Training & Information
Interview with ASMI President
ASMI President, Mr Heng Chiang Gnee, shares his thoughts on his term in office with Deanne Choo of ASMI NEWS. He reflects on the Association's contributions to the industry, the challenges he faced and the prospects of the marine industry.
Deanne: What were the key agendas for the Association when you first came into office in 1997?
Mr Heng: I should highlight that I had no preconceived objective as to what ought to be done when I first became President. Through the involvement of the Council and the various committees, various agendas and objectives are then set.
But before I took over, one of the key issues then, was that of the image of the Association. My perception was that the Association was more of a post-box and that it did not really initiate things to improve the standing of the industry or to address collectively the problems that the industry faced.
Deanne: Looking back, have these main challenges been addressed? Are there any areas of concern of the industry where you feel more could be done?
Mr Heng: In terms of what can be done, it was very much driven by the change in the Secretariat as well as the ideas and contributions of the Council members that came in. As we move along, it became quite clear that there was a need to see how the whole industry can work closer together so that collectively we can become more effective. That became one of the main agendas for the Association.
The other challenge is how the Association can facilitate the sharing and learning so that we can all become better off while we still compete. Members can and ought to get together to make the industry stronger and more cost-effective. The concern is how we can get industry members to work even closer than what they are doing today. I think for this to come about, a greater level of trust between members would have to be developed.
We would still have to continue to do more as the challenges we faced are constantly changing. To be more successful in meeting these challenges, we would need the various government agencies to work with us and continue to support us.
Deanne: What can be done for a greater level of trust between members to be developed and by whom?
Mr Heng: l feel that the most fundamental thing is that members must recognise that this (trust) is important, and then make the effort to see how this can be built up. At the industry level, the Association can create platforms for this trust to be brought about, but ultimately, it would depend on the parties involved to reach the comfort level.
Deanne: This May, you would have served eight years in office as the President of ASMI, what would you consider as among your more significant achievements for the industry?
Mr Heng; Actually, the most significant achievement is in recruiting Winnie as the Executive Director. In the last seven over years since she came onboard, it is quite obvious that the role of the Secretariat has changed very significantly, in terms of its image and what ASMI can do, in the eyes of members as well as government bodies and agencies. The image and credibility of the Secretariat and the Association are elevated to a much higher level. All these are through the effort of the Secretariat. We, as Council members play a certain role but at the end of the day, it is the Secretariat who ensures that things are executed, and executed well. I strongly believe that Winnie has made a very big difference.
My observation is that as an Association, our standing with various government bodies has got good credibility. It is important to continue to work on this and make it even better. The industry needs the support of many agencies to meet with the changes and challenges that will continue to be there, except that these challenges will change with time. If you look at how as an industry, we have been working with the Ministry of Manpower to address issues, be it safety or manpower, it has been a very meaningful relationship. Likewise if you look at the support that EDB gives to the industry as well as the WDA. These are just some examples of the close working relationships we have built up with the various government agencies.
Another achievement would be the amount of openness and sharing among industry members. In the area of safety, for example, there is no secret among members and people share quite freely with one another. Through this sharing of safety management and safety improvement, members became more willing to stretch their boundaries in opening up to share more in other areas. This openness and greater exchange among members have been rather useful and beneficial for the industry as a whole. I look at this achievement as more the industry's achievement and not my achievement.
The ASMI Council Members have also made a big difference in their support in various aspects. Some have played a bigger role and others, a much lesser role. But, there is enough interest among the Council members to seek improvement overall for the industry. So that has been very helpful.
Deanne: Apart from safety and image enhancement, ASMI has been focussing on attracting more local talents into the marine industry. How can the government help?
Mr Heng: One of the key to bring in more new local talent at various levels would be for the industry itself to show that it is clearly an industry that has got a good future for people joining us, in terms of job security, job opportunities, career advancement, as well as where the future of the industry is, and how we can continue to be a global leader in certain products and services utilising new technologies. All these would be highly dependent on the industry players themselves to make sure that this happens. The industry would also have to reach out to the younger population through the schools.
As far as what the government can do, apart from the continuous support from the various agencies, it is important too for government officials to help project the local marine industry as an industry that is world class, that is a leader in many areas with a bright future, and the significant role that it plays in the Singapore economy.
Deanne: Looking ahead, what other changes would you like to see happen in the industry?
Mr Heng; One of the major tasks set by the existing Council is on how to improve the image of the industry. I think this will continue to be the major focus of the industry going forward. Apart from this, the effort to get everyone in the industry to work closer together should continue to be another key focus.
Deanne: In your position as the President of ASMI, I believe there have been times when you had to make tough decisions or where there were conflicts of interest between the industry or ASMI, and your own companies. Well, for your information, Secretariat has from time-to-time received feedback from members on your objectivity in the handling of many issues. How do you stay objective?
Mr Heng: I believe that at the end of day, the primary objective is to consider what is best for the industry. When one is guided by this principle, then the conclusion or decision process becomes easier. As and when there are issues which need to be put forth to the ASMI Council for deliberation and decision, the Council will decide. The decision is not just purely mine alone. The objectivity for the overall interest of the industry is the primary consideration which will guide the decision process.
Deanne: Do you think you have grown or developed in any way from your appointment as ASMI President?
Mr Heng: On a personal level, I have also benefited through my involvement with ASMI. It has created a lot of opportunities for me to interact with a lot more people within the industry and across industries. I have learnt a lot from the people at various levels, from big and small companies. The appointment has given me broader perspectives on issues of concern. It has also allowed me to gain certain insights when representing the industry on some issues that cut across other industries. I have also made quite a number of friends, both within and outside the industry, hopefully more friends than enemies.
Deanne: The President's position is a voluntary one and must have taken up a considerable amount of your time, including your personal time. How do you handle this demand on your time and attention?
Mr Heng: I enjoy doing or playing the role that I am playing in the Association. In terms of what you call time constraints, part of a manager's job is actually to see how you manage your time. So you just create whatever time that you think is reasonable to play this role, since you have agreed to take on this role. I don't see it as really being a burden in any form. As I have said, I enjoy being a part of the Association.
The other aspect that makes it a lot easier is when you have committed and supportive Council members, supportive members and sub committee members who are very willing to come forward and contribute. I also think that it is important to have a Secretariat that is capable of executing a task in hand. Our Secretariat has been quite effective in doing that, so it makes my tasks easier. I enjoy my involvement with ASMI/ It is important that in whatever you do, you must learn to enjoy it or else it becomes a burden.
Deanne: Given your various appointments, how do you unwind?
Mr Heng: l play golf, tennis, enjoy the arts and get together with friends. It is important for everybody at any level, to have a balance somehow. This balance can be different for different people. But there is a need for you to balance your work life and family life, and also pursue some leisure for yourself. Some people may require more of one than the other. So it is really up to the individual to find the balance on his or her own. I am quite happy with whatever balance I have been able to achieve in my life.
Deanne: You have been in office for four terms. Would you consider going for a fifth term?
Mr Heng: I personally believed that ideally the President should stay for two terms, that is, four years. In my case, maybe I have overstayed. Circumstances back then were such that I was requested by members to continue to stay on. It is always good for an Association to have new people coming in either as Council members or office bearers with perhaps other ideas. Like companies, the Association must continue to change with time and transform based on what is good for the industry as well as the Association. So I think it is time that some newer people come in and take the lead.
Deanne: If you were asked to stay on again, would you continue for another term?
Mr Heng. That's a good question. I personally think that it is time to let somebody else take the lead.
Deanne: Would you still want to play an active role in the Association when you step down?
Mr Heng: I am sure this may happen along the way, you can't get rid of me (laughs).
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