With his creativity confined in a typical nine-to-five job, Sang Beng Ng hadn’t even turned 30 when he founded semiconductor specialist Aemulus Corporation.
In this interview, the CEO and executive director talks about ensuring such red tape and office politics does not pervade his organisation, and why sustaining this culture is the HR team’s greatest task.
What inspired you to turn entrepreneur and establish Aemulus in 2004?
Working for an MNC has its stability and benefits, but lacks the most important trait to success – freedom. To be specific, freedom to explore further due to work specialisation and many channels of red tape. Eventually, confined creativity led to stagnant growth.
In addition, red tape rooted from abhorrent office politics is the most unbearable road block at work.
Were you ever concerned that your age (under 30 at the time) would prove a barrier for you in making a mark?
Like gender discrimination at work, age barrier is a societal stereotype. It was truly tough initially for a young man to convince seasoned decisions makers in the industry. However, my determination did not waver even once and the rest is history.
You started your career with another employer – what did you learn there that you could bring over to Aemulus?
Before Aemulus, I took on a self-initiated project which led to a record-breaking promotion then as the youngest junior manager. The whole experience did reinforce my work motto: be exceptional, don’t replicate.
At which stage of the Aemulus growth story did you decide to focus on building an HR team to help scale the people operations?
The element of HR has been there since day one. Employees are the soul of a company, having said that, it is vital to have the right talent pooled together for greater success.
I have a knack at people-telling, not like a fortune teller of course, it is more of knowing a person better based on behavioural observation. With that, I had a great start with a bunch of creatively motivated engineers and today we are publicly listed.
If you take a look at my company website, it mirrors the core concepts of Aemulus’s culture. We seek aggressive adventurers and creative rule benders who have zero tolerance towards office politics.
What has been your most memorable moment with the firm so far?
My “Nick Fury” moment! Aemulus started with a team of “Avengers” successfully recruited in a span of six months. These “superheroes” were young, talented and in good positions with MNCs.
So what spurred them to leave and foray into the unknown? Passion.
During a tough period, how do you tackle stress or demotivation among your senior team, and other employees?
The best gift from a manager is trust. I trust my employees to fully utilise any resources to make sound decisions and execute plans. With trust, I encourage my employees to just own up – be accountable and greater gratification will pay off.
What is the scope of the HR function at Aemulus? How does it assist you in doing your job?
On top of the common HR functions such as hiring, compensation and benefits, training and development, appraisals, etc, Aemulus’ HR team plays a vital role in imbuing our working expectations, approach and, most importantly, our culture to all employees, especially new hires.
As the soul of the company, we see employees as an asset contributing to company growth which translates to the importance of employees’ growth.
What differentiates us from many companies is that we value individual growth and we do not penalise mistakes. Appraisals are individual and growth-based which does away with peer pressure and unhealthy competition among peers.
With that, employees within and across departments live in harmony and constantly help each other out. The collateral benefit of this policy is that office politics is reduced massively.
On the other hand, mistakes are viewed positively because they can provide an invaluable lesson or a chance of accidental creativity. After all, Thomas Edison failed many times to illuminate our world!
Last, but not the least, internal functions such as the annual dinner, sports competitions, monthly gatherings, corporate social responsibility and more are under HR’s care as well.
What is your aspiration for the HR function – how can it optimise its contribution to the business moving forward?
Most siblings in a huge family grow apart with age. Relationships between colleagues of many departments may face a similar situation with the rapid growth of the company. Therefore, sustaining our culture throughout the journey will be HR’s greatest task.
The adage from Mahatma Gandhi: “A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.” And again, my employees are the soul of my company.
How do you define a typical day at work?
I chat with my employees, as simple as that. I manage my time well to have the opportunity to chat with them, be it work-related, life-sharing or about their latest fun getaway. You will be surprised what you can learn from 94 employees.
On top of that, I do swing some ping pong bat with employees to keep the energy going at work!
What is your favourite way to spend time outside of work?
Time-freeze moments of my kids through photography – capturing emotions that are momentarily oblivious to us.