When Steve Ang graduated as an engineer in Singapore in 2011, he found himself looking for a company that aligned with his professional ambitions and also saw the importance of nurturing its employees and giving back to the community. He found these at Keppel Land.
Ten years on, he has made himself a home in Ho Chi Minh City, and remains firmly committed to driving these principles. The themes of sustainability and talent development were the primary topics of conversation when Vietcetera CEO Hao Tran met Steve Ang in this most recent episode of the Vietnam Innovators Podcast.
Investing In Talent
Ang was initially attracted to Keppel Land because of its pioneering work on sustainable development in Singapore. One of the first projects he worked on was the Ocean Financial Centre in Singapore’s central business district — an office building that won the Guinness World Record for the World’s Largest Vertical Garden in 2013.
The fact that he has stayed at Keppel Land for so long, a rare feat amongst the Millennial generation, is a testament in large part to the company’s culture of attracting, developing, retaining and promoting talent.
Upward career mobility has been a feature of Ang’s work-life after all. He joined Keppel Land under a graduate management associate program. “During the two-year program, I was rotated between different departments and exposed to different kinds of functions in the business,” he says.
The program was more than just about understanding the business, it was also a skill and character-building experience. “They throw you into the water and you have to swim.” Fortunately, the company was always on hand with a support network to help him along, “They do not expect you to drown… Instead, you are given mentors and seniors to guide you and allow you to learn on the job faster.”
The ultimate goal is, according to Ang, “To give you more opportunities to grow in this career.”
Talent Sourcing And Development in Vietnam
After five years, Ang had steadily progressed through the ranks of the company and was ready to broaden his horizons. He took a position in Vietnam, where Keppel Land was beginning to undertake work on the totemic Saigon Centre, in downtown District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. He took what he called it, “A leap of faith. I had never been to Vietnam before.”
Soon after arriving, he found himself participating in the development of Riviera Point, a condominium development in District 7. His willingness to take on new challenges was paying dividends, and today Ang carries the job title of Team Lead and Head of Customer Relationship Management. As someone who has reaped the benefits of being invested in and developed within the company, he is firmly committed to finding promising talent in Vietnam and giving them the chance to flourish.
Beyond the Graduate Management Associate Programme, which aims to groom fresh graduates into future leaders, Keppel Land also has the LEAD programs. LEAD 1 seeks to develop high-potential executives to become effective managers, while LEAD 2 aims to nurture promising managers to become effective functional and operational leaders. In Vietnam, the company has a total of 18 executives and managers under the LEAD programs.
The company has recently launched the brand-new Executive Management Programme, a unique program aimed at accelerating the growth of high-potential individuals who have three to five years of working experience.
“We recognize that there could be talent out there already working for other companies for three to five years, some of whom may realize that that’s not what they want to do.”
In effect, it is a chance for people to pivot quickly into a whole new business, without having to start from the bottom. “It is a one and half year program,” says Ang about the Executive Management Programme. “You rotate through three out of five possible departments of the business during that time. Again, you get exposure and learn more about other businesses while being guided and assessed by us.”
However, the Executive Management Programme is more than just an educational experience. “The best thing is that after you graduate, you are immediately assigned a deputy management position. It is a pretty attractive proposal,” sums up Ang.
Funding Grassroots Ideas
On top of his day-to-day role, Ang also leads Keppel’s Innovation Committee in Vietnam. The committee is one of three pillars of the company’s culture, the other two being the Welfare Committee, which caters to health, wellness and social interaction among employees, and the Corporate & Social Responsibility (CSR) Committee, which leads the company’s efforts to engage and nurture communities. “We focus our CSR efforts on education and the environment,” says Ang.
As a lead of the Innovation Committee, Ang’s task is to incubate great ideas from all levels of the company, from junior through to management. “Part of my role is to ask – How we can allow new ideas to be shared more openly? How can management support these ideas?”
In 2019, the company began the company-wide seed funding initiative K-Lab in 2019, with the aim to drive a culture of innovation among staff. Every year, Keppel Land commits S$500,000 (around US$365,000) to fund and incubate employees’ innovation ideas that make Keppel Land a better company overall. “Maybe you have an idea to implement an energy-saving device in an apartment complex,” explains Ang, “You can apply for up to S$50,000 to fund that project and we give you a team to help work towards implementation.”
In 2020, eight projects were implemented as a result of K-Lab funded. The latest project to be funded by K-Lab was here in Vietnam, where an employee created a system to convert waste from shopping malls into compost for rooftop gardens and sustainable urban farmers.
Working Towards Something Bigger
The simple impact of feeling heard at work, as well as working toward something greater than oneself, is something that Ang believes makes Keppel Land such an attractive proposition for its 500 strong workforces in Vietnam. That’s especially true for those in the Gen-Z and Millennial age bracket, who tend to be much more selective about where they want to work, and who they want to work for. “Young Vietnamese can consider the kind of contribution and difference they want to make in society... Ultimately, what determines their choice to join us is their own purpose, and what we are doing to match it.”
That Keppel Land has been recognized for two years running as one of Vietnam’s best companies to work for by HR Asia Magazine, speaks to the satisfaction levels of the in-house talent. In acknowledging the accolades, Ang pulls things back to where the conversation began, with investing in talent and working toward a more sustainable future. The two are intertwined.
“We recognize that our people are our greatest asset. It is based on this belief that we have implemented a lot of development programs and employee engagement initiatives so that people know that Keppel Land is not just a place to work, but a greater family to be in. Here, we can each play our part in contributing towards this overall vision of a more sustainable future.”