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Navy life moulded ST Marine exec

Mr Siow Chee Khiang notched up several firsts in his career with the navy before retiring at 46 and joining shipbuilder ST Marine.
Mr Siow Chee Khiang notched up several firsts in his career with the navy before retiring at 46 and joining shipbuilder ST Marine.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Retired colonel believes naval experience helps him in his current job

When he joined the Singapore navy in 1980, Mr Siow Chee Khiang was an O-level holder, and it was something he was "embarrassed" about.

While many of his peers in the navy went overseas to study over the years, Mr Siow, now 55, felt at the time that for him to do the same would be a "fantasy".

But in 1996, his fantasy came true when the Republic of Singapore Navy sent him to Japan for 15 months to attend a staff training course - a high point in his naval career. Mr Siow later rose through the ranks, and notched up several key achievements in his naval career before retiring with the rank of colonel.

For instance, he was among the 65 pioneer crew members of the RSS Endurance. Launched in 1998, it was the first locally built Landing Ship Tank (LST). Apart from the Endurance, the other LSTs are the Resolution, Persistence and Endeavour. All of them can carry rotary-wing aircraft like helicopters.

He was also commanding officer of the Endurance when it made its maiden voyage and sailed around the world for four months in 2000, a first for the Singapore navy.

FIRST-HAND ACCOUNT

I think I bring credibility when I've sailed around the world on a ship that was designed and built by my company. What further testament can there be?

MR SIOW CHEE KHIANG, on why he believes his experience in the navy and serving on warships helps him as vice-president of international marketing at Singapore Technologies Marine.

"Without the navy, I would not be who I am today," said Mr Siow. "The navy has developed me in a certain way," he added.

Mr Siow also spoke about the unique culture and camaraderie in the Singapore navy, which is marking its 50th anniversary this year.

He said: "I have always worked with great people in the navy. We have this belief that we can achieve things together, even if it is for the first time."

When Mr Siow first joined the navy, he was 18 years old and just needed a job. But instead of choosing the air force or the army, he decided on the navy because it offered him the opportunity to become an officer.

During his career, he held a raft of naval appointments, including being one of the pioneer officers on board the RSS Valour, the first Singapore-built missile corvette.

He was also the second-in-command of what was called the Midshipsman School, which trained naval officer cadets. He has also held the command of the Naval Officer's Advanced School, where officers attended professional courses to prepare them for their appointments.

But Mr Siow said it was always country before the individual, and spoke about his priorities when he was commanding officer of the Endurance in 2000.

"It was all about Singapore. Even as I sailed around the world, I was very cognisant that, come hell or high water, whatever I did, it was not about me as an individual. It was either going to brand Singapore well, or we were going to have headlines for the wrong reasons."

Not a superstitious man by nature, Mr Siow said he made sure the "odds stayed with him" throughout the Endurance's four-month journey by keeping a positive mind and being constantly aware of the state of his ship and his crew.

"I'm a firm believer in creating your own luck," he said. He added that he worked hard to "build rapport" with the Endurance by walking about the ship every morning while keeping an eye out for any irregularities.

In the end, the Endurance successfully completed its maiden voyage round the world without any major mishaps. It called on ports in Mexico, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United States, where it participated in the International Naval Review in New York.

Throughout the hour-long interview, Mr Siow did not skip a beat as he spoke about the many memorable incidents that took place during the voyage. But he added that he was not a talkative person by nature.

"I am actually an extreme introvert - I like to be left alone, and I like to do my own thing," he said.

But when he took on the commanding officer role, it became necessary for him to be able to articulate himself, he added. It helped that the navy provided him with training opportunities where he learnt to speak clearly and fluently.

He retired from the navy at 46 and joined shipbuilder Singapore Technologies Marine, where he is now vice-president of international marketing, selling warships to foreign countries. Mr Siow said he believes his experience in the navy and serving on warships helps him in his current job.

He said: "I think I bring credibility when I've sailed around the world on a ship that was designed and built by my company. What further testament can there be?"

Mr Siow has three sons aged 28, 26, and 23, from his first marriage. His eldest son is a physiotherapist and the youngest is a first-year student at Singapore Management University. The middle child has joined the Singapore navy.

Like many of his navy comrades, Mr Siow is proud that his son has chosen to pursue a career in the navy. He said: "Of course, I had a big influence on him when he was growing up, but he decided on his own. There must be something that impressed him or something about the navy that he liked."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 08, 2017, with the headline 'Navy life moulded ST Marine exec'. Print Edition | Subscribe