Breaking barriers and building bridges: TEE International

To differentiate itself from the competition and stabilise its revenue flows, TEE International boldly moved up the value chain to develop and own infrastructure assets. Fiona Liaw finds out how a strategic partnership helped the group break into the Philippine market with a power plant.

TEE began as an electrical contractor. It expanded to become an integrated solutions provider, and ventured into real estate development. Mr Phua wants the group to keep growing, and it now has stakes in a Thai wastewater treatment plant and in Power
TEE began as an electrical contractor. It expanded to become an integrated solutions provider, and ventured into real estate development. Mr Phua wants the group to keep growing, and it now has stakes in a Thai wastewater treatment plant and in PowerSource Philippines Energy Incorporated.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Amid increasing competition in the engineering industry, TEE International group deputy managing director Eric Phua wanted to secure more stable growth for the future.

That, he said, would entail the firm embarking on the strategic move of developing and owning its own infrastructure assets.

This boldness has characterised TEE's growth story. The group began as an electrical contractor in the 1980s and steadily expanded to become an integrated solutions provider specialising in mechanical and electrical engineering and mission-critical building and construction.


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In 2008, armed with a strong portfolio of projects and a focus on engineering, TEE ventured into the world of real estate development.

Its scale of work in the sector expanded, and the real estate arm went public in 2013.

This, along with TEE's engineering division, helped the group gain a strong foothold across the region, with operations in not just Singapore, but also Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand.

But rather than remain in its comfort zone, Mr Phua, who is also the managing director of engineering, wanted the group to keep expanding.

"Going into real estate development is a type of complementary diversification. Many real estate developers are also engineering firms because they want to leverage on their experience - we need to do more to differentiate ourselves," he said.

He felt that a move into owning infrastructure assets would be the best strategy for the group. Not only would this present a stable source of revenue, but it would also be aligned with the engineering division's expertise in water treatment and power plants.

In addition, the move would allow for synergy across the group's respective businesses. In the long run, all three businesses could work together on larger-scale projects such as township developments.

The group began to look into opportunities in the region.

With help from a connection previously forged through IE Singapore, it entered into a joint-venture project with a 49 per cent stake in Global Environmental Technology Corporation, a wastewater treatment plant in Thailand.


The Philippines - with its developing market and a government that recognises the need to privatise utilities - was also high on TEE's list of ideal countries. But entering that market turned out to be far more challenging.

"Without IE Singapore, honestly, it would not have happened," Mr Phua said.

He recounted how his team tried for many months to secure the necessary building licence to start a power plant.

Unfamiliarity with local regulations proved to be a stumbling block, and the team considered giving up - until IE Singapore came through with a proposal: to partner the existing PowerSource Philippines Energy Incorporated (PSPEI).

PSPEI would give TEE International the market opening it needed. With its strong track record in the country, it could also potentially help generate leads.

This opportunity reignited Mr Phua's interest in the Philippines. Within a year, TEE had invested in PSPEI with a 21.05 per cent stake, a milestone that marked both TEE's foray into the country as well as its debut in constructing and owning a power plant.

TEE is now working to grow its reach within Thailand and the Philippines, while simultaneously exploring the potential of expanding its asset-ownership model to countries such as Malaysia.

The shift to this new business model will be capital-intensive and Mr Phua knows that it will take a few years before the group begins to reap rewards.

But with IE Singapore's help in identifying new markets and strategic financial partners, he is confident this move is the right one.

Find out more about other companies that have transformed their business overseas and how IE can help – http://www.iesingapore.gov.sg/Assistance

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 25, 2016, with the headline 'Breaking barriers and building bridges'. Subscribe