How I found my way to Asia
I’m Steve Stine, Chief Executive Insider at Inside Asia. I’m an Executive Recruiter, known in some circles as a “headhunter.” I’ve been living and working in Asia for the past twenty-eight years. Along the way I’ve met some extraordinary people and learned a lot about success, and failure.
You might have noticed, there’s a lot of chatter out there about what it takes to be successful. Best-selling authors and leadership gurus dole out advice on how to think, how to act, how to appear and how to live. This is what I think: There is no single answer. Success is a hodgepodge of personality and expertise that dovetails with timing—the one thing none of us can control. You may, or may not, end up in the right place at the right time. That’s just how it goes. The best you can do is play it out. Grab hold of what you’ve got and see what you can do with it. You’ll get a glimpse what I mean by traveling with our guests through their personal and professional journeys.
“Success” to me, sounds like the finish line, a final destination. Achieve success and then what? For me, the quest for success misses the whole point. I’m after something far more enticing. Let’s call it engagement. I don’t mean engagement of the will-you-marry-me variety but the way a person engages with the world, employing subtleties of instinct, intuition, and insight. It’s this engagement that’s the proverbial foot-in-the-door to ultimate achievement.
That’s what I look for in the people I interview for a living and that’s the kind of discussions you’ll hear played out here. Our podcast is a way of giving you a ring-side seat into the minds and motivations of Asia’s movers, shakers, thinkers and provocateurs. Each week we’ll introduce you to some extraordinary people with unforgettable stories.
Each of my guests has been on their own unique journey. Some arrived direct and others more circuitously. Either way, they’ve arrived, and with great tales in tow.
But what about me? How did I manage to arrive in Asia? And what am I still doing here?
Today I live in Bali, but I was born on the other side of the world in Marblehead, Massachusetts. We moved to northern Jersey for a few years before heading South. That’s when I learned the meaning of the term “culture shock.” I attended a boy’s school in Chattanooga then went east over the Appalachian Mountains to Davidson College in North Carolina. Moving around was part of my upbringing.
At Davidson, I fell hard for literature and was outspokenly idealistic. I was primed for adventure, but when it was time to graduate the only option in sight was a starter role as an insurance underwriter in downtown Charlotte. “I’d rather be buried alive,” I thought.
Then a professor put me onto a fellowship – in India, to study Eastern philosophy. I went, I saw, I got dysentery. I also got to meet India’s prime minister, along with a myriad of writers, thinkers, and dignitaries. I was hooked and knew that one day I’d return.
After a year in East Africa followed by five years as a journalist back in Washington, DC, I enrolled in the China Studies program at The Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, better known by its less pretentious acronym, SAIS.
It was a great time to study China – revolution was in the air. In the Spring of 1989, students were protesting and camping out in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. The Chinese leadership – at least for a moment – appeared willing to listen. “You want to be a reporter?” asked my professor. “This is your moment!”
I knew I had to get there. I put out lines to every news organization that would listen to me and when there was interest, I made plans to move to China.
Then something happened that few of us expected. The tanks entered Tiananmen Square. Students were killed and dispersed. The country went on high alert and journalists were not welcome. My wife and I were suddenly unemployed, without a home and holding a couple of tickets for a place that didn’t want us.
Did we recoil? Chicken out? Rethink our flight to Asia? Maybe for a moment. But our appetite for adventure won out. We gave up our apartment, sold our car, auctioned off most our stuff, and re-routed our tickets. I put that dream of becoming a foreign correspondent on hold and took up a backpack instead. Anne and I traversed our way from New Zealand to Australia and up through Southeast Asia. It may have been the most important trip of our lives. We saw things close up…the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Nine months in and we landed in Hong Kong, flat broke and jobless. It wasn’t the plan. It just happened that way. But we got lucky. This was Hong Kong and the year was 1990. Despite the political crackdown in neighboring China, the economy was booming. Free enterprise was still en vogue and Hong Kong – the proverbial gateway to China – was wide open. It was a time when you could be anyone and do anything. I decided I wanted to work for the Asia Wall Street Journal and started by penning Letters to the Editor at the rate of three a week.
They published a couple then one day the phone rang. It was the Journal’s Asia Managing Editor, David Rosenberg. “Who are you?” he demanded. “And what’s with all the letters.” A month later, it was done. Mission accomplished. I was a Wall Street Journal foreign correspondent. I learned more about writing and reporting during those years than anywhere else since. I had access to story after story, and reveled in telling the tale of the launch of Asia’s StarTV. It’s a story ripe with big personalities, high stakes, marketing spin, and unlikely success. It’s just one of the sagas you can hear on Inside Asia.
I loved to write, but journalism did something for me that I hadn’t expected, if fueled a deep-seeded curiosity. I wanted to know more, to do more. And so began the next chapter.
I traveled through China as a photographer, joined a strategy consulting firm, became a marketing executive for a big multinational, started my own dotcom business, spent eight years as “intra-preneur,” and, eventually, threw down with a pack of headhunters.
In between, my wife and I raised two amazing daughters. I climbed a few mountains, wrote a children’s book, earned a degree in Mythological Studies, and designed and built a house in Bali.
But best of all, I learned this: It’s not about who you are, the companies you run, the people you lead, the products you sell, how many books you write or how many “likes” you get on Facebook.
No, it’s much better than that…It’s about how you do it. It’s about “engagement” with all the people and ideas that swirl around you each and every day. And what holds it all together? “Story.”
Story is the thread that runs through the lives of all exceptional people. And story is the thing that sits at the center of Inside Asia. It rests at the root of every conversation with my guests, and serves as a way into an understanding of a thing, a place, a trend or an idea. I hope you’ll join us, each week on Inside Asia.
Bill Poorman is writer, journalist, audio and video producer, and English language coach, living in Singapore since 2014.