Thirteen years ago, engineer Julian Ng had a Eureka moment when Lehman Brothers - then the fourth-largest investment bank in the US - went bankrupt.
“The collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 and its impact on the financial services industry was particularly memorable,” recalled the Chief Executive Officer of SGX-listed manufacturing solutions and services provider Grand Venture Technology Ltd (GVT).
“I had harboured the impression that those working in the industry had glamorous and cushy jobs, and usually do well. The event showed me that some developments in the sector can come at an enormous cost to the lives of many.”
In contrast, the engineering profession - typically viewed as humdrum, and even stodgy - was a beacon. “I saw how different this industry was - it was down-to-earth, its services benefitted people and improved their lives. It was then that I realised engineering was the right fit for me,” Ng added.
“From that moment, I was inspired to persevere in this field, and to pursue good, honest work in my role.”
Ng, who graduated with a Diploma in Shipbuilding & Offshore Engineering from Singapore’s Ngee Ann Polytechnic in 1993, has amassed two decades of experience in the manufacturing and precision engineering industries.
In 1999, he took a sales and marketing role with Norelco Centreline Holdings, now known as UMS Holdings, before going on to establish manufacturing and precision engineering firm Achieve Manufacturing Solutions in 2005. Achieve was later acquired by Eng Tic Lee Engineering, and listed on SGX Mainboard as ETLA in 2007. Two years later, ETLA was acquired by Electrotech Investments and renamed Frencken Group.
Ng remained as its Sales and Marketing Director until 2014, when he joined GVT in a similar role. He was appointed to GVT’s Board in 2015 before assuming the position of CEO three years later.
“The past seven years has been a journey of self-reflection and growth,” he said. “It has helped develop and strengthen my character, in particular, teaching me to exercise kindness and humility.”
The most satisfying experience in Ng’s career journey was being part of GVT’s pioneer management team - starting the operations from scratch and building it up over the years.
GVT was birthed from a vision to build a local brand name in advanced manufacturing capabilities, he said. “Although the founding team had extensive experience in our respective fields, the GVT name was new. We had to leave our comfort zones, and give up privileges we enjoyed in our previous roles, to embrace change and hard work.”
In this respect, GVT Executive Chairman Ricky Lee has been a huge inspiration. “Ricky has been a role model for us all - when the going was tough at the beginning, he led by example, and demonstrated tenacity and adaptability in the face of adversity,” Ng recalled.
“He also embodies the Group’s values through things said and done - this has inspired me and the whole organisation to better ourselves.”
Positioning for Growth
Today, GVT is a solutions and services provider for the semiconductor, electronics, analytical life sciences, medical and industrial automation industries. The Group listed on SGX Catalist in 2019.
Its highly experienced team of engineering talent serves a strong global network of established partners and suppliers, with a wide range of engineering, assembly, testing and product life cycle management solutions.
GVT’s manufacturing plants in Singapore, Penang, and Suzhou are backed by the latest automated computer numerical control (CNC) manufacturing technologies, Class 10,000 cleanroom facilities, and a certified quality management system.
The Group has enjoyed rapid growth over the last few years - revenue in the year ended 31 December 2020 has expanded nearly four-fold from 2016, while net asset value per share has surged more than eight-fold over the same period.
To stay abreast of the competition, GVT regularly reviews and renews its technological roadmap to ensure the relevance of the Group’s positioning.
“We’re constantly analysing the market to understand what our competitors are doing, identifying market trends and demand, and customising our capabilities to address those needs,” Ng said.
|“We’re not afraid to take risks, and are willing to be the first mover in the industry, as we believe we will become obsolete if we are complacent.”
In particular, GVT’s strategic move into the advanced material machining and ultra-precision engineering fields has enabled the Group to differentiate itself by offering these capabilities, which are traditional strengths of big players in the US and Europe, and not readily available in Southeast Asia, he noted.
The Group has also begun researching into adopting applied technologies in mechatronics - currently only available in Europe - as part of its processes. A fusion of mechanical, electrical, electronic and control engineering, this multidisciplinary field is increasingly integral to the engineering process due to the demands of innovation.
“We’re also on the lookout for suitable opportunities to invest, or co-invest with like-minded partners, in capabilities or areas that complement our current offerings,” he added.
While GVT pursues these goals, it remains mindful of conducting business in ethical and sustainable ways that safeguard the well-being of its staff, the environment, as well as communities that the Group operates in.
“Recognising the resource-intensive nature of the manufacturing industry, we proactively seek to reduce our carbon footprint, such as installing solar panels that will generate solar energy to supplement our energy consumption,” Ng noted.
Meanwhile, the semiconductor industry - the bread-and-butter of the electronics ecosystem - is facing a supply crunch.
“With the acceleration of 5G deployment, and electric vehicles entering the mainstream, demand for semiconductor chips and equipment have surged since last year,” Ng pointed out.
“The demand growth has, in fact, led to a global shortage of computer chips that is impacting diverse industries from automakers to consumer electronics manufacturers.”
COVID-19 and intermittent lockdowns enforced by several countries have further stoked electronics demand. “There is the risk of supply chain disruptions if the pandemic situation worsens and border closures are re-instituted. To mitigate this, customers are stocking up on inventory, which translates into increased orders for us,” he added.
In anticipation of such risks and potential disruptions, GVT had already invested in Industry 4.0, robotics, and automation initiatives several years earlier.
Such enhanced automation capabilities have enabled the Group to operate on a 24x7 production schedule in Singapore, so as to fulfil its customers’ orders in a timely manner, Ng noted.
“We’re also forging ahead with our investments in digitalisation, artificial intelligence and smart manufacturing to optimise efficiency and productivity in all our facilities,” he added.
For Ng, it all boils down to business sustainability - an issue that’s perpetually at the back of his mind.
“During our early years, when we were trying to build a steady revenue stream, I was constantly asking myself, ‘Can we sustain this business?’,” he said.
“Today, while we have expanded, and are establishing our foothold in the industries we are in, I continue to ask myself the same question, as we strive to achieve long-term, sustainable growth.”
Another priority for the Group is talent acquisition and retention. “We in Singapore have a relatively small talent pool, but huge demand for manufacturing talent. While we keep an eye out for new talent to join us, we must also be mindful of costs and manage that prudently,” he said.
To unwind after a stressful day, Ng enjoys going for a long run. For the 49-year-old, managing a business is very like running a marathon. “Both are for the long haul, and require mental focus and tenacity, especially when the going gets rough.”
Staying grounded and putting in an honest day’s work are also part of his key values.
“My advice to my staff remains the same for whatever they set out to do - follow your heart, be humble, and be willing to listen and learn. These characteristics will help you develop as a person and bring you far in your endeavours.”
This article was originally published on the SGX webpage, kopi-C: the Company brew
Grand Venture Technology Ltd
Founded in 2012, Grand Venture Technology is a fast-growing and trusted solutions and services provider for the manufacture of complex precision machining and sheet metal components and modules. Its manufacturing plants in Singapore, Penang and Suzhou are backed by the latest automated computer numerical control (CNC) manufacturing technologies, Class 10,000 cleanroom facilities and a certified quality management system. The Group’s highly experienced and dedicated team of engineering talent serves a strong global network of established partners and suppliers, with a wide range of engineering, assembly, testing and product life cycle management solutions. GVT’s portfolio of customers hail from the semiconductor, electronics, analytical life sciences, medical and industrial automation industries, and represent some of the largest OEMs in their respective markets.
The company website is: www.gvt.com.sg
Click here for the company's StockFacts page.
For the year ended 31 December 2020 financial results, click here.
About kopi-C: the Company brew
Text: Jennifer Tan-Stanisic
Photo: Company file
kopi-C is a regular column on the SGX Research website that features C-level executives of leading companies listed on Singapore Exchange. These interviews are profiles of senior management aimed at helping investors better understand the individuals who run these corporations.
For previous editions of kopi-C: the Company brew, please click here.