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Dyson CEO shrugs off S'pore factory downturn, bullish on job growth

THE ongoing factory slump in Singapore has actually been a blessing for consumer electronics giant Dyson, its chief executive told the press.

The latest official data showed electronics output falling by 10.8 per cent in June - the third straight contraction this year - while precision engineering production was down by 4.7 per cent.

But "it's been great for us", Singapore-based CEO James "Jim" Rowan said at a briefing on Tuesday, noting that Dyson - which employs 1,150 people here - has scooped up workers.

"In our digital motor facility, we have a lot of, especially, people who have worked in the disk drive industry. As that's declined, they have joined us, and we have managed to use those skills that they have honed in different industries, to the betterment of Dyson," he said.

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Singapore's electronics manufacturing cluster lost more than 9,800 workers between 2013 and 2018, according to Economic Development Board numbers - with the bulk of those losses coming from the computer peripherals and data storage segment.

Yet, Mr Rowan told the press that Dyson's headcount here is set to grow - with a focus on software engineering and digital marketing, alongside an electric car plant slated to roll out vehicles by 2021.

Dyson had also earlier said that it plans to double the size of its research and development footprint.

"We have not gone publicly exactly how many people we will add to that, but that will grow pretty substantially over the course of the next few years, we are pretty confident," Mr Rowan said.

He added that Dyson will ramp up the capacity and production at its motor plant in Jurong, and is also looking to take up more space at Science Park, where it now has a technology and innovation hub.

"That's to facilitate the growth in engineering, but also the support functions - digital marketing... retail shops… the management of all that - leases, looking at the right locations, how to fit out those stores," he said, while noting that Dyson is "starting to flesh out South-east Asia in terms of our own stores".

The group, which has a campus in Wiltshire, England, said in January that it will shift its head office to Singapore. But the move out of Britain was not driven by tax motivations, Mr Rowan said, reiterating an assertion that he has previously made.

Instead, "it made sense for us to have the epicentre of the business closest to where the manufacturing, the final-stage product development, is going to be", he maintained, while also citing the supply chain and "of course, the sales growth which is happening throughout all of South-east Asia".

With Dyson's products made entirely in South-east Asia - including motor parts in Singapore and final assembly in Malaysia and the Philippines - the group's operations have not been affected by events like the trade war between the United States and China, Mr Rowan said.

He added: "You know, because we manufacture in South-east Asia, we have kind of escaped that to some degree. The trade tariffs haven't really affected us."

Dyson, which is privately owned by the family of founder James Dyson, most recently reported full-year earnings of £1.1 billion (S$1.9 billion) on revenue of £4.4 billion in 2018.

Quashing the perennial question over possible plans to go public, Mr Rowan rejoined that the private ownership model allows Dyson to "take the long view on things".