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Powering the next stage of home-grown engineering firm Cyclect's growth

A water membrane system installed by Cyclect in a factory in Singapore. Mr Tan, Cyclect's chief executive officer, said IE Singapore helped his company start an office in Yangon, Myanmar, in 2013, and helped it understand the market's risks, dynamics
Mr Tan, Cyclect's chief executive officer, said IE Singapore helped his company start an office in Yangon, Myanmar, in 2013, and helped it understand the market's risks, dynamics and major players. The agency also helped Cyclect with a branding exercise, which turned out to be a transformational journey that brought the company out of its traditional mindset.PHOTOS: IE SINGAPORE
A water membrane system installed by Cyclect in a factory in Singapore. Mr Tan, Cyclect's chief executive officer, said IE Singapore helped his company start an office in Yangon, Myanmar, in 2013, and helped it understand the market's risks, dynamics
A water membrane system installed by Cyclect in a factory in Singapore. PHOTOS: IE SINGAPORE

Confronted with a tiny, increasingly competitive domestic market and shrinking margins, Cyclect took the risky step of venturing out of its comfort zone. Sarah Yap finds out how the Singapore engineering company began reducing its dependence on multinational firms within the country and started looking outwards.

In his nearly two decades of steering home-grown engineering firm Cyclect through the ups and downs of economic cycles, chief executive officer Melvin Tan has learnt one key lesson.

Even if a company is really good at what it does, it must still constantly innovate and see if it can apply its core skills in different sectors and markets, he said. This is the best way to weather economic storms: by diversifying sources of revenue.

"We realised a long time ago that we cannot depend on just Singapore for all our income," Mr Tan said. "It was starting to become saturated and competitive a while ago, and we knew that we must go to places where demand was high, where we could try to become pioneers."

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It was this realisation that pushed Cyclect to transform itself from a company focused on engineering, construction and project management services to a nimble, versatile one-stop shop that now has a firm foothold in the emerging energy space.

The journey of Cyclect's transformation has been a long one. Since Mr Tan's family established the company in 1943, it has undergone several changes.

It began as an electrical repair shop, rapidly expanding to a naval servicing specialist that nabbed its first major contract with the Royal Navy in the late 1950s. By 1976, Cyclect's 8,000 sq ft workshop could no longer accommodate the work that it was doing. It bought a yard and expanded its working space to more than 100,000 sq ft.

In 1980, Cyclect embarked on an overseas joint venture with shipping giant Cosco Group in China. Over the next 20 years, Cyclect's offices sprang up all over the region - in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Brunei and Japan.

Through this evolution, the company strengthened its position as a leading engineering service provider for the marine, manufacturing and process industry sectors.

It is now in nine countries. Over the past few years, the company has been involved in many of Singapore's high-profile projects, including the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix night race and the development of Universal Studios Singapore, Gardens by the Bay and Marina Bay Sands.

The culture of innovation, which underpins Cyclect's business, comes in two forms for the company: expanding overseas and moving up the value chain, said Mr Tan.

"We are constantly thinking of the next new thing," he said.

"Cyclect never had it easy. In electrical engineering services for industry and infrastructure, there are many competitors for work, talent and technology."

He added: "There are innovative companies that differentiate and attempt to move up the value chain as customers' preferences change over time. We want to position ourselves as one of them."

Cyclect's most recent innovation is its move into the power and energy sector. Mr Tan believed this new business segment was a natural progression from the company's traditional bastion of oil and gas.

The firm resolutely moved up the value chain, transforming from a purely engineering, procurement, construction firm to become a developer and asset owner.

It now develops co-generation and tri-generation power plants, provides solutions for waste-to- heat recovery and energy efficiency, and helps organisations plan and implement their renewable energy strategies. Simply put, Cyclect has the know-how to convert waste for uses such as cooling, heating and electricity generation.

Taking innovation a step further, Cyclect has begun developing automated solutions for the aviation industry using the cutting- edge technology of robotics.

"This transformation was part revolutionary and part evolutionary, as our people knew that this was something they needed to do in order to remain competitive and continuously value-add to the work and the industry," Mr Tan said.

"They approached this transformation enthusiastically. With this increased confidence, our people were more willing to take calculated risks, and go for projects that they previously did not dare to."

IE Singapore played a crucial role in Cyclect's transformation, Mr Tan noted. The agency assisted his company in starting an office in Yangon, Myanmar, in 2013, and helped it understand the market's risks, dynamics and major players, using IE's deep local knowledge and network of contacts. IE Singapore also recommended good customers to Cyclect, and helped it avoid risky projects, he added.

Another major area where IE Singapore lent a helping hand was in rebranding the company. "As a traditional SME, we had only wanted to keep a low profile," Mr Tan said.

 

"IE helped us with a branding exercise. Through getting feedback from our clients, vendors and staff, we understood our position in the market and IE helped map out our corporate strategy and provided us the sense of confidence to punch above our own perceived weight."

He added that "without IE's help, the exercise would have just been a logo-creation exercise".

"Instead, it ended up being a transformational journey for us. It brought our company out of our traditional mindset. It inspired greater confidence about our strengths and we were better able to market ourselves to the rest of the world."


Looking to expand overseas by going digital? Tap IE Singapore's Global Company Partnership Grant for support. Find out more here.

Find out more about other companies that have transformed their businesses overseas and how IE can help: #SgGoesGlobal.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2016, with the headline 'Powering the next stage of growth'. Print Edition | Subscribe