'You have to believe that nothing is impossible'

The satellite and natural resources industries, which the Economic Development Board is nurturing, are growth areas with good career prospects. In the sixth of a seven-part series, Arti Mulchand talks to three people - one involved in making a satellite and two who deal with natural resources.

When a large customer of Rio Tinto Dampier Salt decided in 2006 to go for a cheaper supplier, country head Ken Lin was not about to let it happen.

Not when there were millions of dollars at stake.

He headed straight to the client's office, knocking on doors to convince them that cheaper was not better. It worked.

"You can't do that sitting in an office," says the 43-year-old director of sales and marketing at one of the world's largest private salt producers.

"You have to get out there and persuade people, and believe nothing is impossible."

He should know. His family moved from Taiwan to Singapore when he was just 10.

His father wanted his two sons to be educated in English, even if neither spoke a word of it.

Then in Primary 5, Mr Lin had two years to pick up the language.

"I had two tutors a day and studied all night. It instilled in me the belief that as long as you don't give up, you can make things happen," he says.

Mr Lin went on to earn a degree in finance and marketing from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and his MBA from the Thunderbird Global School of Management, Arizona.

The never-say-die attitude has also come in handy in his 15 years with Rio Tinto, during which he has been thrown some big tasks, including setting up a Taiwan office to sell the mineral borate - just one year after joining as a customer sales officer and supporting three managers.

It was overwhelming, he remembers. "We had to set up everything from scratch."

Upon relocating to Singapore in 2004, handling Taiwan remotely, he was given responsibility over more markets and products.

Rio Tinto, which employs more than 60,000 people, has a presence in over 40 countries.

Two years later, he narrowed his focus to Dampier Salt, but took on a bigger responsibility - China - which he would head in addition to Taiwan and Korea.

This is a portfolio he continues to hold today and the three markets account for 68 per cent of Rio Tinto's global market share of salt.

This means spending at least two weeks a month living out of a suitcase - a week in China and another split between Taiwan and Korea.

"When my two children were young, they thought I spent a lot of time on vacation," he laughs.

He encounters challenges daily, from country-related difficulties to bigger issues, such as how to source metals and minerals safely and sustainably.

But it is the quest for answers that makes him tick, he confesses. "It is the challenges that get my adrenaline pumping."

This article was first published on Nov 17, 2014.

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