Alumnus Michael Yap on risk, reward and returning to where it all began

Swinburne alumnus Michael Yap

Diploma of Arts (Advertising) graduate Michael Yap credits his successful career in advertising, communications and video production to his training and entrepreneurial spirit. Helping to kick-start companies like EMI Records in Singapore and founding many enterprises of his own, Michael's career was deeply rewarding, but not without risk.

"After growing up in Singapore in the 1950s and never living by myself, I found myself studying advertising at Swinburne. I found Australians very friendly but was surprised to learn they did not know much of Asia. Many of my friends thought I came from a forest and wrote with a brush. So on a trip home I took a picture of a 26-storey building, which was higher than any building in Melbourne at the time. Living with an Australian family during my studies was also a fantastic exchange of experiences. I remember this time fondly because I discovered the passions that would become the foundations of my businesses.

Soon after graduating in 1960, the Melbourne-based advertising firm I was working for asked me to help launch a branch in Singapore. Unfortunately, things moved so fast that I missed the opportunity to attend my graduation ceremony.

"This made me realise that 120 staff members, their families as well as mine, had benefited from my education and training at Swinburne."

Back home I quickly made a name for myself. I managed a number of large accounts including Singapore Airlines and EMI Records. EMI began building a record factory in Singapore and asked me to start a printing press to print record covers. To fund the company, I had to sell two houses, but I was up for the challenge.

In recognition of my business’s contribution to the national economy, the Singapore government recommended me for the United Nations Commission for Trade and Development export promotion scholarship. Studying in Switzerland was essential to the growth of my business and my understanding of world trade.

It was a great opportunity, but the industry was changing fast. When we shifted from records to cassettes, piracy became a huge problem. Cassettes were much easier to copy than records and my business became uncompetitive.

After selling my print house, I invested in an American novelties franchise, which later, unfortunately, caught fire, and I was forced to file for bankruptcy. Undeterred, I restarted the business but the factory caught fire once more and I entered the toughest period of my life.

Seeking a change, I learnt French with the intention to migrate to Canada. Extraordinarily, I met the Trade Commissioner for France at an event. After learning of my skills in the advertising and importing industries, I was invited to work in the French Trade Commission in Singapore. For several years, I handled trade, agricultural and wine relations between Singapore and France.

56 years after graduating, my family and I returned to Swinburne to officially attend my graduation ceremony and receive my diploma. My children and grandchildren had all officially graduated and now it was my turn. My family and I were very emotional because it was something I had dreamed of for such a long time.

This made me realise that 120 staff members, their families as well as mine, had benefited from my education and training at Swinburne. After a long career I decided it was time to give something back and so I contributed a small donation to Swinburne so others might be able to live the life I have."