One of Singapore’s leading integrated service providers since 1969, Mun Siong Engineering Limited offers a range of mechanical and electrical & instrumentation services for the oil & gas, petrochemical, energy, chemicals, and power industries. In this interview, Ms. Cheng Woei Fen discusses the chemicals industry in Singapore, the company’s activities, and the role of women in ASEAN business.
Mun Siong is present not only in Singapore but also in ASEAN. From your point of view, what are your expectations for ASEAN in the coming years and what would you like to see as a result of Singapore's chairmanship of the ASEAN in 2018?
We are very fortunate to be able to call ourselves a home-grown business. Given Singapore’s ideal location, qualified workforce and pro-business environment, it is a perfect staging place for economic growth. From this stable environment, we can capitalize on the growth of our evolving neighbors and our economic giant to the north, China. With Singapore’s Chairmanship, we can expect an investment/growth strategy that would enable Singapore and its neighbors to be able to take advantage of the redeveloping markets in the USA and to further benefit from the stable growth patterns of China.
We see that all the members in ASEAN have been pushing forward with integration of the AEC Blueprint 2025. Mun Siong Engineering followed up on the implementation of the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015. From a business standpoint, how important is it for ASEAN to become more harmonized and more integrated in terms of regulations?
The ASEAN Economic Community has promoted e-Commerce among Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand. It will be easier to conduct business activities among these five countries with mutually recognized e-identification and authorization schemes.
The government has launched a new plan through the CFE report. As a result, the 23 ITMs and the six clusters were announced recently to be incorporated within the economy. From a businesswoman’s point of view, what is your analysis of this report and how do you believe the energy and chemical ITM is going to affect your site?
From the industry sector that we are in, the Energy & Chemicals ITM identifies opportunities that the industry can capitalize on due to the rise of Asia and the evolving business and manufacturing opportunities. The ITM for the energy and chemical industry will have a strong emphasis on growing a pipeline of local talent and strong collaborations with industry associations to better support the industry.
Various Government agencies together with the Association of Process Industries (“ASPRI”) and SCIC have formed the Process Construction and Maintenance (“PCM”) Management Committee to assist the local service provider in improving the overall productivity of the PCM sector to better support the Energy & Chemicals industry.
Today city-state has the fifth largest refinery hub in the world and it ranks within the top ten exporters globally by chemical volume. What have been the key drivers that have allowed Singapore to go so far with such limited resources in the chemical industry?
Singapore’s strategic location, pro-business regulations, anti-corruption practices and financial stability have all been factors in creating a conducive business environment for businesses in Singapore. Although times have changed, Singapore is still seen as a great launch pad for businesses who would like to have a global footprint.
The sector has been affected with the incorporation of technology. What do you believe is the impact of technology in the sector and how can it help the labor shortage?
That has been a hot topic in the recent years with increasing labor costs. Mechanization and automation have come into the picture for all industries and sectors. For the process industry, EDB has supported our industry players to engage an American institution through research and creating innovative solutions to improve our productivity and to reduce reliance on manual labor.
Besides providing maintenance and construction services, Mun Siong also specializes in services in which work processes are automated or mechanized. The use of these fully automated machines promotes greater safety and reduces the need for manual labor.
There are quite a few trends affecting the chemical industry, not only technology but also the volatility in commodity prices. Taking all the factors that are currently ongoing within the sector, what are the future trends in the next few years, specifically in Southeast Asia?
The fluctuation of oil prices in recent years continue to influence the amount of foreign investment in Singapore, which in turn affect local businesses such as Mun Siong. However, Singapore is continuously evolving to carve out a niche for itself in specialty chemicals, and with the supply chain firmly rooted in the petrochemical sector, foreign investment into Singapore will not cease for the foreseeable future. As such, the industry is beginning to see a gradual recovery in the sector and we hope this recovery will continue over the coming years with more expansion projects throughout Southeast Asia.
Mun Siong has been present since 1969. Could you tell us about the inception of the company and the gross trend as a service provider to the chemical industry?
We see growing potential in some overseas markets which is why we have positioned ourselves in Malaysia, India and Myanmar for the time being. We have been providing specialized services in India for over 10 years now and we foresee that the need and demand will continue to grow as the respective countries develop. As with all international businesses, we have to be quick to adapt to cultural differences such as time sensitivity, local content as well as language barriers.
It has always been complicated for Singaporean companies to embark on the internationalization journey. One of the issues that comes up very often is Singapore companies are very used to an efficient marketplace. When you move into Asia, it is very different. What efforts can be done to help Singapore companies internationalize?
To embark on internationalization, having good knowledge of the local culture is vital to the success of the business. When working in Asian countries, understanding local expectations in terms of work efficiency and standard working procedure or methods will enhance the success rates of the internationalization journey. We must be adaptive and flexible with the adoption of the local management philosophy, which can be very different from the way Singaporean companies operate.
From the point of view of Mun Siong, how do you incorporate in your day-to-day and how, by partnering with American or foreign manufacturers such as Oxifree, do you also allow your clients to have more access to technology from the west?
Our partnership with our American and European principals ensure that we have the latest tools/technologies to offer superior services to our local business partners, while also ensuring that our workforce is trained and skilled in global techniques. These products and tools will add value to the integrated services that we offer to our clients.
Could you tell us what the plan is moving forward for Mun Siong not only in Singapore with all the development that is being done in the chemical industry? Do you plan to continue forward with operations such as in Myanmar, Malaysia or even some of the other ASEAN countries?
Based on our track record, we can demonstrate our capabilities to the local business partners which allow us to gain the opportunities to work alongside them in their regional markets. These opportunities have helped us gain entries into regional markets and build our regional business. We are always on a look out for growth opportunities outside of Singapore.
One of the best woman’s empowerment examples that we have also interviewed within the Singapore ecosystem is Miss Sabrina from Skin Inc., who incorporates technology with cosmetics in order to create a niche market. From your standpoint as a business chairwoman, what are the most important qualities for women today to become entrepreneurs and what role do you believe they will play in the future of ASEAN in the coming years?
As a member of the Women’s Diversity Committee, we strive to set targets to increase women's participation as board members. We certainly do not lack talent in Singapore and neither are women any less capable than their male counterparts. However, we see relatively fewer women in businesses, stemming from the long history of Asian culture that women are expected to stay home and look after their family.The culture emphasizes more on the family than on business needs for women, and this is reflected in career choices as well as succession planning.
For women to stand out and become entrepreneurs, they need to demonstrate grit and perseverance to achieve their goals. The business world today is filled with many uncertainties and having the grit to thrive in the face of adversity is necessary to be successful in the long run. Women must never be afraid to voice their thoughts and opinions and be confident that they too can offer solutions that will help the organization.
Women will play a very important role in the future of ASEAN in the coming years. As we see more women step into powerful leadership positions,we will begin to see richer dialogue and discussion in the near future.