody does it for you and you read it, you’re not going to internalize it nearly as well.
[00:27:54] So you’ve got to get your hands dirty. And I think that that goes for work, but then it also goes for, for what you do in the community. You will get so much more out of what you’re doing to help your community by getting your hands dirty. I mean, you know, figuratively going out and doing a beach clean-up, going out into, you know, into the villages, um, and working in an orphanage or working, uh, with a social enterprise and doing.
[00:28:24] Doing the hard work, you know, going to a school and spending the time with the children, um, that is where you are going. Money is important and by all means give money. Um, but when you can get your hands dirty in the community and that you get just as you do at work, where you’re going to become much more effective and smarter, You’re going to get more out of it and they are going to appreciate the time you’ve given, in helping in the community.
[00:28:51] Robert Hossary: Yeah, I I’m a hundred percent on board. I’ve volunteered for several charities, and I know the feeling you’re talking about. The fulfillment you get by doing the work by being there for your community, uh, is just, there’s no, no way to express what that feeling is like, unless you go and do it yourself.
[00:29:13] So I encourage all of you who listeners and viewers go get your hands dirty because you will, you’ll write to Steve and say, thank you, Steven, for, for suggesting I do this because seriously, there’s nothing better.
[00:29:28] Lesson 8: No job is beneath you / too small if it needs to get done
[00:29:28] Robert Hossary: Okay. Lesson number eight. No job is beneath you. Yeah, which I totally agree with, even though I’ve worked for and seen many, many people who think that there are things beneath them, there is no job beneath you.
[00:29:45] So Steven, give us a little more on that.
[00:29:49] Steve Okun: Let me just recount a story when, you know, when I was back at the department of transportation, you know, the general council had to, we were working on her testimony for, the Senate hearing. And like this was in the nineties. We did not have the technology we have today, and she really.
[00:30:08] Got her hands dirty. And when we were editing, editing, editing, her testimony, looking things up in rewriting it, and then, you know, it’s like probably nine, 10 o’clock at night and the hearings at eight the next morning. And that when we finally get it done, now we got to print everything out and then you have to, you know, you have to collate it and you’ve got to staple everything together.
[00:30:26] Um, obviously the secretaries, you know, and admins had all gone home, you know, so she’s doing that because that job needed to get done. It didn’t matter that the general council. Right was going to be testifying herself. And then here’s a presidential appointee. Who’d been confirmed by the Senate. She is stapling papers because it had to get done.
[00:30:44] Um, and I remember were like, somebody came in and they were like, what’s, you know, what’s, what’s Nancy doing? She’s stapling. What do you think she’s doing? Why is she stapling? Because it has to get done. It’s her testimony. I mean, I’m doing it too, of course, but I mean, but that’s, you know, if the job’s got to get done, it’s got to get done.
[00:30:59] And if you’re a part of it, do it. Um, now if there’s somebody else to do it and you can be doing something else, that’s helping the job get done. Of course, you do that. But if something’s important enough that it needs to get done, then it’s not beneath you. when you, as a leader are willing to do that, that will just so inspire.
[00:31:18] As you can see the story I’m telling, you know, 30. Some odd years or not quite 30 years after it happened. Um, but that’s the kind of stuff that will inspire such loyalty, uh, and in devotion and hard work, um, of the team.
[00:31:32] Robert Hossary: And, quite frankly, if you take that mindset of nothing is beneath you and as a leader, if you lead. And stand shoulder to shoulder with your team, as opposed to being at the back and saying, you do this, you do that. you will inspire them. You will get more loyalty, more productivity out of that entire team.
[00:31:55] Now that’s a great, anecdote, Stephen, and it’s a great lesson.
[00:31:59] Lesson 9: Be passionate about what you do and show it
[00:31:59] Robert Hossary: All right, well, let’s move on to lesson number nine, be passionate about what you do and show it.
[00:32:10] That seems pretty straightforward. what have we got around this one?
[00:32:13] Steve Okun: Well, I mean, I, you know, I think it’s pretty straight forward. I don’t, I don’t think most people do it. I mean, I think I, well, for the, be passionate about what you do, I mean, so it’s very important that, you know, whatever your, job would, would be is something you’d want to be passionate about I think the most people would agree.
[00:32:32] with that piece about it. So, I mean, if you don’t love what you’re doing, it becomes work. Um, and, and yeah, you’ll get it done, but you won’t get it done as well, and you won’t get as much out of it. So obviously the first thing is you pick something to, to do that you love doing.
[00:32:46] Now you may not love it a hundred percent of it time, even at 70 30, you know, that’s going to be, a great ratio. So, so be passionate about what you do, but then you have to show it. I mean, and I think, you know, this is kind of a lesson I’ve, I’ve taken because I do a fair amount of media now.
[00:33:00] You know, and when I’m, you know, talking about something with you, I would hope now, or, or television radio, whatever it be, you’ll be excited about it. You show why it is that you are caring about what you say. and then people will go. Oh, if he cares and I want to listen, you know, do what you have to say, if she is showing emotion, um, and excitement while she’s talking, um, then I’m going to be more likely to be excited about what she’s talking.
[00:33:28] And I cannot, I, I don’t understand why I see so many people that give speeches. They go on, you know, TV, radio, whatever they do, and they just, there’s just a monotone. If you’re not excited about it, why is the listener going to be excited about it? And why are they asking you to talk about it unless you are excited about it?
[00:33:46] So I think, you’ve got to, you know, to use an American saying. I mean, you gotta bring it right when you’re, when you are in a meeting and you’re passionate about something, show it, bring it. And that. I think what some people maybe worry about a bit is, oh, well, they’re judging, you know that, oh, they’re like, why is this person so excited?
[00:34:04] How come everybody else is dead pan? And they’re not like, no, one’s judging you. Right. They’re worried about how everybody else is thinking about them. They’ll be thinking about you while you’re thinking. how they’re thinking about you, and they’re not so show the excitement, don’t worry about it because nobody really cares.
[00:34:19] And then you’re going to get, listened to more thought more attention and, and you’ll probably get more opportunity to do those types of things. If that’s something that you want.
[00:34:30] Robert Hossary: Absolutely. I’ve watched you on MSNBC every time you’re on, Stephen, you’re passionate about whatever you’re talking about and it, it comes across one, you are knowledgeable, you know what you’re talking about, but two it motivates them to listen to why this man, is, So gun-ho about this topic and, and opens up their mind. And they do listen more so, and it’s the same with work. You’re, you’re absolutely spot on. And with everything you do, if you’re passionate about it, then you know, that passion could, could be infectious.
[00:35:08] Steve Okun: willing. Yeah. Let, let them, you’re going to be passionate. Let it come out. Hm, don’t bottle it up. Uh, and, and, and for whatever reason, I think some people bought them up because their fear they’re afraid of how they’re going to get judged. Why are you so excited about where we’re at a meeting or whatever?
[00:35:24] No, show it.
[00:35:25] Robert Hossary: Yeah. I, I just love what you said. I mean, no, one’s judging you.
[00:35:30] Steve Okun: They’re worried about how you’re judging them to be thinking, right. They’re not judging you. You’re not judging them. Just do it.
[00:35:37] Robert Hossary: No, that is a wonderful lesson. Yeah. You know, the one thing I would say to viewers and listeners is if you’re not passionate about something you’re doing, why are you doing it?
[00:35:47] Steve Okun: Yep. Yep. And if you came out sometimes, okay. You may need a paycheck or there may be some reason you have to do something. Yes. But after a while, find something you are passionate about, about doing
[00:36:01] Robert Hossary: and do that if it’s within your power, do it. Yeah. Okay.
[00:36:05] Lesson 10: Physical fitness improves everything
[00:36:05] Robert Hossary: Well, let’s move to lesson number 10 Now Steven, I, I like this, but you know, it’s a well d’uh moment.
[00:36:16] Physical fitness improves everything. There’s gotta be something more to it than that.
[00:36:22] Steve Okun: I mean, there really isn’t and, and, um, but it’s something I’ve learned. I mean, I, I mean, I’ve certainly, you know, gone into better shape and not better shape, and in and out, I mean, nothing, drastic or transformative that I’ve done, but, but again, if it’s an investment.
[00:36:39] I mean, you’ve got to put the time in, and now I’ll give you, you do that hour walk and think at the same time. I mean, there’s ways to do more, but you’ve boy, what, when, when I’ve been really consistent in going to the gym, going for walks, whatever it is that I do, that the benefits you get, it really improves how you think.
[00:36:58] it just gives you such a different, uh, it clears your mind. It, it, it, when you’re healthier, you have a different perspective when you feel better. So, I have not done this consistently throughout life I’ve been okay but more and more as I’ve certainly gotten older, wanting to, be in, good shape for somebody my age.
[00:37:16] Um, and then you notice that improvement comes in a lot of. different areas and certainly mentally. So, it’s more important to stay physically fit, especially as we hit into our, fifties and beyond.
[00:37:29] Robert Hossary: well, I’m going to leave that one alone because I know what you’re saying, but to support what you’ve just said.
[00:37:36] It is important. and you, you know, we’ve had several guests who brought this up, going for long walks is one thing, because we’re talking about clearing your mind, letting your subconscious work and having that clarity of thought. But the physical fitness aspect of it is, as you’ve just said, an investment, if you neglect that you’re going to have to pay a higher price.
[00:38:00] To get back there. Think of it as buying stocks. When, you know, when they low get out there now get yourself into good physical condition and maintain it as opposed to, struggling to drop 50 pounds or, or, you know, 25 kilos or whatever it is that you want to drop. Get it into shape now and maintain it.
[00:38:24] And you’ll find, as Steven has just said, you’re going to be more, more productive. You’re going to think clearer and you’re going to be healthier. And that’s, it’s not a big investment. But it’s an investment in time. Don’t make it a big investment later on. Right?
[00:38:41] Steve Okun: You just, you know, brought to mind that the person who created public affairs for UPS who hired me out of government, he would always, you talk about maintenance, right.
[00:38:49] And why maintenance is so important? He said, you know, UPS, you know, the premier global logistics company, in the world, right. When, when do we change? You know, the oil in the package cars, we wait for the engine to break down or do we do it on a regular basis and have that low investment in maintenance, which is a lot cheaper and a lot more effective than waiting till something breaks down.
[00:39:13] So, absolutely.
[00:39:15] Robert Hossary: But then we, I mean, as human beings we’ll do white for it to break down
[00:39:20] Steve Okun: a lot more expensive. Hopefully you learn that lesson only once.
[00:39:24] Robert Hossary: Very true. But yeah, that, that is a brilliant lesson. And that also, I mean, I’m not trying to be glib, but it is powerful. it might be common. It might be, you know, something that people say is common sense, but it is powerful.
[00:39:39] Think about. The maintenance, uh, analogy is brilliant. Just maintain it.
[00:39:46] Well, that takes us, through all your 10 lessons. Steven. Now let me ask you, the one thing we’re talking about lessons you’ve learned, let’s talk about something that you have unlearned. In your career and your life. Is there a lesson that you have unlearned, something that you at one stage in your life thought, yeah, I will follow this doctrine because I believe in it? And then later on found out, you know, what I was wrong.
[00:40:14] Steve Okun: I think goes back, it kind of encapsulating a fair amount of what we talked about. Um, but I, again, I used to have kind of long-term plans and now, I don’t know, maybe this is living in, uh, in Asia.
[00:40:29] Uh, but I don’t think you should have anything more than a five-year plan. I think I have a good five-year plan. What is it that you want to try and do for the next five years? And then worry about the second five-year plan after that? So, when I came, to, to Singapore, you know, I came here for UPS and it was going to be here for five years, and then I was gonna go back home, uh, to the United States. And you know, now I said, well, that’s not what ended up happening and I’m glad it didn’t. And so instead of having that plan, that was going to be one continuous plan. I’m now in year three of my third five-year plan uh, living in Singapore, uh, and I’m going to need both a fourth five-year plan, coming up. And so, I, I mean, I think that it most think in in five-year blocks and, and, had I’d done that, differently than maybe I would’ve ended up doing the same place I am now, but I think that’s, uh, I’ve gotten rid of long-term planning.
[00:41:23] Robert Hossary: Yeah, that’s interesting. That is, that’s a new one for us. We’ve not heard, not heard that, but that makes a lot of sense though. It does make a lot of sense. Now look, Steven, I really appreciate you making time for us today. I know how busy you are and believe me The fact that you have given up your time and being so generous with us and our audience is just wonderful.
[00:41:48] So thank you again, really appreciate it.
[00:41:52] Steve Okun: My pleasure. And now I’m going to go off to the gym
[00:41:57] Robert Hossary: and I will sign off on that note. Our guest today has been Steven Okun, the founder and CEO of APAC advisors.
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