Heng Kia Seah is not your average leader; his background in engineering and people-oriented approach make him a director who can handle both analytics and relationships with ease.
As Managing Director at Power Automation, Heng Kia oversees more than 150 employees. After 34 years with SP Group, he joined the team in 2017 and immediately plunged into developing a rapport.
His first goal as Managing Director was to strengthen communication among his staff by using a remarkable tactic: he arranged to meet face-to-face with every staff member, a time-consuming endeavour that has taken countless hours to execute.
“I aimed to interview every person and use the opportunity to address any issues they might have,” says Heng Kia.
Each conversation lasts up to two hours, but Heng Kia recognises the value of employee input. He is willing to put in the time if it means establishing a relationship with the people he manages.
And having used the same technique in a previous role, he knew how useful it would be.
“It has been a long process that I’m still in the middle of, but I’m focused on fulfilling it,” he asserts.
“In the end, it’s instrumental in improving communication in the company.”
From a young age, Heng Kia’s parents instilled in him the value of relationships and trust. They paved a foundation for him to practice good communication skills within the workplace and outside it. “As Chinese immigrants to Singapore, they taught me the merit in maintaining relationships, near and far,” he reflects.
Some employees have been surprised, and even made nervous, by his hands-on leadership style, but their responses change the more they get to know him. “Initially, they may be apprehensive, but I can sense that they become more comfortable during the interview. I want to make people feel relaxed, and I think I’m good at that,” he admits.
This strategy tackled his biggest obstacle and highest achievement in one fell swoop. “When I came to Power Automation, I knew very little about it,” Heng Kia explains.
“My greatest challenge was to understand the people I was going to work with and the company culture. Since we are an engineering company, human beings are our greatest resource. Understanding people is necessary to be an effective leader. I’ve found the interviews I’ve conducted to be successful in improving communication and workflow.”
As a joint venture formed in 1996 between SP Group and Siemens, two giants in the industry, Power Automation provides innovative and cutting-edge technologies that deliver power system control, substation automation, smart grid and metering, and protection systems.
When Heng Kia moved to Power Automation, he crossed the line from system owner to service provider. The system integration business proves to be a competitive one. “We compete with other contractors through a bid. Yes, SP Group is our parent company, but they treat us like any other contractor. It’s a regulated business, which means we get no special treatment,” he says. “It’s interesting yet challenging.
I now have precise Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and financial targets to hit, which is different from my previous role.”
To win a bid, Power Automation must be well-prepared and ready to contend. They enter the arena with as much information as possible. “We extensively research the market, the requirements and the competitors. We have no choice but to win the job, and to do this we need to go into a bid with as much knowledge as possible,” he says.
Power Automation’s eight core values accompany the company’s tenacious nature: integrity, professionalism, technical excellence, innovation, customer focus, adaptability, people and teamwork. Customer focus is particularly vital to Heng Kia, and his mission is to cultivate a long-term strategic relationship with his customers.
“It all comes down to the customer,” he says. “A competitive market requires us to be different, so we must always meet customer needs.”
Where competition is fierce, after-sales service is Power Automation’s strength. Years of quality support have generated satisfied customers who are loyal to the company. Critical installations often need complex technical solutions, but Heng Kia is making sure the company has effective local teams to handle the work.
“We have been successful in attending quickly to any failures the product might have,” he says. “The team provides extraordinary technical support. Supply reliability is important in this business. We ensure our local technical team always performs with excellence, so that we stand out among the big engineering companies in Singapore.”
When he’s not winning bids or managing his staff, Heng Kia Seah likes to travel to unique places. “I appreciate anywhere that is different. I love exploring new cultures, new ways of life and, of course, interesting scenery,” he says. “Time constraints often limit me from travelling too far, so I make short trips to nearby countries in South-East Asia.”
This core commitment to quality extends to care for both customers and workers. In January, Heng Kia signed a ‘Pledge for Zero Accidents’. This safety pledge aims for complete protection, with no injuries on the job. “Safety is our highest priority. Every person does a safety prep before we meet and before we start work at a site,” Heng Kia says.
“This has contributed to a zero-accident safety record for the past few years, but we know we cannot let our guard down. We must keep up all efforts to uphold this.”
Singapore leads the world in many aspects of modern life, including the energy sector. Its power supply is among the most reliable and cost-effective in the world, and the country has undergone a significant transformation in recent years to achieve this status.
Heng Kia draws on ‘the 4Ds’ – decentralisation, deregulation, digitalisation and decarbonisation – to summarise the industry transition. “I’ve seen big changes over my career. Decentralising power enables renewable energy and energy storage to be generated locally,” he explains.
“Deregulation provides customers with a choice of electricity suppliers. Digitalisation requires new technology and innovation in a digital world, and decarbonisation demands a lower-carbon energy system and the development of renewable energy.”
Since the acceleration of renewable energy, the industry has experienced rapid innovative and technological change. It is continually evolving, and Heng Kia says new developments are highlights of the job.
“I don’t thrive on routine work – repeating the same thing over and over again,” he says. His perspective stays true to Power Automation’s priority of using information technology and a keen sense of understanding customer needs to reinvent traditional solutions.
Analytical thinking is a prerequisite to leading an engineering team, and an element of unpredictability means there is enough diversity in his daily tasks to keep Heng Kia on his toes. “I love that my job has variety: no two days are the same,” he says.
For a business to excel, it must maximise efficiency. As a results-driven leader, Heng Kia believes teamwork is an essential factor in producing outstanding outcomes. “I enjoy being a team member, and I enjoy seeing the team perform,” he says. “Involving my colleagues is an invaluable part of the process, and I like to see us working towards a common goal.”
“Involving my colleagues is an invaluable part of the process, and I like to see us working towards a common goal.”
Productivity doesn’t always come easy, but Heng Kia’s philosophy is that a positive working attitude will achieve the best results.
“Productivity can be difficult to measure, but I think a good attitude helps you to become more effective and more efficient. Excuses make for poor working proficiency,” he says. “When assessing a current or potential employee, I always focus on their attitude. This tells me if they are willing to work hard for their job.”
In a few years, Power Automation will be celebrating its 25th anniversary. Heng Kia has high hopes for the company, and this people-first leader aims to see satisfied customers and devoted employees for years to come. “I believe we will continue to see growth. I’m excited about the future,” he says. “When I think about it, I picture our 50th anniversary.
I hope half of my employees will have stayed in the company long enough to celebrate it.”