Interview – Pengiran Aki Ismasufian


Pengiran Aki Ismasufian

How would you describe the experience? 
I was not a cyclist until late 2013, when an opportunity arose with Standard Chartered’s “ASEAN Celebrates Ten.” Colleagues from Standard Chartered’s ASEAN region were invited to participate in this cycling expedition and I thought to myself “why not?”

That was the turning point, it was then that I decided to take up cycling. Together with two of my colleagues in Brunei, we cycled a total of 815km over a six day period. We crossed two borders, from Cambodia to Laos, cutting through Thailand. We did this by getting up at 5.30 in the morning, cycling through rain, going up steep hills and then continuing on in 38 degree heatwe cycled about 135km a day. This was definitely a challenge for me, especially when you consider the fact that I had hardly cycled before this expedition.

A big motivation for us throughout this grueling journey was that we knew that every dollar raised for the expedition was matched dollar for dollar by our bank. I am happy to report that we raised USD 100,000 for the event, which was way above our initial target.

How would you describe the experience?
Prior to this, I had never imagined seeing the beautiful Mekong region by bicycle. I consider it such a privilege to have experienced this together with my colleagues, and it is something I will treasure for a long time. Not only that, the meaning behind the ride will definitely be one of Standard Chartered’s lasting legacies. On a personal level, it was one of my greatest achievements to date.

I was so fond of the “Asean Celebrates Ten” experience that I have since taken up two other long distance rides around the region. In September last year, I joined 40 other riders in the Ride for Sight from Kuantan, Malaysia to Singapore, where we cycled 560km over three days. We raised USD 200,000 in total for the event, which was double the initial target amount. I have also recently returned from the Ride for Sight Vietnam in October, spanning 450km over three days.

How did you prepare yourself for the “ASEAN Celebrates Ten” cycling expedition?
We all knew it was going to be tough. Prior to the expedition, the organisers and my colleagues, who are more experienced cyclists kept reminding us that physical preparation was crucial and we shouldn’t take it for granted. Together with my colleagues from Brunei, we cycled 50 to 60 km on weekdays, and we would hit 100km on the weekends. The key was to focus on endurance, strength and pace. And at the same time, we were conscious not to over-train. For every three weeks of hard training, we would do one week of light training to give our bodies time to recover.

One bit of advice that has always stuck with me is: “to drink before you get thirsty and eat before you get hungry.” I learned that, in order to keep my nutrition up and my body hydrated, I had to do this even before I felt the need to eat or drink. To date, I have followed this rule for all the rides that I have trained for and successfully completed.

“Having big responsibilities at work, we also need a healthy work-life balance”

Tell us more about Standard Chartered’s “ASEAN Celebrates Ten” and “Ride for Sight” initiatives.
The “ASEAN Celebrates Ten” marked two very special milestones celebrated by Standard Chartered – our presence in all ten ASEAN markets and the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of our global community investment initiative, Seeing is Believing.

Standard Chartered Bank has a strong focus on sustainability and giving back to the communities in which we operate. Through Ride for Sight, we are not only promoting healthy, balanced lifestyles but this is also an event to engage our staff and to provide them with the opportunity to give back to the community through volunteering or participation. Our aim was to raise funds to restore sight for people with avoidable blindness across the ASEAN countries.

At one stage of your life, you seemed to be headed towards a professional tennis career. Fast forward a decade and a half later, you are now a top executive for one of Brunei’s leading banks. What happened?
Growing up, I had always had a great enthusiasm for sports, especially tennis. Although I started playing tennis at a later age, as compared to the world’s elite players who start as young as three years old, I was able to pick up the sport relatively quickly.

With support from the Brunei Government and Brunei Tennis Association, I was given many opportunities. I got to train in Thailand and played in major tournaments including Davis Cup, ATP, Satellite Circuits, SEA Games and Asian Games. I also had opportunities to witness the current top ranking players live in action like Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Andre Agassi, and Pete Sampras. At one stage, I was ranked 234th in the world.

Despite that, there were a number of considerations that affected my decision not to pursue tennis professionally. I understood that it would involve a huge commitment on my part, both physically and financially.

As a professional tennis player, you need to travel all over the world to play tournaments for a living and spend long periods of time training. Life would have to be tennis 24/7; you really have to eat, sleep and breathe the sport.

Even though I was mentally prepared for the physical commitment, I didn’t have the necessary means to fund this very expensive ambition. It was very difficult to justify sponsorship for money to enroll in the tennis academy plus traveling costs to tournaments.

I had to force myself to look ahead and think about what I wished to do after my professional tennis career. So I made the decision to further my studies and started working after I graduated.

Different opportunities offered to me in my work life have led me to where I am today. For that, I am thankful and happy with where life has taken me in terms of my professional career. Regardless, I still play tennis once a week and try to find time to cycle and play golf whenever possible.pengiran3

What does your background in sports teach you about business?
The characteristics that I possess as a sportsman have definitely influenced my work life. I remain motivated, disciplined, competitive, constantly thinking on my toes and willing to take on any challenge that comes my way. I strongly believe that these traits have allowed me to progress in my career.

What is your daily fitness routine?
I don’t have any particular daily fitness routine but I do want to stress that fitness and health are very important to everyday life. I try to run whenever I can, but if I don’t manage to, I always have a conscious mindset that little things matter –such as walking from the car to the office or climbing the stairs instead of taking the elevator.

Why should executives take their personal fitness seriously?
Having big responsibilities at work, we also need a healthy work-life balance. I believe this balance helps us in making clearer decisions, which in turn, is healthy for business.