SBF Infrastructure Committee head Pek Lian Guan on fostering collaboration

Collaboration among companies is key in order to capitalise on opportunities in Asia’s booming infrastructure sector

As Asian economies continue to expand at a rapid clip, the need for roads, ports, housing and other infrastructure is rising quickly in tandem. The ambitious Belt and Road Initiative is further fuelling demand for companies with far-reaching capabilities to manage projects across the region and beyond.

Pek Lian Guan, Chairman of the Infrastructure Committee

To help Singapore companies capitalise on such opportunities, SBF launched the private sector-led Infrastructure Committee in August 2018 to bring together local industry players, foster capabilities in key sectors, and prepare them to step up onto the international stage. The committee will work hand-in-hand with Infrastructure Asia, a Government-led platform, with the aim of transforming Singapore into the infrastructure hub for Asia.

Heading the Infrastructure Committee as its Founding Chairman is Mr Pek Lian Guan, who is also SBF Vice Chairman and Executive Director and CEO, Tiong Seng Holdings. Joining him are 14 stakeholders from infrastructure-related sectors in Singapore, such as construction, utilities, urban planning, legal and financial services.

BizQ speaks to Mr Pek on how the committee plans to help Singapore companies build the scale and capabilities they need to win mega-projects in the region.

How did the idea for the SBF Infrastructure Committee come about?

To help local firms grow beyond domestic borders, the government has been focusing on regional infrastructure opportunities. We strongly believe that SBF can play an instrumental role in helping our local companies secure more of these deals, including wide-ranging projects under the pan-continental Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

To succeed at the broader level, our companies need a radical mindset change – from one of operating in siloes to one which actively seeks cooperation for more compelling value propositions and integrated solutions. We hope to help enterprises build capabilities, foster collaborations and develop a flourishing ecosystem here. In this way, our companies can then become a force to be reckoned with in the infrastructure sector in Asia.

What are some of the Committee’s key objectives?

The truth is many of our companies are small – even those that are big in the local context are dwarfed in comparison with the multinationals. If we don’t come together, we will not have the scale required to compete in the infrastructure space where the projects tend to be large scale in nature. Singapore companies need a nudge to think about collaboration. As such one of our key tasks is to provide leadership in catalysing collaboration, so that we can collectively leverage on economies of scale and harness the full suite of capabilities to win mega-projects.

We have the best public housing, airport, townships. But we don’t see many of our works being exported beside consultancy services. Many of our companies’ work still remains confined within the country. As a builder, I need to have a entire value chain of suppliers, specialist contractors and so on, before I can embark on a project effectively and efficiently.

This is not a problem in Singapore as the value chain and technology capabilities are readily available for our companies. However, in international markets, the Singapore company does not have such a network. So our goal is to create a collaborative spirit that likeminded companies can come together to venture out.

How do you plan to achieve these objectives?

The fundamental focus of the SBF infrastructure committee has been project driven. For a start, the infrastructure committee has focus on two sectors- water and built environment and eventually move on to transportation, energy and others, across two Geographical regions – ASEAN and South Asia.

We have also begin to form sub-committees to examine the business landscape, where our strengths and weaknesses lie, and – through in-depth SWOT analyses – identify the capabilities we need to build. With a clearer picture, we will know how best to bring companies together to collaborate on various initiative for win-win outcomes. Ideally, these parties can work together on projects in Singapore first, so that they can get to know one another and develop robust working relationships, before they take on the big regional projects.

The committee also wants to promote and position Singapore as a thought leader in infrastructure. As such, we have established a regional conference called the Singapore Regional Infrastructure Summit, which will be held this August in conjunction with SBF’s flagship event, the Singapore Regional Business Forum. The summit will be a platform for high-level sharing of knowledge regarding infrastructure projects among government officials and business leaders from across Asia.

Aerial view of Andhra Pradesh’s new captial Amaravati

How is the Infrastructure Committee working with the Infrastructure Asia initiative?

Recognising the complementary nature of our goals, SBF signed an MoU with Infrastructure Asia in October 2018 to realise synergies of working closely in collaboration. Infrastructure Asia is focused on sourcing for opportunities at a G2G level. When they find potential opportunities, we will step in downstream to determine if our companies are ready to take on these projects. If we are not quite ready, we then explore the capabilities we need to acquire or how assemble a consortium to offer competitive solutions for the project.

In addition to business opportunities from Infrastructure Asia, we will also generate our own leads. Among our council members are representatives of key players in Singapore, such as Keppel, Sembcorp, Surbana Jurong and Changi Airport Group. These are big regional players, backed by extensive networks, who can discover leads and bring them back to the table.

What are some of the specific opportunities you see in the region?

There are opportunities in markets across Asia, especially in ASEAN and South Asia, in addition to project under BRI. We have also looked at projects in Andhra Pradesh, India that are related to the development of their new capital Amaravati.

What is your long-term vision for Singapore’s infrastructure sector?

Success, in my mind, means having a lot more of our companies moving forward together as a cohesive whole, and securing wins in landmark regional projects. Neighbouring countries are developing and there will be further opportunities emerging. If we only focus on opportunities in Singapore, we are competing in a small pond, and a business cannot grow to be bigger than the pond it is swimming in.

In Singapore for example building a 10km road is considered a big project, whereas for somewhere like Papua New Guinea, the roads projects are upwards of 50km instead! So, if the committee succeeds in its goals, our companies will become large enough to swim in bigger ponds and can grow beyond the confines of the Singapore market and need not to solely depend on Singapore market.

If you’d like to find out more about the infrastructure opportunities in Asia, join us at the Singapore Regional Business Forum and the Singapore Regional Infrastructure Summit on August 15 and 16. More details here.