Mr Norman Goh knows all about how to make a good beer, from fermenters and taps, even to water reuse treatment.
His skills would not have been possible if he did not work at Asia Pacific Breweries (APB). For 26 years, APB has been his home away from home.
It was where the 53-year-old engineering manager seized opportunities to learn from world experts as part of the company’s culture.
Joining as a technical officer in 1995, he rose quickly through the ranks and is now managing the brewery’s engineering team as well as spearheading its sustainability push.
In 2015, he led the installation of over 8,000 solar panels on the rooftop of the company’s Tuas factory, cutting the factory’s annual carbon emissions by 20 per cent.
Two years later, he helmed the construction of an on-site $1.8 million water reuse treatment plant to save 66,750 cubic m of water a year, equivalent to the amount used by 3,160 four-room Housing Board flats annually, or 26 Olympic-size swimming pools.
The project, a joint partnership with national water agency PUB and the National University of Singapore, was to optimise the company’s use of water in its day-to-day operations.
“Since I joined APB in 1995, it has given me countless opportunities,” he says.
As a subsidiary of Heineken, which operates 167 breweries in over 70 countries, APB is able to provide staff with global expertise and training opportunities.
Mr Goh cites, as examples, trips to Myanmar and Scotland for workshops on reverse osmosis technologies and carbon dioxide auditing and to Papua New Guinea to conduct lessons in maintenance systems for fellow Heineken engineers.
“Even after so many years, I’m still learning new things and upskilling myself in APB,” he says, noting that the brewery giant has also organised lessons in cybersecurity to avoid disruptions to operations and beer production.
Mr Chris Lee, 33, a team leader in APB’s brewing department, has also benefitted from the company’s global network and training initiatives.
Two years ago, he was part of a team that installed a $3.8 million de-alcoholiser system in the Tuas factory to produce alcohol-free beers. That project, carried out with the Economic Development Board, was Heineken’s first foray into producing alcohol-free beers in Asia. Singapore is now its Asia-Pacific (Apac) supply hub for the beers.
Before the system was built, Mr Lee travelled to Heineken’s Amsterdam headquarters to learn from experts who had been brewing zero-alcohol beers for years.
The week-long stint taught him to analyse the recipe, learn how the equipment was installed and identify potential problems during the process.
“With that experience, we had a much smoother time in Singapore with our system,” he says.
That collaborative spirit continues today. He is now working with a Russian colleague, who came to Singapore from Cambodia, on a project to convert portable pumps, used to clean fermentation tanks in the Tuas factory, into automatic pumps.
With this transformation, APB operators will be able to oversee the tanks’ cleaning from a control room instead of carrying it out manually with the portable pumps.
Mr Lee says: “Innovation is key to businesses. As part of a global firm, like Heineken, we can learn from colleagues worldwide, bring these lessons back to Singapore and launch projects within the shortest possible time to benefit the company and country.”
Grooming talent, nurturing leaders
When Ms Heng Shwu Jiun, 40, was offered the opportunity to join APB as its sales director in February last year, she grabbed it. She had spent 19 years in the fast-moving consumer goods industry in local and regional positions, and was eager to take on new challenges and further grow her career.
Today, she oversees a division of over 500 employees, including sales executives, brand promoters and account managers.
She notes that Heineken has programmes for staff to explore different parts of the business, transfer skills between local and foreign employees and groom talent for leadership positions.
Staff can request short-term postings of six to nine months to other departments or markets to expand their skill sets and deepen their understanding of Heineken’s operations. They are encouraged to bring what they learn back to APB. “We also have short-term assignments in Singapore for staff from other countries to plug our knowledge gaps here,” she says.
She adds that APB promotes skills transfers in other ways. “For example, I have an Italian team member who came to Singapore from the Philippines in March to take on the new role of head of trade marketing and train employees in the field.”
She explains that APB aims to build stronger commercial capabilities in trade marketing, which focuses on customer and consumer engagement.
APB will tap this colleague’s professional experience and knowledge from working in Heineken’s other operating companies. “With his mentorship, we believe that our local team will significantly improve its commercial capabilities in trade marketing efforts in the next 12 to 18 months.”
Graduates who want to join Heineken’s Apac branches can also apply online to its Apac Graduate Programme, which is a two-year rotation across three of its more than 20 Apac operating companies to expose them to different work environments and experiences. Since the programme started in 2016, it has enrolled over 150 Asian employees who have gone on to leadership positions within Heineken.
Ms Heng is currently enrolled in an eight-month leadership programme called the Management Team and Beyond Fast Track Programme. Participants attend weekly group learning and development sessions, and have one-on-one coaching to better understand their personal values and motivations and hone their leadership capabilities.
“We also get feedback from our peers, superiors and subordinates. As a working mother who is time-poor, coupled with my own personal strong drive for results, that can translate into pressure I put on myself and my team. That needs to be balanced consciously as it is important to balance people and business results,” she says.
She credits APB’s longstanding success to these training programmes and initiatives. “When you have a healthy balance of local and foreign employees, and an inclusive environment that encourages debate, discussion, skills transfers and growth, you get a workforce that has more diverse perspectives and more capabilities. That benefits everyone.”
This is the fourth of an eight-part series titled "Going global, thinking local" in partnership with the Ministry of Trade and Industry.