‘Don’t follow your passion’: How Samuel Wee became the CEO of Rev Media

secret to success
Rev Media Group went from a few founding members to 360 employees in total. Source: Samuel Wee

When Samuel Wee was appointed as the chief executive officer (CEO) of Rev Media Group — the digital arm of Media Prima, Malaysia’s largest and leading integrated media company — last year, he was seen as a transformative figure. Not only did the 36-year-old play a key role in growing Rev Media Group to become Malaysia’s leading digital publisher, he also helped revolutionise the way content is consumed in the country.

But how did a small start-up consisting of just Wee and several founding members manage to get the attention of one of the largest media companies in Malaysia? What kind of person do you have to be to spearhead or be a pioneer of the digital media movement? Rev Media Group has become a leader of sorts in the digital media market — but what does it take to remain in that position?

We sat down in Wee’s office in downtown Petaling Jaya to find out. The advice he had in store for us elicited gasps: “People always say follow your passion, right? I say, don’t follow your passion. That’s bad.”

This golden rule of his, Wee shared, is how he found his own version of success as the CEO of Rev Media. “If you’re passionate about something that you suck at, it’s a recipe for disaster,” the Malaysian native explained. “Find out where the opportunities and gaps are, and do what you’re good at. A few years down the road you’ll build a career and have solid roots and a name for yourself in the market. Who knows? It might even turn out to be a newfound passion.”


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Good is not good enough

Growing up, Wee never really had an answer to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?”. In high school, he had a natural affinity for playing video games like Counter-Strike. “At one point, I wanted to become a professional gamer. I was pretty good at it. But the Koreans were better. There also wasn’t much money to be made in the field during the early 2000s,” he chuckled.

When push came to shove and Wee had to sit down and think about what to study in university, he made a list. “I don’t know what I like but I know what I don’t like. I crossed out what I wouldn’t want to study and realised that business was one of the few things left,” he explained. “It was convenient because I was pretty good at all the things you need to excel in business — mathematics, common sense, logic.”

Wee then enrolled locally in Taylor’s Business School, where he was encouraged to do a year abroad at the University of Technology Sydney. It was there that opportunities came rolling in for him: “I actually really enjoyed what I was studying, I aced all the typical business subjects such as accounting, finance, and management. I ended up majoring in finance and management.”

secret to success

Malaysian-born Wee’s secret to success is that he did not follow his passion. but rather, gave everything a try. Source: Samuel Wee

Spearheading the new age of digital content in Malaysia

Wee gained confidence in his skills after winning the HSBC Young Entrepreneurship Award in 2006. When he was sent to the University of California, Berkeley to complete a specialised business and entrepreneurship course, the then-second-year student believed that his future lay in entrepreneurship. “That was when I really thought that a small-town Damansara boy from Malaysia could actually make it. I felt equal to the other winners who came from all over the world.”

It wasn’t until years later that Wee sat down with the founding members of SAYS to address an issue in the media market — they reached the conclusion that Malaysian youth were not reading newspapers anymore. “Young people were primarily getting all their news from social media. We started experimenting with putting out fast news in a digestible format. The current SAYS website that you see right now is the outcome of this,” the 36-year-old said.

Their efforts soon paid off. The website’s traffic overtook one of Malaysia’s most popular English news platforms The Star within just a year.

“That’s when we knew we were on to something,” he said. “We decided to monetise SAYS by representing brands and creating native content. I would like to think we are the founders of native content in the Malaysian market, and now we have 360 people in the newly-rebranded Rev Media Group.”