He makes women look younger

Multinational companies are keen to tailor products to suit Asian consumers, who are a growing market. The Economic Development Board has been nurturing talent in the consumer business and professional services sectors, helping these companies to brand and market their products. Arti Mulchand profiles some of the people working in them.

Ask Dr Eric Lam what he does and he replies with a laugh: "I create products that make women look 10 years younger".

As a scientist with American multinational company Procter & Gamble (P&G), he actually does that, and more.

He works with its Transformative Platform Technologies (TPT) department, creating technologies that affect all P&G products that touch the human skin, from beauty to cleaning products.

"I often use 'Top Playing Territory' to describe my job scope. It's a playground for innovation," he says of the new department he leads and his team of seven.

His work on next-generation products includes "smart" ingredients, which target specific cell types, defined by age, ethnicity and skin or hair types.

It is what he does for products like SK-II - one of the most expensive beauty brands around - that gets his wife, a director in the finance industry, most excited.

She has a special space in their refrigerator for her stash, but she gets no freebies - just a staff discount.

Dr Lam, a father of two, got his diploma in biotechnology and medical laboratory sciences from Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

He went on to do his degree in science at the National University of Singapore. He then did his masters in neurobiology.

It was then that he attended a talk on developmental biology by Professor Uwe Strahle from the University of Heidelberg, and was intrigued by his work in this area.

He applied for and won the A*Star National Science Scholarship and, in 2002, left for Germany and Prof Strahle's laboratory to do his PhD on cell and molecular biology.

Upon his return, he joined A*Star's Institute of Medical Biology as a researcher, working at the Experimental Dermatology laboratory at Immunos building at Biopolis in Buona Vista.

At the time, the P&G Technical Centre was in the same building and, after 41/2 years as a researcher, he joined P&G.

He says that being in the consumer industry - in which the colour, shape and font on a bottle's label can matter more than the cure within - can be eye-opening.

"You might have a miracle product, but how you project it creates a big impression," he says.

He explains that a consumer's decision to buy or not to buy may depend more on presentation than the product itself.

"That reality can be frustrating for a scientist," he adds.

Besides lab work, he also attends training sessions and seminars, management meetings and has discussions with technology experts during global teleconferences, which can take place early in the morning or in the evening.

He says: "The pace is fast and one needs to maintain a very high energy level throughout the day.

"The scheduler in Outlook Calendar is an indispensible part of my life."

When he is not in his lab coat or trying to clock his 20 weekly laps at the pool, he dons a different uniform - that of a volunteer police officer.

He puts in at least 16 hours a month at the Bishan Neighbourhood Police Post. He says: "It's a way of doing my bit for society."

This article was first published on May 19, 2014