Jolly Good Fellow (Tan Chade-Meng)
The sprawling Yunnan Garden campus of Nanyang Technological University has produced politicians, popular television actresses, a top songbird and various other captains of industry.
Now, NTU has spawned a brave soul who wants what Miss Congeniality wants: world peace.
Scoff not at Tan Chade-Meng’s goal. For the Computer Engineering graduate has put his money where his mouth is by being a founding patron of The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University.
He sums up his mission in an exclusive interview with Hey! in these words: “To create the conditions for world peace in my lifetime.” His official seven-word job description at Google is: “Enlighten minds, open hearts, create world peace.”
But first, the 40-year-old’s backstory.
Chade-Meng made headlines as the first Singaporean to work at a certain Internet start-up called Google in 2000 and his infectious humour led to his highly unusual job designation.
“In Google, the highest position an engineer can attain is Google Fellow, which is equivalent in rank to vice-president,” Chade-Meng reveals. “I joked that if there is a Google Fellow, why shouldn’t there be a Jolly Good Fellow? And that’s how the nickname stuck. In fact, there is another guy at Google who is always wearing T-shirts and shorts to work. His job title is Fashion Icon.”
Since no other Google employee had any violent objections, Chade-Meng’s name card reads: Jolly Good Fellow (Which nobody can deny).
In fact, he is a major tourist attraction at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California. One of the must-dos for famous people visiting the “Googleplex” is to have a picture taken with the man with the toothy grin.
“I do the right thing for Google and the world, and then I sit back and wait to get fired. If I don’t get fired, I’ve done the right thing for everyone.”
His encounters with the A-list and his exploits at Google have been reported in newspapers such as The New York Times and The Guardian. Barack Obama, Lady Gaga, Leonardo DiCaprio, Natalie Portman, Bill Clinton, Gwyneth Paltrow, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg... they all want to have their picture taken with this product of NTU.
As Chade-Meng says: “When I met Barack Obama back in 2007, when he was a senator, his words to me were ‘Hey, you are the guy in The New York Times!'"
Pulling a poker face, he adds: “And I met Ben Affleck in the restroom.”
With laughter as his medicine and a smile as his umbrella, Chade-Meng found the ideal outlet for his endeavour to save the world in Google’s “20 percent time” policy, where employees are encouraged to spend 20 percent of their work time on a project that interests them.
He elaborates: “I want to create the conditions for world peace by creating the conditions for inner peace, inner happiness and compassion worldwide – what I call global enlightenment.”
“I have worked with brain scientists and Zen masters to develop a curriculum that trains the mind to be calm and clear on demand, and that develops a mind that is habitually altruistic. I want to teach people to have unshakeable compassion and a self-confidence that comes from deep inside them. I want to help them discover their strengths, encourage them to grow out of their limits, and create their own conditions for inner happiness.”
In 2007, he conducted a programme in his office to help colleagues develop these skills.
His pioneer class attracted 50. Today, 200 Googlers attend the course every year. He has written a book, Search Inside Yourself, on his work, expected to be published in April 2012.
The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University, founded in 2005, is another offspring of Chade-Meng’s desire to do greater good. Its mission: to study compassion as a scientific subject.
Neurosurgeons, economists, psychologists and neuroscientists make up the research staff at this centre. “And an engineer,’’ the founding patron notes, referring to himself.
He concludes matter-of-factly: “I have already made millions of dollars. Now, I want to never stop learning and loving people. I want everyone to be happy.”
That’s Tan Chade-Meng for you. A mover, shaker and, now, peacemaker.
Don’t believe us? Just Google him.
[Askmelah's Note: Chade-Meng was obviously not comfortable in front of the camera, nevertheless an interesting watch.]