When Mr Patrick Choy visited the United States in 1999 to market ST Engineering's Bionix Infantry Fighting Vehicles, not many people there knew about the company.
At the time, it did not have an international track record and, in the end, it did not win the bid.
Today, the US accounts for about a quarter of ST Engineering Group's revenue, said Mr Choy, who is executive vice-president of strategic programmes. The group's revenue last year was $6.68 billion.
The firm's success, he added, was partly due to its unique ability to design user-friendly systems, with limited manpower needs, gained from meeting the needs of Singapore's conscript army.
Mr Choy is among more than 400 employees and partners featured in a book marking the company's 50th anniversary. Called Engineering With Passion, it was launched yesterday by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean at the ST Engineering Hub in Ang Mo Kio.
Mr Teo, in his opening address, said it was important to build on the foundations laid by generations of defence engineers and professionals as well as get ready for the future. This includes seizing opportunities in the future economy and preparing for threats, he added.
He said: "Our security agencies are adapting their protocols and taking active steps to address evolving security challenges such as terrorism and cyber security. At the same time, these challenges generate demand for new products and solutions."
Defence technology and engineering companies can also study how to better deploy secure and smart systems in key infrastructure projects, he added, citing the upcoming Tuas mega port and Changi Airport Terminal 5.
ST Engineering, which specialises in the aerospace, electronics, land systems and marine sectors, started off as Chartered Industries of Singapore (CIS) in 1967. It later came under a holding firm called Sheng-Li, which then became Singapore Technologies. Today, ST Engineering has a footprint in many parts of Asia, the Americas, Europe and the Middle East, and employs about 22,000 people.
ST Engineering president and chief executive Vincent Chong said there is a need to harness disruptive technologies and deepen expertise in "strategically important areas" such as data analytics and cyber security, which can help support Singapore as it positions itself for the future.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in a foreword for the book, lauded ST Engineering's role in supporting Singapore's security and defence, an entity that was run as a commercial enterprise independent of the Government.
He said: "This hard-nosed approach, with no guaranteed safety net, made their jobs much tougher." But it also produced a generation of managers and engineers "whose sheer grit and ingenuity overcame all odds", he added.
Others featured in the book include Temasek Holdings chief executive Ho Ching, who joined CIS in 1987 as director of engineering and later became Singapore Technologies' president and chief executive.
ST Electronics deputy president Yong Thiam Chong, who was part of the team that developed Singapore's rail electronics systems, is also featured in the book.
When he first went to Taiwan in 2002 to promote the company's products, he said: "They said... 'What is your track record, and what's so special about you, compared with other players?'
"I always replied, 'Give me a chance to prove ourselves to you', and that's how the journey started. Track records built on track records, and they are able to see for themselves, what we could do."