Why you should be a cockroach

By Adj Assoc Prof Tan Chin Hwee

The cockroach is known as a pest and for some of us, the mere mention of its name sends shivers down our spines. What many may not know is that cockroaches have been around for millions of years since the Jurassic Period. Roaches survived the mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs and many other animal species. How did they manage to do that? Cockroaches have several characteristics that make them hardy in the face of disaster. Here’s what we can learn from them:

1. Wing it anywhere

There are about 4,000 species of cockroaches. These pests can survive extreme changes in their environments. If they are forced to move from an ice-cold place to the scorching desert, they’ll readily adapt to the new environment. It is said that cockroaches will even survive a nuclear radiation attack because of their simple body structure.

In the world of business and finance, being adaptable is extremely important. Unlike in school, you can’t always choose your bosses or co-workers, so if you want to succeed, you need to be able to adapt to different working styles, the volatility of the financial markets, and even regulatory changes. Besides being nimble and alert to changing circumstances in the real world, it helps to stay humble.

2. Dirty little secrets…

Admittedly, there’s not much glamour in being a cockroach. Roaches are always found in dirty and dark places. It’s not that different in the real world, where we often have to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty. But it is during these times that we get to test our own limits as we see the unpleasant side of things and experience the full flavour of our jobs. It’s part of the process of maturing as individuals and there are no short cuts.

3. Team app-roach

Cockroaches eat just about anything, and they can go without food for long periods of time. They can live for weeks without their heads! Even with these individual superhero skills, cockroaches display collective decision-making when choosing where to get their food.

As a fresh or young graduate, it’s easy to be proud of what you have already accomplished in university and in your co-curricular activities. However, in the real world, even if you have some superhero abilities, you’ll need to work within a team, whether you like it or not. Never underestimate the collective wisdom of a team and never overestimate your own abilities.

Now here’s one insect that you shouldn’t be – the mayfly. Mayflies are known to have very short life spans ranging from a few minutes to a few days, depending on the species. The mayfly has come to symbolise the brevity of life. One may argue that it doesn’t matter how long one lives, as long as it’s a life of purpose and meaning. However, this is not the case for the mayfly as it exists merely to reproduce.

Adj Assoc Prof Tan Chin Hwee (NTU Accountancy, Class of 1995) is the founding partner in Asia of Apollo Global Management, one of the largest global alternative investment houses in the world. He has been honoured as a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and World Cities Summit Young Leader. He was voted by The Hedge Fund Journal as one of the top 40 emerging absolute return investors globally and was also named Best Asia Credit Hedge Fund Manager by Hong Kong-based publication The Asset.

Active in giving back to the community and his alma mater, in particular the Nanyang Business School where he pursued his undergraduate studies, he is an Adjunct Associate Professor at NTU and serves on the advisory committee of CAFE, the School’s new banking and finance learning initiative. Earlier this year, he was appointed to NTU’s Board of Trustees. He is active on other not-for-profit and for-profit boards in Singapore.

Adj Assoc Prof Tan is the author of the best-selling book, Asian Financial Statement Analysis: Detecting Financial Irregularities.