Setting the tone from the top

Surbana Jurong group CEO Wong Heang Fine is leading the group's ambitious overseas expansion.

WONG Heang Fine believes that a leader must act like the drummer in a dragon boat crew - setting a beat for the rest of the team to follow in unison.

Making sure that this beat gets heard - and more importantly, followed - has become even more important for him as he oversees the integration of two entities that merged last year to form Surbana Jurong, the urban solutions group he heads.

The company was formed from the union of Surbana International Consultants and Jurong International Holdings in an effort to grab a bigger slice of the estimated US$3 trillion global urban planning market. The combined group provides complete urban, infrastructure and engineering solutions.

"The goal is to build an Asian powerhouse. The next process is to garner the strength of 4,000 of us to move in the same direction. Like in a dragon boat, I have to set the beat so that the 20 to 30 people in the boat are all rowing in synchrony," said the group chief executive officer of Surbana Jurong.

Mr Wong added: "The harder the beat, the harder they have to row. If one person is even a split second late, it will be a hindrance to the entire team."

The task gets that much harder when the vessel in question is not a dragon boat but an organisation that spans the globe. Surbana Jurong has successfully completed a wide range of projects in over 200 cities across more than 50 countries.

To ensure that the organisation moves in the same direction, Mr Wong spends much of his time talking to the senior management team, visiting key offices overseas or holding town hall sessions.

The group has designed and built more than a million homes in Singapore, completed masterplans for over 30 countries and developed 49 industrial parks around the world. It recently delivered the master plan for the new capital city of Andhra Pradesh state in India.

The development plans include building logistics infrastructure such as ports and airports, basic utilities such as power, water and sanitation, as well as industrial parks to broaden the manufacturing base.

While the bulk of the group's business still comes from Singapore- the list includes landmark projects such as Jurong Island, as well as Fusionopolis and Biopolis at One-North - it has set its sights on significantly growing its business overseas.

Surbana Jurong's international business currently makes up around 20 per cent of its total revenue. Mr Wong expects this to grow to up to 60 per cent in the next three years, with markets such as China and Africa driving this expansion. Indeed, the company is now present in some 15 countries on the African continent.

It is also actively involved in the China-led "One Belt, One Road" initiative. The plan, which consists of the Silk Road Economic Belt, and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, was first mooted by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, and aims to build a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient Silk Road routes.

Crystal ball gazing

To achieve its ambitious goals, Mr Wong is committed to ensuring that Surbana Jurong has the right skillsets and technology to beat out the competition.

"The target is quite high and it will be difficult to achieve. I have to identify our strengths and develop that further. I also have to look out for weaknesses and find ways to mitigate those," he said.

This may involve looking for avenues to partner with others or acquiring other companies that possess the expertise or technology that it requires. Indeed, Surbana Jurong has made a number of key hires and acquired several businesses over the past year. To this end, he makes an effort to attend events and networking sessions to expose him to new talent and trends in the industry.

On his leadership style, Mr Wong said that he prefers not to interfere with the "nitty gritty" of the work, but prefers instead to trust his people to get the job done.

"Once I have set the vision, I will let them use their own motivation to go and strive for it. We all know where we are going, so once the beat is sounded, every team player has to pull in the right direction."

Going forward, his biggest concern is whether Surbana Jurong is staying sufficiently ahead of its competitors, whether it is in terms of market share or technology.

"It is always very easy to be comfortable. But the market changes quite rapidly, and we need to be aware of what is happening, then plan accordingly. That involves some crystal ball gazing to look for that next game changer."

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