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Toby Koh, group MD of Ademco Security Group

Suite Talk: Toby Koh, group MD, Ademco Security Group

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Toby Koh, group managing director of Singapore-based Ademco Security Group, is is investing a six-figure sum to review the firm’s HR programme. Find out how he partners with the HR team.

Q. You have an experienced career in security and business management solutions spanning more than 20 years. How has your career led you to this present role?

This is my 21st year in the security industry. I started off as a corporate banker in one of Asia’s largest banks, before moving onto the security business in 1995. As a corporate banker, I was handling multi-million dollar loans and deals, which were very exciting, and I learnt a lot.

However, at this point in time, I must say that nothing compares to the excitement of running a business. Ademco was an American company before my father, who was the Asia Pacific managing director, did a management buy-out in 1985.

Q. You joined Ademco in 1995 as a business development manager, and have since risen up the ranks. What is the secret to your successful rise? 

I joined Ademco as a sales executive and as a business development manager. I carried both name cards and gave either out depending on my role in that situation.

There really is no secret to success. It is lots of hard work and great planning. I started as a salesman knocking on doors and having many doors slammed shut on my face. However, I persevered and became the top sales person in Ademco. Attitude and tenacity are the most important weapons anyone can wield in the business world.

Q. How would you define your leadership style? Having worked in both Singapore and the US, how does your leadership style, if at all, change depending on where you are?

I have a very consultative leadership style. I like my team to debate and make their own decisions and own their decisions. Rarely will I insist on having it my own way against the team, unless it is something that may put Ademco under unacceptable risk levels.

I am a leader who is not afraid for my team to fail. In fact, there have been times where I already know that a decision taken by my team will fail, but at their insistence, I allow them the lesson of failing. Even though it costs us time and resources, sometimes I feel that the lesson learnt is invaluable and makes for a stronger team.

Asian and Western countries require different leadership styles. Western style tends to be more straightforward and open. Asian culture is still somewhat conservative and requires lots of tact and respect.

Attitude and tenacity are the most important weapons anyone can wield in the business world.

Q. In your opinion, what is the hardest part of being the group MD at Ademco?

The two challenges are as follows. Firstly, to get the most suitable talent for the team in all our offices across seven countries that we operate in and getting them to gel and work as a team. Secondly, it is to set the correct environment and strategy for the long term sustained growth of Ademco.

Q. What is your view of HR as a business function for a company such as Ademco? How closely do you work with your CHRO?

Human capital is the most important asset of Ademco. I work very closely with our HR team. In fact, we have engaged Hay Group as consultants to review our HR programme for a six-digit fee. It is a hefty investment but I know that it is important that we keep our HR programme fresh and abreast of the current times. This will help us get the best talent possible and more importantly, retain them and have a happy team.

Q. What are the typical manpower challenges the security solution sector is facing at the moment? What is the biggest priority for talent managers?

There are two security sectors, which are manned guarding and electronic security.

In the manned guarding business, the manpower demands outnumber the supply. Security officers have the choice of numerous job opportunities. It is easy for security officers to change jobs because of the inadequate supply. Talent managers need to convince the candidate or staff of the prospects of staying with the possible career path and us. We also highlight the increasing demand and progress of the security guards industry as a whole and that it can be a respectable lifelong career.

In the electronic security industry, our HR team constantly educates new candidates of the global risk in the recent years as a concrete reason why our industry is poised to grow over the next 5 to 10 years without a doubt. Further to that, as the salaries of the manned guards continue to rise, more will rely on electronic security.

Q. What are the unique initiatives Ademco has undertaken to solve these challenges?

One of the first strategies that we identified was to position Ademco as “the place to work in”, in the security industry. We contribute frequently to mainstream media and through the years, we are now recognised as thought leaders in our industry. This positive profile helps to attract the best talent in for the jobs.

The second strategy is to update and refresh our HR programme so we have the right policies and environment for the team to want to stay with Ademco.

In the manned guarding business, the manpower demands outnumber the supply. Security officers have the choice of numerous job opportunities.

We also have a strong “promote from within” policy, which gives our team a strong reason to work hard for real career progression.

Q. Security solutions, is not typically considered a glamorous industry by graduates. What myth about this industry would you like to bust for those building their career here?

The world is not getting safer. The risk levels and terrorist activities are increasing drastically as we can clearly see. This means that the security industry will only grow and grow significantly. The technology race in the security industry is fast and exciting. Even Google is getting into the video surveillance business. If anyone wants to get into a growth industry, he must consider security.

Q. Ademco has received numerous accolades under your leadership, including ISO certification for its Central Monitoring and Security services. Does Ademco have any programmes to motivate employees towards such accomplishments?

This is precisely why attracting and recruiting the right candidates into Ademco is so important. When our team works happily and takes pride in their work and in our organisation, they will naturally want the best for Ademco and strive to raise our standards on their own initiative. The right candidate means the right fit into our culture and environment and does not mean the talent with the best grades or experience. The right attitude will outperform an experienced candidate 9 out of 10 times.

Q. When you’re struggling with stress or a bad day, how do you re-energise yourself?

I rarely have a bad day because I am always thankful for what I have. Having said that, I enjoying eating, hanging out with my children, family and friends… oh! … Did I mention eating?

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