Jon Dingley had been living in Hong Kong for two years when he phoned his brother Paul, who was home in South Africa, to suggest he join him. “The real estate market is booming,” he said down the line in 1996. As an added incentive, he also mentioned there was a position on the Hong Kong national rugby union team waiting for him if he made the move.
Paul was already eyeing corporate opportunities abroad, so when his brother told him he could pair that with an international rugby career, he couldn’t pack his bags quickly enough. The very next year he made his debut for Hong Kong, alongside Jon, in a test match against Japan.
Paul's professional interest over the next couple of years shifted to sports marketing from real estate, and all the while he was making friends with like-minded business and sportspeople – none more important than his Australian roommate, Rob Wall, who was already an integral figure at glazed-partition supplier and installer JEB International.
Paul Dingley is a relationship builder
The two expats became best mates overnight and, on Rob’s advice, Paul joined one of the designer construction firms JEB was supplying. He remained with the company for 10 years before being recruited by CBRE. By then, Paul had retired as Hong Kong’s longest-serving rugby captain in both the traditional and Sevens formats, and continued his association as a non-executive director.
In that role, he was able to connect with top executives from a wide range of Fortune Global 500 companies, ever increasing his profile. Rob, meanwhile, was working on plans to enhance the collaboration between JEB’s Hong Kong and Singapore offices, and he saw Paul as the right man to create that bond quickly.
“When Rob asked me to join as a managing director to help him take the company to the next level, it didn’t take me long to agree,” he recalls. “I probably took half a minute to check with my wife and that was it. The strategy was for me to move down to Singapore and build on the relationship between Singapore and Hong Kong. There was collaboration, but it wasn’t at a level where we could really use it as a springboard or a template to pick up service agreements with global clients.
“So I was in Singapore for four years. The communication between Rob and I has always been outstanding, so we managed to grow the business through better collaboration between the offices,” he continues. “We adopted that strategy with our other offices in Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, Beijing and Sydney, and it has undoubtedly improved the business. We are constantly strategising in terms of what we can do better and how we can move the company forward.”
JEB Asia has a strong team culture
Communication only gets a company so far, though; it still needs to deliver on its objectives. And that’s why Paul makes a point of emphasising JEB’s strong team culture, a direct reflection of his experience directing troops around the rugby pitch. “You could be the most brilliant businessman, but if you don’t have a team working hard alongside you, you’re not going to achieve anything,” he says.
Our key focus is on having a level playing field within our organisation.
“I think that’s what Rob and I have. Our key focus is on having a level playing field within our organisation. No-one is more important than anyone else and everybody needs to pull their weight. And if someone drops the ball, there’s a teammate ready to step in and help them out.”
Paul and Rob have now shared the responsibility of running JEB as major shareholders since 2013; and boasting the likes of Google and Facebook as clients, the company continues to improve its global market share. As Paul talks to The CEO Magazine from the company’s state-of-the-art Sydney showroom, he can’t help but get carried away with the innovations they are currently rolling out.
“If you want flexibility, we’ll show you flexibility!”
“Just in this room alone, we have five innovations that are the first of their kind in Australia,” he gushes. “We’ve got single-glazed systems with sliding doors, double-glazed systems with pivot doors, and » operable walls with different thicknesses. Then we’ve also got a table here that is on castors, so you can actually fold it up and wheel it out.
“So when we bring clients in here, we’ll say, ‘Okay, if you want flexibility, we’ll show you flexibility!’ Then we’ll push back all the walls, pack up the table and push it up, and open up the whole space. Most of the designers and architects who come to our office fall in love with it quite quickly, because it’s got that sort of dexterity and flexibility.
“The big thing about innovation is access to stakeholders within an organisation,” he continues. “Rob and I are very approachable to everyone, from our clients to the cleaner. And because people have this unfettered access to us, we can work together to customise products. Right now, we’re working with a global brand that had a couple of challenges in terms of the systems that they wanted to use for a massive expansion into Asia.
We keep pushing the boat out, but we do it with a safety net.
“Over a period of three months, we sat down with them and extracted as much information from them as we could, and we were able to customise a solution. We developed new single-blade systems that are going to take the market by storm.
“We’ve also developed double-glazed systems, curved aluminium profiles to accommodate curved glass, and switchable glass that goes into our partitions. So we keep pushing the boat out, but we do it with a safety net. This is because we know we can deliver. If we start dealing with a bunch of products that we actually couldn’t deliver, we’d be shooting ourselves in the foot.”
A can-do attitude makes all the difference
The company’s biggest challenge is getting face time with prospective clients, because people don’t want suppliers talking to their clients directly. Once they manage to engage and explain the benefits of JEB’s products, Paul says, they rarely have trouble getting them across the line.
“In the marketplace, there’s been this perception that a glazed partition is just a glazed partition, simply aluminium and glass – but it’s actually not. There are so many different performance levels that can be achieved through the different layers of glass or the thickness of the aluminium, or the door you use,” he explains.
Businesses all have different mindsets and strategies in terms of what they want to achieve. It’s our job to extract that information and come up with something that fulfils all their requirements.
“So, when we sit down with potential clients, we try to get them to look beyond the basic idea of a partition. It’s like when you sit in a chair; certain people will find the chair comfortable, and other people won’t.
“Everyone’s mind works differently. Businesses all have different mindsets and strategies in terms of what they want to achieve. It’s our job to extract that information and come up with something that fulfils all their requirements.”
Being an avid South African Springboks supporter, it pains Paul to say that JEB’s professional drive better correlates to arch rivals, the All Blacks.
“New Zealand have got this belief that they can come back from huge deficits and still win the game. They have a mental edge over their competitors and that’s why their success rate is so high. Rob and I have that can-do attitude too, and that makes all the difference.”