For MattenPlant President and CEO, Diong Sian Chuan (“But that’s quite a mouthful, so everybody calls me DS.”), having staff with an immensely positive mindset is one of the best ways to overcome day-to-day challenges.

“It has to start with me,” he explains. “Fortunately, I was born a radically optimistic person!” DS has been involved in the water-treatment sector since 1995. He first joined the sector after asking himself, “Why not?” – and he’s grown to love it ever since. “I’ve been involved in the so-called environmental engineering business for a while now and have a duty towards the protection of the environment,” he says.

“No matter what we do – whether we treat the upstream water for everyday consumption or
if we are involved in the downstream wastewater treatment – we want to look at how we can play our part to enhance the environment.”

Rather than retire from the sector in 2008, DS decided to take up a position at Singaporean water treatment company MattenPlant. He began as chairman before becoming President and CEO in 2015.

MattenPlant focuses on three water-treatment technologies: ultrafiltration (UF), reverse osmosis (RO) and ion exchange technology (IX). The UF process uses a membrane to remove solids from water. RO, on the other hand, is a purification process that removes dissolved solids such as salt and calcium from water. IX is a chemical process that purifies water to an ultra-pure standard and is mainly used in power and semiconductor companies.

“It is very powerful when a company has these three water-treatment technologies,” DS says.
“They can be used on their own, but a combination of them can treat the most difficult waters.”

The company’s technologies are kept in-house, which is something DS strongly believes in. “Over the years, I have seen many other water-specialist companies that have given up their in-house production capabilities due to hard times,” DS says.

“No matter how tough the environment has been, my business strategy has always been to hold on to these capabilities. We have proven it was the right decision because having these facilities means we are able to manage many aspects of the businesses: the speed, control of the quantities and the innovation. We can control the costs so that we can continue to be competitive.”

DS has big plans for MattenPlant in the future. “I’m looking to build an extraordinary water company,” he notes. This vision was bolstered by investment from German company SKion in 2017.

SKion is owned by German entrepreneur Susanne Klatten who is an anchor shareholder of BMW.
DS explains Susanne has been investing in water- and wastewater-treatment companies since 2010.

In South-East Asia, MattenPlant eventually made the cut. After getting to know SKion for some time, I knew that it would make a good investor for the company to grow,” DS explains. “As of today, MattenPlant remains the first and only Asian water company Susanne has invested in. To me, it is a privilege to have SKion as MattenPlant’s investor.”

With SKion on board, MattenPlant decided to reposition itself away from mainly oil and gas sectors to also include the food and beverage industry. As a result, the company has started to supply to big-name brands, including Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.

The journey to building an exceptional water company starts with employing the right people.
For DS, cultivating talent begins with getting them to understand the ‘why’.

“That’s a core part of the business direction and culture of the company,” he says. “We focus a lot on how we can motivate our people by giving them the reason why they are here with us, before we address what to do and how we do it.

“We are looking at people who are willing to walk the extra mile.”

“We want to drive it in their minds that what we expect from them is to be an extraordinary member of the MattenPlant group. We are looking at people who are willing to walk the extra mile.”

To further develop the company’s workers, DS has made the business environment more conducive to younger engineers. “I have often said to my staff that in order to resonate with them, we can only change ourselves,” he explains.

“We can’t expect the younger ones to follow the way we used to work. My philosophy is that
I have to come down to their level and understand what really interests them.”

One of the strategies DS has implemented is the idea of ‘dressing down’ to make workers feel more comfortable and creative in their work environment. “In a way, we are trying to mimic what the IT industry has done to attract and retain younger talent,” he says. “We want to promote an environment they want to come in to and do the work. If we required them to dress like bankers on a day-to-day basis, they would feel it’s too stifling.”

In future, DS wants to see MattenPlant on par with some of the major water-treatment companies in Europe in terms of innovation and service. “Technology alone is not enough,” he says.

“The sad thing is that even if a company puts in a lot of effort in terms of innovation and R&D, at the end of the day your competitors are going to catch up. Over the next 10–20 years, I believe there will be more emphasis on evaluating services.

You must have the people who can manage themselves in order to provide the best service to the customer.”

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