Scots Collegian – Ming Thein [1997 – 1999]
I spent the final three years of my secondary education at Scots College. I’d been accelerated through school in Australia, and found myself in form 5 in Plimmer House at Scots at the age of 10.
My classmates didn’t know quite what to make of me, but fortunately the teachers and Headmaster at the time – Ian McKinnon – took it in their stride and didn’t treat me any differently from the other students. Aged 13, on the strength of the references from Mr McKinnon and Head of House Mr Moiser, I managed to get into Balliol College, Oxford to study Physics.
Despite the difficulties, I made a number of good friends at Scots and have reconnected with them through Facebook in the last couple of years. It’s encouraging to see some things haven’t changed, and at the same time they’ve grown up and moved on!
To say being accelerated through school and university was challenging is an understatement. I didn’t really have any idea of what was going on around me at a social level, and probably missed out on a lot of the growing up that happens with that kind of interaction. I did a degree I probably wasn’t suited to, struggled through most of it and only discovered right at the very end that there was a huge difference between being able to do something and doing something you felt passionate about. Thanks to not really learning that lesson and various social pressures, I ended up in the corporate world doing something I found boring – audit – because at 16, that’s the only quasi-financial employer who would take me on (I was too young for the various securities licenses at the time).
I did get into finance eventually – and during my career had several more corporate roles, the final one as a senior director at McDonalds – and yes, they do make everybody train in the restaurants to understand the business. However, during this time, I discovered both watches and photography and happily ended up combining the two, turning my passion into a business. I taught photography workshops internationally – including a very memorable one at Google HQ in California; have 160+ students in my online correspondence photography school, and run one of the largest photography websites/ communities on the internet – www.mingthein.com – which has half a million regular readers every month. It’s grown beyond my wildest dreams, and occasionally requires a pinch to check reality.
I have always wanted to make things. With like-minded friends I formed a company to make the kind of watches we wanted to buy. The company (MING, www.ming.watch) launched in 2017 and has received critical acclaim from the horological community and beyond, being featured as widely as The New York Times, Fortune and Bloomberg. Our watches were selected for the finals of the industry’s equivalent of the Oscars – the Grand Prix d’Horologerie de Geneve – in 2018, and again this year in 2019 (we’ll find out if we won in November).
Education is something I believe is incredibly important; not just while you’re at school and passing exams, but as you continue through life to acquire new skills and stay ahead of the game. I wouldn’t recommend acceleration through school – broadening of interests and staying with your peers is more important. Success depends not so much on knowing the answer or solution as knowing how to find it, and how to think critically – that is something which is both extremely important and very rare. I know I had a solid foundation in my education, and I’m grateful for that. In my small way – I’m proud to pass that on in my field of expertise.
Perhaps there are a few nuggets of wisdom I can offer from my experiences. Firstly, there’s far more to be lost in not doing something you’re passionate about than if you try and it doesn’t work (and I’ve lost count of the number of things I’ve tried that haven’t worked – and learning what worked is every bit as important as what didn’t work). Secondly, always try to maintain that delicate balance between caring enough to go the extra mile that will make the difference – but not caring so much that all of your emotional well-being is invested in whatever it is you’re doing. Finally – we are all different people and have different preferences, needs and wants – what works for somebody won’t necessarily be right for you, too. Don’t be afraid to be different; if there’s one thing that’s for sure, it’s that doing the same thing is unlikely to result in a different outcome.