Singapore is a city-state in the center of Southeast Asia. Founded in 1965, the country is less than 50 years old. About 700 km2 in size and with a population of 5.5 million people, it has seen an enormous transformation from a fishing village to one of the most prosperous nations on earth. Much of the meteoric rise can be attributed to the foresight and determination of its founding father and first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew. He put in place the necessary efficient institutions, built good relations with neighboring states, and ruled with an iron fist.
Present-day Singapore is a modern state with the world’s best airport, countless skyscrapers, a state-of-the-art mass rapid transport system and a high standard of living. We wanted to take a look behind the scenes and so met up with Roland Mathys, the General Manager of Sika Singapore.
What is your job about?
As the General Manager of Sika Singapore I head a small team of 20 people.
In addition, I also hold the position of Target Market Manager Concrete for Asia Pacific.
But my main focus now is clearly on Singapore, where Sika has been present since 1978. Despite being established here for so long, the company is still comparatively small. One of the reasons for this is that Sika Singapore has up to now been operating as a trading company without its own production facilities, which put some restrictions on growth.
That’s why in early 2013 I recommended the acquisition of leading dry mortar producer LCS Optiroc Pte Ltd. In mid-December 2013, Sika agreed to purchase this company.
This will certainly bring us to the next level and make us the leader in the Singapore market.
I personally spend a lot of time visiting customers together with my staff, and my key challenge is to build a team that can bring the company to this next level in an environment where the labor market is very tight and job opportunities in more glamorous sectors are available in abundance.
Singapore is known for its variety of cultures and diverse population. As a sovereign city-state and island country it has a unique status among its Southeast Asian neighbors. What makes it special in your eyes?
Singapore is indeed amazing and special in many ways. As a Swiss, I am used to pretty high standards when it comes to infrastructure, working institutions and safety. But I would say that Singapore tops all of that!
Singapore’s government, which is dominated by one party (PAP – People’s Action Party), has created a very pragmatic and efficient administration and runs the state like an enterprise. That’s why it is sometimes referred to as Singapore Inc. While the country is a parliamentary democracy, the average person on the street is not politically minded. The unwritten deal is that as long as the government manages to create economic growth, provide a mechanism for wage increases and assure good living conditions, the citizens will keep quiet.
Two more remarkable factors worthy of mention are Singaporeans’ love of food, and the genuine diversity of the population. While the majority are ethnic Chinese, there are substantial groups of Malays, Indians, Indonesians and many others. The government has managed to maintain an impressive degree of racial harmony among the various ethnic groups, not least by handing out draconian punishment for racist behavior or activities.
And of course one of the real highlights is the variety of food in Singapore. You can eat an entire meal at a food stall for CHF 3, but of course you can also dine at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Whichever side of the spectrum you choose to eat at, you can savor any cuisine that this planet has to offer!
What do you enjoy most about your surroundings in Singapore? Have you become an island hopper during your vacations?
Singapore is located in the center of Asia. That makes it convenient to reach anywhere in Asia within just a few hours, not just the islands. But since you mention islands, there are two that my wife and I regularly visit.
One is Phuket in Thailand, where we go when we need to relax. We have found a nice, secluded stretch of beach, away from the mass tourism, where we try to unwind from time to time.
The other is Bali in Indonesia, where we go more for the culture. My wife supports a number of local artists, and this gives us an opportunity to spend a few days there occasionally.
On the subject of economics, Singapore and Southeast Asia offer a very versatile and demanding environment for multinational companies. Where do you see the chances?
I must say that the opportunities are tremendous in Asia. GDP growth rates are above 6% on average, a new middle class is emerging, and demand for all sorts of goods and services is growing fast.
More than 40% of total global construction spending is in Asia, with the lion’s share in China, Japan and India. But smaller countries such as the Southeast Asian nations are also showing staggering growth rates in the building industry.
There are three main drivers: first, the favorable demographics with a huge population below 20 years of age, second, an almost unlimited need for infrastructure such as power plants, ports, airports, roads and railways, and third, an urbanization drive on a scale never seen before in human history. So to sum up: if you want to work in an environment where everything is growing at tremendous speed, Asia is the right place.
Singapore's economy has been ranked as the most open in the world, the least corrupt, the most pro-business, with low tax rates (14.2% of gross domestic product [GDP]) and the highest per-capita GDP in the world. All this sounds really positive. Is there a catch? And what is the outlook for Singapore in your opinion?
Yes, it is astonishing to see the meteoric rise in prosperity and the establishment of world-class institutions over the last 50 years. The problem now is that it is difficult to top that, which creates a feeling of “it can only get worse”! As I mentioned earlier, the citizens expect things to get better every year, which poses an immense challenge to the government.
A further challenge is that the current economic tide is no longer lifting everyone the same way. In other words, the wealth gap is growing wider and more and more people are not earning enough to make a living.
But I have to say, since it was formed in 1965, Singapore has re-invented itself a few times through economic restructuring, and I am pretty confident that this will happen again.
Singapore will certainly not be able to grow at the same pace as its less developed neighbors, but I am convinced that things will turn out well for this amazing island.
There are quite a number of substantial construction projects outlined for the next 15 years, such as the relocation of the Singapore port (the world’s second busiest) to free up space for residential developments, and various studies underway to look into expanding the city downwards under the ground, just to name two.
How about the construction market? Where does Singapore need Sika?
We have some great opportunities in Singapore, especially now with the acquisition of LCS Optiroc Pte Ltd. When you look at the impressive skyline, it would not necessarily occur to you that the many methods and solutions used in Singapore are not the latest and most advanced ones. We therefore spend a lot of time introducing state-of-the-art solutions and systems into the market.
One of them is SikaProof® A, designed to permanently stop leaking basements, which at the moment is the most common cause of damage to residential buildings. We are also teaming up with government bodies and the Singapore Institute of Architects to train and further educate the industry.
Are there any extraordinary Sika projects you would like to tell us about?
Of course, Sika products were used on many of Singapore’s iconic buildings. A few years back, Singapore built two integrated resorts with casinos (Marina Bay Sands and Resort World Sentosa). Sika was significantly involved in both of these, mainly with roofing, waterproofing and coating solutions.
More recently, we completed a number of flooring jobs, including more than 30,000 m2 for a Rolls Royce jet engine assembly plant in the north of Singapore.
Still ongoing is the iconic Sports Hub, a new national stadium and sports center scheduled to start operation in 2014. Among the products we supplied was a tailor-made 1 mm thick PVC membrane, which helped ensure that all the parameters were met and the necessary approvals obtained.
Let’s not forget our industry business, which is currently engaged in various marine projects and is also the sole supplier for the approximately 700 additional buses built in Singapore to cater for growing public transportation needs.
Where is Sika Singapore heading in 2014?
One of our key activities will be to integrate the new acquisition and unlock as many synergies as possible. Besides that, we will have to continue driving the solid progress we made in past years. To profit from the major infrastructure projects is a key priority, in addition to building and training our Sika team further.
The appeal of Singapore and the opportunities the country offers mean that basically any global and regional competitor you can think of will have established offices here. So the competition is always fierce. But we are ready to go confidently into 2014 and face it.
What do you personally wish Singapore for the future?
As I mentioned before, things are pretty good here. The abundant opportunities have meant that people put a lot of emphasis on money and material possessions. It’s very often all about the newest car, the latest gadget or the must-have designer label. While it sounds a bit idealistic, I would hope that people here could balance this a bit more with other important things in life, such as family, care and compassion.