PSA scholar Andy Tan, 36, was uncertain about his future after he graduated from junior college. But after some reflection on his strengths, weaknesses and interests, he decided to keep his options open and apply for a few scholarships, including one from PSA.
“I read about the scholarship in the newspapers and it sounded like an interesting prospect. At that point, I did not know about the functions of the port, nor its importance in the maritime sector,” he says.
Little did Mr Tan know then that he would not only be awarded the scholarship to enable him to pursue a Master of Science with Merit (Economics) from the London School of Economics & Political Science, University of London in England in 2002, but also set him on the path to a meaningful and accelerated career in PSA.
The realisation that a career at the organisation would allow him to indirectly touch lives hit him during the scholarship interviews.
“It was particularly enlightening for me to learn that almost everything that we use and consume in our daily lives, such as food, entertainment devices and clothes, would have passed though PSA in containers at some point in time,” he says.
After starting work with PSA in 2006, Mr Tan underwent an accelerated development programme that featured a combination of job rotations, stretch assignments and projects as well as strategic and international exposure.
These are golden opportunities to hone his commercial and financial acumen, as well as multiple stakeholder management and business planning skills, he says. One such opportunity was his overseas posting in 2013 to assume the roles of chief commercial officer and deputy chief executive officer at one of PSA’s terminals in Laem Chabang, Thailand.
Says Mr Tan: “I was accountable for the operational and financial performance of the terminal. I developed and executed commercial strategies to grow its market share, and cultivated beneficial customer relations at middle to senior management levels.
“It was tough working in a country with a different culture, language and issues, but the challenging environment enabled me to sharpen my business and commercial acumen and hence develop myself professionally.”
Riding out tough times
The overseas job exposure, as well as job rotations in operations management and commercial areas of the company, were particularly useful during challenging times, such as the global financial crisis in 2009.
He says: “It was a sobering period at PSA as container volumes decreased dramatically with the slowdown in global trade and morale was affected. However, we were determined to seek opportunities in crisis and took pro-active steps to ride out the downturn.
“It was heartening to see everyone pull together and do their part for the company. This episode highlighted the importance of teamwork and strong leadership in responding to adversity positively.”
In his current role as Assistant Vice President (Regional Investments) at PSA, Mr Tan heads its business development portfolio for the Southeast Asia region.
From his wealth of experience studying and working locally and overseas, his advice for aspiring scholars is to be humble and down-to-earth, regardless of one’s perceived level of success.
“It is also important to possess the right attitude; be prepared to work hard and accept challenges that come your way,” he adds.