Lian Guan Pek
CEO: Tiong Seng Holdings Ltd
Lian Guan Pek graduated from a degree in Civil Engineering in 1989. As the CEO of Tiong Seng Holdings Ltd, here he talks about his work within the Engineering industry and reflects on his time as a student.
Before joining Loughborough University, I had just completed my civil engineering diploma, and was looking to further my expertise in the area. After speaking to some of my contacts working in the construction industry, I learnt that Loughborough University had a strong project management programme. It was an easy choice after that!
How has your time at Loughborough University inspired you and helped you to progress in your career?
I really valued the highly interactive learning environment. We were encouraged to exchange ideas freely with our lecturers and peers, often working together to figure out possible solutions. That helped shape my belief that people work best when communication is encouraged, and everyone has a part to play in any success.
Additionally, my modules on operation research also started me on the journey to look at how conventional construction processes and workflows could be re-designed for greater efficiency, such as pre-fabrication methods.
Would there be one piece of advice that you would give to current or prospective students looking to study the same course that you did?
Passion for any industry/field must be married to a willingness to pursue in-depth knowledge in order to achieve success. To understand more about the field, interact with as many people as you can. Often, the most meaningful exchange of ideas or conversations take place outside of academic pursuits, so make sure to have the occasional night off!
For prospective students, the civil engineering space has a lot of potential for research and development. There is such a great demand for infrastructure globally, and as always, we need the brightest minds to solve the engineering needs of tomorrow. Certainly, Loughborough University’s programme is a fantastic place to begin your education.
With its diverse student body, you will never know how the students you meet at Loughborough University can inspire you, or perhaps even become colleagues and partners in the future. Take the opportunity to learn more about the British culture, and see how that has influenced the development of different fields of research.
Can you tell us more about your career in construction, property and more broadly, Civil Engineering?
I joined a Singaporean construction company (Tiong Seng Contractors Pte. Ltd.; “TSC”) as a site engineer upon graduation. My first major project was to manage the construction of one of the largest refuse incineration plants in Singapore. Since then, I’ve overseen projects as diverse as constructing civil structures (such as roads, highways, underpasses) to public and private high-rise housing. In recent years, TSC has also expanded to include delivering underground rail projects!
Having worked my entire career with TSC, I have risen through the ranks to become the CEO of the Construction and Property Group of Tiong Seng Group, a listed company on the Singapore Mainboard Exchange. I am passionate about introducing new technology and systems to continually improve construction standards, such as Building Information Modelling (“BIM”) and precast systems.
Key to my work is to improve the efficiency of our systems and processes. The latest areas I am currently exploring are related to pre-fabrication. From precast techniques to even developing our own patented pre-fabricated, pre-finished, volumetric construction (“PPVC”) system, I am constantly trying to lead my company to break new grounds in construction techniques.
Did you always have a strong interest in civil engineering from a young age? How has the interest developed itself throughout your career?
My interest in civil engineering stems from my father’s career in the same field. He started a company that shifted groundwork debris, and eventually parlayed that into the construction field after noticing the industry’s potential in the 1960s and ‘70s. Having seen his passion and drive for the business first-hand growing up, it inspired me to enter the industry as well.
Civil engineering is a field that has such potential for creativity and innovation. Certainly, my time in Loughborough University helped shape my belief that there are always new methods that can help make construction more efficient and effective. As such, I am always on the lookout for fresh ideas and talent that can help us develop future-ready concepts and techniques in civil engineering.
Beyond civil engineering, I have also sought to diversify TSC’s portfolio. Today, we have three core groups of business: (1) construction, building, and civil engineering, (2) property development, and (3) engineering and pre-fabrication.
I didn’t start with a particular interest in a certain type of construction work. To me, the process of managing and completing each project (even if it is the same type of building work) presents its own unique challenges anyway.
However, I did want to ensure that TSC diversified its projects portfolio and not take a niche stand in the industry. There is a cyclical element to the demand for different construction works, so there was a business reason for continually moving into different types of work as well. Over the last 25 years, TSC has since developed our capability to deliver different projects; our portfolio ranges from private houses to hotels, roadworks to underground rails. Moving forward, we are looking to continually challenge ourselves to deliver more complex and interesting projects, both locally in Singapore and overseas.
What does it mean to you to be the CEO of the Tiong Seng Group and what kinds of things do you work on in this role?
As the CEO of the Group, I am primarily focused on deepening our technical expertise and broadening the Group’s capabilities. My vision for TSC is to be known as an innovative and forward-looking construction Group, ready to take on a wide variety of projects and challenges.
I see my role as someone who continually challenges the status quo. This means I am constantly on the lookout for new technology or thinking of ways to challenge my teams to deliver innovative solutions to our daily challenges. The question that is always at the forefront of my thought process is: “How can I do this better?”
No man is an island, and certainly no company is able to take on all these challenges alone. To that end, I am always on the lookout for joint venture or partnership opportunities. We look to work with other companies and to pool our collective resources and capabilities to create new systems, processes, and technology.
Most importantly, I believe that people work best when they have the space and resources to grow and develop as individuals and teams. As the CEO, a large part of my job is to also look at how we as a company can help our staff also adopt a spirit of challenging boundaries in their work and life.
Looking back, the biggest challenge was to change the mindset of the company to accept that simply following traditional methods of construction was enough. As with every change and challenge, it can be difficult to get buy-in from staff who have seen success with other established methods. One of the most critical aspects of my job is to present the tangible and intangible benefits of any change to my staff, and to convince them that we can do better and to raise the bar. Getting that buy-in is crucial to effectively and successfully implement any change in the workplace.
If a company is to stay relevant in today’s ever-changing environment, change is inevitable. To manage that challenge effectively requires one to be agile of thought and meticulous about the details. Change management is never easy, but it is what helps elevate the company to deliver better quality in its work.
It is too difficult to select my favourite project, seeing as I have been a part of far too many! Each project means something to me, as we have always looked to introduce something new each time, be it a different methodology or a new type of construction technology.
I will say that one of my most notable projects was a joint venture with a Japanese contractor to deliver the integrated resorts (“IR”) in Singapore, a project worth SGD 1.3 billion dollars. The project was a massive task, to construct 3 resort complexes in 21 months. To do so, we had to redesign our construction methodologies, such as to adopt advanced formwork systems, pre-fabrication technology, and the concept of designing for manufacturing and assembly (“DFMA”) to ensure efficiency and quality in our work. Ultimately, it was the culmination of very well-planned and well-executed project management, and with tremendous hard work and dedication from my teams.
I think it would have to be the Singapore IR project. As joint ventures go, it was a fantastic experience with our Japanese partners, and it was a testament to the mutual respect and commitment to project excellence shown by each member of the project team.
I would say that TSC winning the Singapore Quality Award (“SQA”) in 2013 was one of the proudest moments in my career. As far as business excellence awards go, the SQA is one of Singapore’s most prestigious awards. What made the award more memorable was that TSC was the first construction company in Singapore to ever have won the SQA.
Winning that award was testament to our reputation as an organization that is always at the front of innovation, and always looking to deliver quality and efficiency in our work. It was a moment of validation as well, helping to make the immense investment in pre-fabrication capabilities and efficient construction systems all worth it. Since then, we have seen our peers also start to adopt these less labour-intensive methods, and we are proud of our position as a leader and innovator in the Singapore construction industry.