After spending 15 years in the Singapore navy, Henry Low decided to take the plunge and join an e-commerce firm in Britain. He wanted to try something new.
In his new role as an operations manager, the former lieutenant-colonel worked night shifts and managed a team of pickers, packers and shippers to prepare items for shipment at the firm’s fulfilment centre.
Some might say the role was “a step down” from his previous job, says Mr Low, 47, who is married with two children, aged seven and 11. But the career switch paid off, offering him myriad opportunities to learn about large-scale fulfilment operations and develop supply chain and technical skills.
He was promoted within 10 months. “My general manager asked if I would like to take over my boss' role,” he recounts. “I told him I’d barely learnt enough to take over, but he said ‘We trust you. Go ahead, make some mistakes. It’s OK’.”
That company is Amazon.
It was the first of many leadership roles that Mr Low would take on at Amazon. Mirroring the rise of the e-commerce juggernaut over the past decade, he went from overseeing the set-up of more fulfilment centres in Britain to becoming the Asia-Pacific director of Global Specialty Fulfilment covering teams in Japan. He returned to Singapore in 2016 as Amazon Singapore’s operations director and eventually took on the role of country manager.
The decision to return to Singapore was “a no-brainer”, says Mr Low, who relished the chance to “bring Amazon Prime home”. In his first year back, he helped to launch on-demand shopping and delivery service Prime Now in Singapore — its first market in South-east Asia. He now oversees Amazon’s consumer business in Singapore, including online store Amazon.sg and grocery delivery service Amazon Fresh.
Drawing from his own experiences, Mr Low shares that he regularly encourages his team in Singapore to take full advantage of the various opportunities offered by the multinational company.
“I tell my staff not to just stick to the same role. Try a different country. Try a different role,” he says. “At Amazon, we understand that working in different teams and functions enriches the individual.”
He adds that staff are encouraged to take on overseas postings. To commemorate the milestone, digital stickers are given to employees after each overseas assignment. They show up on staff’s profiles on the company’s internal portal and recognise employees’ participation in or completion of a company programme, certification or an event.
Since the launch of Amazon.sg here in 2019, more local employees have returned from their overseas postings to build and grow the business in Singapore. Mr Low hopes to extend similar opportunities to other local talent. “I look forward to the day that I can be a net exporter of Singaporean talent to our international offices.”
300 jobs up for grabs
Born out of a basement as an online book store in 1995, Amazon’s supercharged growth into one of the world’s largest and most valuable retailers has a lot to do with its expansion strategies.
Singapore has in recent years become a key player in its growth plans, serving as a regional base for Amazon Prime, video live streaming service Twitch, as well as the company’s cloud computing arm Amazon Web Services (AWS).
The online retail giant has over 1.3 million employees globally. It is looking to fill another 300 job openings in Singapore in various departments, including cloud services, operations and logistics and data engineering. While the company did not share staff numbers, country manager Henry Low says Amazon has a healthy base of Singaporean employees.
“Singapore’s strategic location as a springboard to Asia continues to be a critical factor in building up a digitally skilled workforce and community, not just for Amazon but for our customers, partners and communities,” he adds.
“We want to help more customers in Singapore shop safely and conveniently on Amazon.sg, and for more businesses to scale, go global, innovate and digitally transform with AWS cloud technology.”
Now the third-largest enterprise software business in the world, AWS counts DBS Bank, insurer AXA and the Government Technology Agency (GovTech) among its customers. It aims to train 29 million people globally in cloud computing by 2025.
Cloud computing, which refers to the delivery of computing services like storage, databases, software and analytics over the Internet, is set to grow in Singapore. It is one of two tech areas that the Government has identified as key to achieving the country’s Smart Nation aspirations.
Singaporean Sandra Teh, 46, head of employer brand for the Asia-Pacific, Japan and Greater China region, AWS, says the company is looking to shore up the Republic’s cloud talent pool through various programmes and initiatives. They include over 500 free training and certification modules and, most recently, a data centre operations traineeship with AWS.
She says that a large volume of traineeship applicants are graduates from polytechnic or the Institute of Technical Education.
AWS also offers a free cloud computing curriculum to the five polytechnics, among other tertiary institutions. The curriculum prepares students to gain industry-recognised cloud certification to help them land better jobs in the sector.
Ms Teh, who is married with two young daughters, joined AWS in 2017 after shuttling between Singapore, Japan and China for over 24 years under various employers. She says: “The person who hired me said: ‘You're going to be building not just the cloud community for our company. You're here to build the cloud community for the entire country and the region’.”
“The Smart Nation agenda was something I knew well, and I knew that the commitment by the Singapore Government was a solid one that will give rise to an exciting future. So I wanted to make sure that, as a patriotic Singaporean, I could lean in to contribute.”
Apart from developing young talent, Amazon is also looking to help Singapore companies upskill their staff. Ms Teh cited as an example a collaboration between AWS and DBS to arm 3,000 of the latter’s staff with basic skills in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.
These employees range from clerks and banking officers to senior management who lack technology experience. As part of the curriculum, participants learn the basic principles of AI and machine learning to program an autonomous virtual race car that they can test and tweak in a virtual racing league.
“Many will say science, technology, mathematics and engineering is complex, very difficult to understand and is probably just for geeks. The AWS DeepRacer league was launched to democratise technology and make machine learning fun and simple,” she says.
Singaporean Abdul Hakeem Mohamed Yunos, 28, shares about his job as a territory manager for the Indonesian market and his career growth at Amazon Web Services (AWS).
When and why did you join AWS?
I joined in July 2017 fresh out of university. I have always been interested in technology and have been a customer of Amazon Prime since my university days. I applied to AWS as it is one of the leaders in technology and innovation globally and wanted to be part of the fast-paced and growing cloud computing industry.
How much has your career grown over the past four years?
I started out as part of the Marketing Response Centre team, where I was tasked with following up with new customers that attend online and offline marketing events, such as AWS Summit and the Builders Webinar Series.
I helped new customers navigate AWS Cloud services by guiding them through registration and sending training materials and information about upcoming workshops and events. These early conversations eventually led to our customers adopting the cloud.
Most recently, I took on the role of territory manager supporting our AWS Indonesia customers. I enjoy working with customers, partners, solutions architects and account managers at AWS and my multilingual skills are valued by my teams and my customers to deliver the best customer experience and help our customers transform on the AWS Cloud.
This is the second of an eight-part series titled Going global, thinking localin partnership with the Ministry of Trade and Industry.