Long-term commitment pays off

The cities, infrastructure and industrial solutions industry, nurtured by the Economic Development Board, help make Singapore and other cities a smarter and greener place to live, work and play in. In the second of a seven-part series, Arti Mulchand profiles some of the people working in it.

A foreign guest visited Mr Poh Guan Heng's family in their one-room rental flat shortly after Mr Poh completed his national service 40 years ago. 

The visitor was Mr Isao Uchida, who would one day become chairman and chief executive officer of Yokogawa Electric Corporation.

Back in 1974, when he called on the Pohs, Mr Uchida was only a young project leader tasked with forming a team to manage the company's plant which was still being built.

Yokogawa, which makes controls and automation products, was one of a number of large multinational corporations looking to gain a regional foothold.

Singapore was a choice base.

"They wanted to find out about our background, to see if I was serious about the job, and if I was the sort who would make a long-term commitment," recalls Mr Poh, now 61.

He got the job as a technician, alongside 19 other new hires.

Four decades and many roles later, Mr Poh was named managing director of Yokogawa's Singapore operations this year.

It is a quantum leap for the Singapore Vocational Institute Trade Certificate holder, who spent his first three months on the job learning Japanese. After that, he spent nine months in Japan to learn how to make high-precision meters.

Back in Singapore, he hit the ground running, working seven days a week to prepare the new factory for production.

"It was very exciting. All this new equipment had arrived from Japan, and we were working more than 12 hours a day to make sure everything was ready," Mr Poh recalls.

Over time, he took on several other roles in engineering, production and in management, overseeing a growing team, learning on the job and doing part-time diploma courses in manufacturing practices. He also received his certification in advanced manufacturing from the Sanno Institute of Management.

"My attitude was to get a job I liked and to simply do my best. Whatever the assignment, I never said 'no'. I took everything as a challenge and a learning experience," he says.

In 1995, when a new Yokogawa manufacturing plant was to be set up in Batam, Indonesia, Mr Poh was picked to run it.

Today, he oversees the 300-strong Batam plant and a similar-sized factory in Bedok South.

Yokogawa's products include its flagship distributed control system called CENTUM.

Singapore is the only manufacturing site for the system, which is used by companies in industries like oil refining to automate monitoring processes.

"I have been lucky that Yokogawa's management judges an employee not just by educational qualifications, but also by his contributions and loyalty," Mr Poh says.

His hands-on approach to management means his hours can be long, but he tries to reserve his weekends for his homemaker wife and their two entrepreneur sons, aged 35 and 32.

Mr Poh remains excited about the challenge of his new role.

"It has been 40 years, and I have no regrets."

This article was first published on Oct 20, 2014.

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