It is not often that people enjoy the stress and adrenaline-induced thrill of a competitive environment, but Matthew Ooi Xian Wei is among the few that truly thrive in the face of an arduous challenge.
This business-oriented and determined spirit was raised in a humble abode in Petaling Jaya. His mother is a mathematics lecturer and his father is a successful lawyer. With such strong and academically inclined figures in his life, it is no wonder that a young Matthew strived for excellence and erudition early on in life. When asked if his father pushed him to study law, he responded:
‘No, that's not the reason I study law, but it is something I joke about.’
Those who know Matthew would be familiar with his signature succinct communication style and love of trying new things. A competitive person at heart, he sees competition as a way to push himself to the limit and reach his full potential. Through it all, his positive attitude and head-on approach to things have guided him along each learning curve and victory.
With his determination, it is no surprise that Matthew stands out in the classroom. He admits that maintaining his impressive academic aptitude is no easy feat. Nonetheless, it is just another challenge for him to work towards and overcome. By surrounding himself with like-minded friends and paying attention during tutorials, Matthew finds that it becomes easier to ride the rough waves of academic struggles.
‘Make sure you have a solid support system, pay attention when you are going through tutorials, and do not be afraid to ask questions!’
Outside the realm of academics, Matthew’s penchant for new challenges has also led him to join several student organisations over the course of his undergraduate years, such as the International Council of Malaysian Scholars (‘ICMS’) where he served as the Deputy National Executive Director, the Malaysian Students’ Global Alliance (‘MSGA’) and the Perdana Fellows Alumni Association (‘PFAA’). He also served the Asian Law Students’ Association (‘ALSA’) Malaysia in 2021 as the Assistant Vice President of Training, Exchange & Development.
He is forever grateful for the people he met along the way during his time in both organisations. Surrounding himself with natural leaders who are highly motivated has helped Matthew gain more insight and experience with working in a team.
‘I have met a lot of brilliant people and you will be amazed at how they approach problems, how they work, and how they think.’
The United Kingdom, Australia, Hong Kong, and the Middle East are among the countries represented in the numerous student exchange programmes he was part of. The list is endless. Despite coming from different walks of life, they were all able to connect and collaborate to ensure the success of the project.
Furthermore, collaborating with different people has also taught him how to manage and empower different personalities. It is a known fact that one will encounter different characters in their life, but it takes skill to balance varying temperaments and still generate the highest quality of work. He remembers how some colleagues were warm and amiable to work with, while others were reserved but driven. Nonetheless, both personality types could succeed — regardless of their differences — with the right leadership.
One of Matthew’s biggest lessons in being a leader in student organisations was understanding how to resolve disputes. Clashes in personality and disagreements are unavoidable, but it is the common goal of succeeding that binds a team together. Matthew reinforced the need for leaders to act with empathy and approach every dispute with an impartial and fair eye.
‘Being in those organisations gets you to experience things that you would normally not have.’
His time in ICMS and MSGA also gifted him invaluable exposure and opportunities to work with established firms and companies. By working with company representatives and experienced firm members, he understood first-hand what companies are looking for in fresh graduates and the skills frequently overlooked by students — such as data analysis, quantitative skills, communication, etc. He also learned the importance of networking and speaking to experienced people in the field, as there were many insights to be gained. One might be surprised to find generosity in such a competitive environment, but Matthew realised that many are keen to assist with their valuable advice and problem-solving skills, even offering mentorship to lucky students.
Overall, his time in student organisations has enlightened Matthew with a better understanding of his potential and the opportunities that lie outside the realm of law school. He carried these lessons with him as he ventured into his internships as well, utilising his experiences while catching a glimpse of the real working world.
Matthew as the Malaysian delegate to meet the Malaysian Ambassador in Thailand
Matthew found his legal internship journey to be delightful. His time in Peter Ling & van Geyzel and Trowers & Hamlins gifted him the opportunity to work alongside lawyers on real projects. Used to witnessing his father’s prowess in the legal world, Matthew was certainly eager for a more hands-on experience. Firms seldom expected him to deliver perfection, but rather looked for high-quality work that reflects one’s genuine interest in the profession. Hence, Matthew found his internships to be the perfect learning ground for him to exercise and improve his analytical mind.
Matthew during the handover ceremony for Corporate Fellowship attachment with Axiata Group 2020 — among many others of his wonderful achievements
Outside the legal world, his working experience with other businesses also helped him expand his horizons. Working as a case team assistant for the Boston Consulting Group has exposed him to unique opportunities such as being able to develop national strategies and foreign direct investment policies for the chemical engineering industry. Coming from a range of different work positions — from an e-commerce intern at L’Oréal Malaysia to a corporate fellow at Axiata Group — this problem-solver is always prepared to face any challenge to the best of his capabilities.
The experiences he gained had left a significant impact on his life as a law student. Firstly, it changed the way he approaches and solves problems. Exposure to the real world provided perspective when it came to solving case problems.
Secondly, it improved the way he communicates. There is a dire need to be direct, precise, and concise as there should be zero room for error when it comes to relaying information. This ethic has assimilated into his own personal capacity ¾practising it every day as he goes.
Last but not least, his experiences in the professional world have introduced him to another facet of responsibility and accountability. In law school, one’s failure to complete their assignments will bring a negative impact on their own grades, but it is the total opposite in the real world. A slip-up will decrease productivity and consequently decrease the profit of the company which is a huge consequence affecting your chance of being promoted. Hence, this understanding of the big picture instilled good habits in Matthew to remain disciplined and responsible both in law school and in the working field.
‘I am very grateful for these experiences as they taught me the values of a good worker. Maybe without these experiences, I would not have been as motivated in law school as I am today.’
To Matthew, business and law differ on several levels. He finds the scenarios provided in the business setting to be more invigorating, differing from the more rigid concepts that exist in law. The boundlessness of business relies heavily on the creativity and flexibility of a person. It is this exact nature of business that has led Matthew to fall head over heels for it.
Matthew and his like-minded teammates became the Asia Pacific Champion for the HSBC/HKU Business Case Competition 2022 — signifying their passion for business case competitions
Case competitions stood out to Matthew due to their problem-solving aspect. Always looking to challenge himself and learn, Matthew sought out competitions and different avenues that would allow him to exercise his problem-solving and passion for business.
The Asia Pacific Champion of HSBC/HKU Business Case Competition 2022 together with HSBC Malaysia’s Chief Executive Officer
His tenacity and proactiveness certainly paid off, as he later became the Champion of the National Round in the KPMG Innovation & Collaboration Challenge 2019, where Matthew and his team were tasked with developing a business plan to reduce food waste by improving access to food banks. He also developed a business idea to help facilitate corporate social responsibility among small to medium-sized businesses (‘SMEs’) when he competed in the ASEAN Virtual Business Plan Competition — earning him the international championship. All in all, Matthew’s innovation and competitive spirit have stood the test of adversity, all fuelled by his dedication towards helping those in need overcome whatever problems they may face.
When asked about his motivation and secrets behind his long list of achievements, there are three things that he has consistently stood by: having a strong dedication to excellence, having a great network of friends, and being open to seeking assistance.
In business case competitions, it is very easy to come up with the simplest solution available. But for Matthew, to achieve the wondrous stride as a Champion, one must not settle on simple ideas but instead go above and beyond. This takes a lot of dedication as success in business case competitions can only be achieved with a ton of research and analysis.
Additionally, competitions will expose students to the areas which they are not familiar with, hence the need for dedication to learning and researching all the nooks and crannies of the related areas. A lack of motivation to learn will become a factor which can lead to failure.
‘In business, there is a concept called design thinking. I remembered a mentor of mine who taught me that you should be asking “Why” at least five times until you come up with a great case solution.’
Secondly, having a great network can be highly beneficial in team-based competitions as it can help increase motivation to strive for the best. A great team does not mean a compilation of Dean-listers but rather a compilation of people whom you trust and who can work well together. The strong bond of teamwork will increase productivity as there exists harmony within each other to pursue the same goal — to do the best that they can and bring pride home to embody their tremendous efforts.
Lastly, to be open to assistance. Based on his previous participation, seeking advice from experienced people can be a tremendous help in polishing one’s ability, especially in case-solving competitions. It also highlighted the area in which he was lacking and allowed him to grow further.
‘You would be surprised that a lot of people are willing to help. So don’t be afraid to ask for their opinions. It will be very helpful in improving yourself. Let’s say you are 95 per cent complete, their assistance and advice would be the remaining five per cent which will help push you to the next level.’
Matthew, together with his team emerged as the Asia Pacific Champion for the Procter & Gamble CEO Challenge 2022
Matthew succinctly admits that no one is an exception from exhaustion and burnout. The years he spent in law school were not all sunshine and rainbows; some days were filled with so much hardship that he felt he had finally hit rock bottom. However, keeping in mind the bigger picture and focusing on long-term objectives has helped him keep afloat. Reminding oneself of their initial motivation and goals can provide the necessary drive to persist, even during the most challenging moments.
‘Things are tough right now, but tough times don't last forever.’
To help him stay engaged, he divides this larger objective into smaller, more manageable steps and celebrates each accomplishment along the way. Obtaining a law degree is merely a small step in acquiring the skills needed to help him along the way.
To Matthew, encountering new perspectives is an important aspect of developing one’s character. By joining student programmes such as the ASEAN Foundation Model ASEAN Meeting (‘AFMAM’) and the Nanyang Technology University’s Youth Regional Affairs Dialogue, he was able to collaborate and learn from other brilliant minds while fostering his abilities and confidence. Putting yourself out there may be a daunting endeavour, but Matthew wishes to encourage all students to try new things and meet new people — both within and beyond the Faculty of Law. After all, one can never reach their full potential if one refrains from leaving their comfort zone.
His search for new heights to reach did not stop at student organisations and competitions. Matthew’s fervour and passion have led him to venture into consultancy and pro bono work, another problem-solving platform. Start-ups and SMEs are on the rise, but more than 80 per cent of these businesses close their operations after just 5 years of starting. There is a need for novel and fresh perspectives to help companies stay afloat. Hence, Matthew’s role in consultancy has allowed him the unique opportunity to simultaneously contribute his ideas as well as gain some real-life practice.
‘Instead of a fictitious case, you get real data, you hear real stories, and you solve real problems! It is really interesting in that sense.’
Matthew recalled this particular period in his consultancy in which he worked with a social enterprise named PichaEats, a social enterprise that partners with refugee chefs to sell food. Working with displaced families, Matthew learned about their stories and struggles in their everyday life. By contributing his ideas, Matthew was glad to be able to assist PichaEats in developing their go-to market strategy for their new ready-to-heat meals amidst the backdrop of the pandemic. Matthew emphasised that working with businesses was always a two-way process with both sides learning and teaching simultaneously. For instance, while consulting with Oyen, a digital pet insurance startup, Oyen’s founders Michelle and Kevin were immensely helpful in sharing their journey in entrepreneurship and running a business.
One of his pro-bono consultation sessions with the founders of Oyen — Malaysian’s first digital pet insurance start-up
Dealing with real lives and personal feelings will inevitably foster a considerate nature. For Matthew, this is where all his hard work really pays off. His labour reaps no pay nor certificate, but the impact he makes on people’s lives and the few thanks he receives are what really matters. The pro bono work that he has done has certainly paid off — not in currency but in the knowledge of how to be a better human being.
‘It gives you a lot of satisfaction when you give advice and your solution was able to help them generate some extra income in a month. It may feel like it’s not a lot, but to some of those people who are struggling, it really is a big difference.’
A special thanks goes to Peh Qi Hui, who has always been by his side to encourage him through adversity and to celebrate the good times. Finally, he thanks his friends in the Faculty — 'Pxxxluc' — comprising Luc Choong, Kelvin Chew, Edward Lee, Ignatius Joel Nathan, Lee Qai Qet, and Farhan Hadeed.
His ups and downs in law school are made special with the help of ‘Pxxxluc’
Written by Muhammad Sufian Hakim.
Reviewed by Siti Nur Radhwa, Chrystal Foo, and Pravena Sreetharan.