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Human Capital: Barry Sim

ETLA Limited, a complex solution provider for the manufacture of precision machining and sheet metal components, regards itself as an innovative business. Managing Director Barry Sim believes that thinking differently is key to the company’s work.


“Innovation is a cornerstone for us,” he says. “It’s evident right from the manufacturing process capability down to our packaging design services.”

Before being appointed Managing Director in March 2007, Barry’s portfolio included the Singapore Economic Development Board, and subsequent positions with EDB Investments and EDB Ventures. Barry is a graduate from the Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in the US.

Now at ETLA, an Asian business that specialises in the assembly and integration of modules, systems and equipment for the medical, semiconductor, analytical and industrial automation industries, Barry and his team have worked hard to develop a culture of “over delivering and delighting customers”.

He highlights that one of ETLA’s competitive differentiators is its capability to deliver solutions cost-effectively. “This is core to our business,” he stresses. Faced with a positive business outlook amid an uncertain environment, it has necessitated an agile recalibration of priorities for ETLA.

“We’re experiencing a bit of a business tailwind in an otherwise challenging environment,” Barry reflects. “In this climate, there are two areas of focus for us. The first is to continue to sharpen our engineering capability in manufacturing technology and process design. Investments in leading-edge equipment and manufacturing process engineers must continue unabated.”

The second area of focus for the business is on supply chain management, “from raw material to OEM suppliers”, Barry shares. The supply chain includes finding alternative sources, securing supply and being ready for any possible disruptions that could occur.

Part of ETLA’s success has been its highly satisfied customer base. “The quality of our products is paramount,” Barry says, adding that, while on-time delivery is an essential element, the need for exceptional product standards still comes out on top.

“I would stick my neck out for quality because, while you can deliver on time, if the parts’ quality falls short, then that cannot be a positive experience from a customer’s standpoint.”

The company’s sustained growth is also tightly tied with key suppliers, which enable it to grow and increase the capacity of production. Barry emphasises that ETLA doesn’t operate in a vacuum; it exists very much in a dynamic ecosystem of collaboration.

“We work together with a network of suppliers,” he explains. “We don’t look to have a transactional relationship; it’s not a capacity arbitrage. These trusted partnerships are critical, and we’re happy that we’ve developed several such relationships with specialty suppliers where there’s a fit.”

Looking at the culture of ETLA, Barry notes that, although it’s not often discussed, it has definitely evolved over time. “There is a culture of exceeding our customers’ expectations,” he says.

I would stick my neck out for quality because, while you can deliver on time, if the parts’ quality falls short, then that cannot be a positive experience from a customer’s standpoint.

“That is central to all of our work across the company.” With about 1,000 employees across Asia, Barry leads with agility. “Leadership is a continuum and, in my view, no leader can afford to have a singular or fixed style of leadership,” he expresses.

Barry likens leadership to a toolbox and says that people need to have several leadership styles depending on the situation, environment, employees and culture of a company. When asked to pinpoint the leadership type that best describes him, Barry narrows it down to “empathetic leadership”.

“Basically, we’re in the business of people,” he emphasises. “It’s all about how you develop your people and develop their capability in delivering something of value to the customer. People are the most significant part of our business, and I am pretty sure it’s the same in many other businesses as well.”

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