"Our headcount stood at just 650 in 2012. It increased two-fold in merely four years," says Lo Kien Foh, managing director, Continental Automotive Singapore. In an interview with Aditi Sharma Kalra, find out how staff have been successfully retained through this journey.
Q. Starting out with an engineering degree, you’ve always been interested in the R&D sector. What drove you towards this passion?
My curiosity on how things are developed stemmed from my early years as a young boy, when I was always intrigued by cars and different gadgets, and how they worked. This curiosity further developed into a strong interest in innovation and technology, which brought me to where I am today.
Q. You have been with Continental Automotive for nearly a decade. What have been some of your biggest milestones along this journey?
Some of the notable milestones that I can recall are:
1. The inauguration of our first Continental Automotive Research & Development centre in Singapore, which opened its doors for operation in 2012, followed by our extension building in 2014. The Singapore subsidiary is one of Continental’s largest R&D centres in Asia.
2. The acquisition of Singapore-based mobility intelligence provider Quantum Inventions in 2017. It added great value to Continental’s existing, but growing intelligent transportation systems portfolio with its city data, including next-generation navigation systems that are highly responsive to real-time information such as traffic data, road incident information and dynamic road pricing.
3. Successfully implementing and developing our high standards of work culture among employees, such as collaborative teamwork and spaces, continuous professional training and development, and the implementation of the Future Work initiative to allow our team to excel and create more breakthroughs, and at the same time, better manage their personal and work commitments.
Q. In leading an organisation with a headcount of more than 1,300 in Singapore, what are some of the top people challenges you face?
With our rapid business growth and expansion plan, the aggressive demand to ramp up our human resources has always been a challenge as we attempt to find the right talent to fit the various roles. Our headcount stood at just 650 in 2012. It increased two-fold in merely four years.
If we live the culture of freedom to act, passion to win and for one another, trust will be formed among the employees.
Change is never easy. I personally feel instilling trust is crucial in retaining our existing talent and as important in the integration of new hires into the company. It is vital for us to constantly foster a positive work environment for everyone.
Q. How would you describe the corporate culture you’ve put in place?
The company’s four core values represent our corporate culture – trust, freedom to act, passion to win, and for one another. As for me, I personally emphasise on trust as this value will be the congregated result of all the other three values. If we live the culture of freedom to act, passion to win and for one another, trust will be formed among the employees.
Q. Please share some of the key HR initiatives that have helped increase staff retention.
We have implemented flexible working conditions as part of our Future Work initiative. Mobile work allows flexibility for our staff to work mobile other than our usual location. Flex time work allows flexibility to adjust our start and end working times with core meeting hours kept. Part time employment allows the contractually mandated working hours to be reduced with remuneration being adjusted, according to MOM regulations. Sabbatical offers the chance for our employees to take an extended unpaid break from their job.
In addition, Continental also introduced the corporate health and wellness programme in 2011 to improve the general wellbeing of our employees. We recognise that an organisation’s success is increasingly dependent on the physical and mental health of our employees. There are also different interest groups where employees from different departments can come together to know each other and enjoy a common hobby or interest, for example, sports, photography and other hobbies.
On the professional front, we place a lot of emphasis in continuous professional training and development to expand employees’ knowledge and increase their competency. With all the various initiatives, with the interest of the employees in mind, our retention rate is very healthy and above the trending average in the R&D industry.
Q. Talk us through your focus on developing the Singapore office into an innovation and R&D hub.
Our key focus is on adding value for customers with new innovations and technological solutions. In addition to being known as an R&D centre, we are also a business and innovation hub. We strive to be future-ready – foreseeing the future and developing the right technology for it. Continental Automotive has a competitive nature and makes efforts to keep this competitive edge in our industry. Not to also mention that successful ideas are awarded patents to protect our intellectual property rights.
Q. On a personal front, are there people who have inspired you to work harder in your career?
My supervisors at Continental have inspired me a lot. They live the four core values of the organisation by “walking the talking” in all their ways. They are very dedicated and passionate in their work, are very driven and always with a high energy level. While they keep a strong focus to meet business objectives, at the same time, they care very much about each of the employees.
Q. What’s the one myth you would change about working in an R&D organisation?
To the general public, I guess the R&D industry may be synonymous with the word “technical”. This may not be entirely wrong as our employees are often involved in new projects and work with advanced technology. But we also encourage them to innovate and freely explore ideas by giving them the space and freedom to research and discover, on top of current incentive programmes and competitions in the organisation. We also acknowledge the accomplishments of our employees through recognition and awards.
Q. Finally, what is your individual take on maintaining a work-life balance?
Good time management is vital for one to successfully strike a work-life balance in today’s context. My take is to keep a strong focus on what is important, prioritise, and focus on the quality of work, not the quantity. Additionally, my advice is that each one of us should always give time for self-reflection, no matter how busy we are.
Photos / Provided