Chemicals business is about people too

The chemicals, oil and gas sector is a pillar of Singapore's economy and the Economic Development Board has been nurturing it to make sure it remains strong with bright employment prospects for people here. Arti Mulchand profiles some of the people working in it.

You may not know it, but a British company called Croda International is likely to have a presence in your home.

The chemicals that it creates go into everything, from shampoos to moisturisers to household cleaners.

Its vice-president of site operations in Singapore, Mr Julian Yeo, says: "End-consumers know very little about us because they relate more to the household brands that may use us. But they do use Croda products."

As the region's operations head, Mr Yeo, 41, oversees the firm's five production sites in Asia.

"You learn to communicate with a diverse range of people, and deal with different languages, cultures, regulations and infrastructural challenges in each region," he says.

But all that travel also means the sports enthusiast cannot play as much tennis, badminton and golf as he would like.

"It looks glamorous being a globetrotter, but most people don't see the late-night meetings and the tough decisions you have to make," he explains.

Mr Yeo, who is single, joined Croda in 1999 as a fresh graduate in chemical engineering from the National University of Singapore.

He headed a team of technicians involved in commissioning the company's new Jurong Island plant. He then took on the role of process engineer before becoming the head of operations.

It is a far cry from his original ambition to work in medicine, built on a love for chemistry and biology. He says: "My professors made me understand that studying engineering didn't mean you had to become an engineer.

"In my job, I manage people and processes. Engineering simply taught me the fundamentals of logical thinking and assessing all possible options."

His career with Croda was interrupted in 2006 when he joined another company. He returned less than two years later.

"The company had become more complex and the role was significantly different, so it was a new challenge for me. I now oversee a much more diverse range of businesses," he says.

The challenges keep mounting, he adds, noting how competition within the sector is heating up, and technologies are evolving.

"These days, there is a greater emphasis on bringing newer products into the region to stay ahead of the competition," he says.

So would he still opt for medicine if he had a chance?

"I have grown a lot in my career and I believe I am the better for it. I'm not so sure I would have been equally successful had I taken a different path. I'm in a good place where I am."

This article was first published on May 26, 2014