Viewpoints from a Leader: Mr Ken Lim

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Home > Articles > Viewpoints from a Leader: Mr Ken Lim

 Viewpoints from a Leader: Mr Ken Lim

Sadie-Jane Nunis | Today's Manager
June 1, 2018

I speak with Mr Ken Lim to get his views on management, leadership, and find out more about Johnson Controls’ collaboration with the ITE. (PHOTO: JOHNSON CONTROLS)

Mr Ken Lim is the general manager (GM) of building technologies and solutions (BT&S) Singapore at Johnson Controls. Johnson Controls is a global diversified technology and multi-industrial leader serving a wide range of customers in more than 150 countries. They create intelligent buildings, efficient energy solutions, integrated infrastructure, and next-generation transportation systems that work seamlessly together to deliver on the promise of Smart cities and communities.

In Singapore, Johnson Controls’ solutions are installed in more than 40 per cent of commercial buildings. The organisation has also been involved in large-scale projects such as tertiary educational institutions, hospitals and data centres. More recently, they collaborated with the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) to establish the ‘ITE-Johnson Controls Building Technologies and Solutions Centre’ at ITE College East.

At the tender age of 15, Mr Lim got his start in the buildings industry when he spent his school holidays helping out at his father’s air-conditioning services business. His official career began in 2001 when he joined York Singapore (acquired by Johnson Controls in 2005) as a sales engineer. Since then, Mr Lim has held positions of increasing responsibility in the organi-sation. In his current position, his list of achievements includes the successful restructuring and integration of Johnson Controls and Tyco Fire, Security & Services, and streamlining of internal processes to forge business alignment between the two operations in Singapore.

Prior to this, Mr Lim was the GM and managing director of the building business in Malaysia, where he led the smooth integration of York Malaysia and Johnson Controls Malaysia. Before that, he was the President Director of PT Johnson Controls Indonesia, leading the business to achieve Johnson Controls Asia’s Three Stars Award (year-on-year growth in revenue, segment income and reduction in annual trade working capital) for three consecutive years from 2012 to 2014.

My interview with him shows what an insightful yet humble leader he is.

Sadie-Jane Nunis (SJN): There is a constant debate that management and leadership are different. What are your thoughts?
Mr Ken Lim (KL): Oh, it is very different. Let me illustrate the difference with an example—if someone is consistently late for work, management is about giving the person a verbal warning, followed by a warning letter if he/she continues this behaviour. If he/she gets three warning letters in a year, he/she will then be placed on a performance improvement programme (PIP). Leadership on the other hand is about understanding why this person is late and working with him/her to be on time or even offering him the flexibility to come in later and finish later. Leadership is about empowering others to be successful while management is about adhering to company policies and processes.

SJN: What is your management or leadership style like?
KL: I believe in focussing on people and the numbers will take care of itself. It is about sincerely taking care of our employees and customers, and they will take care of you. I demand this people-focus from all my managers as well.

I also believe in being a democratic leader and I dialogue frequently with my management team to make both company and business decisions. It is never about imposing my views and decisions but listening to what the team has to say and then taking a vote or coming to a consensus. Only when there is an impasse, will I then make an executive decision.

SJN: What strengths should an effective leader have?
KL: I see effective leaders having four key qualities—empathy, sensitivity to the environment, fairness, and the ability to make difficult decisions.

Empathy is knowing how to listen—listening to my employees and customers, understanding their challenges, and empowering them to remove roadblocks. In the case of employees, no one wants to feel useless so if they have performance challenges, it is more often due to roadblocks rather than laziness or wilfulness.

It is really important to be sensitive to the environment that we all operate in—for example, an extremely effective salesperson will still be unable to sell a chiller producing cold air in the North or South Pole. So, in this circumstance, we will need to rethink our strategy. Being situationally aware helps us to be more empathetic and effective when offering guidance to employees and solutions to customers.

Fairness is another critical quality, especially when it comes to recognition and rewards. Once employees detect unfairness, their spirits will be dampened, they will lose faith and stop fighting the good fight with you.

An effective leader will also need to make difficult decisions, for example, putting an employee on a PIP, if there is a real need to. Many leaders shy away from punishment but I don’t see why we should. Of course, we need to empathise with the employee and understand the environment he/she is operating in to help remove the roadblocks but if it is genuine bad behaviour, we have to take a stand and apply the necessary corrective measures. Tolerating or condoning bad behaviour is unfair to the employees who are fighting the good fight.

SJN: How do you stay motivated?
KL: Personally, I am inspired by the book titled Gung Ho! which I try to read once a year. It is a very simple book, with three principles that I abide by:

Worthwhile Work. It is about helping my team and I find meaning and importance in our work. For myself, I find that meaning by believing if I am not around to help my customers, they would not be able to enjoy a comfortable working or living environment or achieve optimal energy efficiency with their buildings.

In Control of Achieving the Goal. It is important that my team and I have clarity on what our end goals are as well as the parameters and rules to abide by while reaching these goals. Thereafter, it is about empowering and trusting the team to reach these goals, without micromanaging them.

Cheering Each Other On. It is about offering consistent encouragement, reward, and recognition throughout the team’s journey, not just at the end of a financial year or a quarter.

I share my lessons learnt from this book with my leaders and I encourage them to share their lessons as well as mine with their teams.

SJN: How big is your team, how young are they, and how do you manage and motivate your team?
KL: I manage close to 600 people. Engagement activities are key. Providing clarity and meaning during those engagement activities is very important. I insist on management meetings every month and town halls every quarter; and I attend as many meetings as I can with my team—to give clarity and encouragement to the people I work with and help them see that the work they do is worthwhile.

SJN: What are your views on Singapore working towards becoming a Smart Nation?
KL: I would like to think that all of us in Singapore embarked on this journey to become a smarter and more sustainable nation more than a decade ago, and today we are charting the next stage of that journey. Let me explain what I mean.

A key part of being a Smart Nation is the ability to monitor and manage energy efficiency. Thanks to the launch of the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) Green Mark programme back in 2005, energy efficiency is no longer a trend for Singapore buildings. Building developers, owners, and managers today have become so attuned to the concept of energy efficiency that it has become part of our DNA. This is evident from the results of Johnson Controls’ latest Energy Efficiency Indicator survey for Singapore–97 per cent of organisations in the nation either plan to increase or maintain their energy efficiency and renewable energy investments this year. An interesting fact to note about their investments—they are not just putting in place new energy-efficient measures, or simply enhancing existing measures. They are also prioritising investment in energy-focussed behavioural or educational programmes, which serves as a clear sign that they aim to arm their employees with the mindsets and skillsets needed to be fully engaged with energy efficiency.

As with energy efficiency, a Smart City is no longer just an abstract concept. In fact, we are gradually transitioning into the aforementioned next stage—a responsive city where we are no longer just passive beneficiaries, but also active contributors to the ecosystem.

From the buildings perspective, a key part of being a responsive city is having smarter and connected buildings, where building developers, owners, and managers focus on integrating all the systems within a building (for example: heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, security, utility, energy management, life safety, lighting, and so on) to obtain a holistic view of the building itself via the rich data available. A holistic view refers to one that can actively inform decisions in building management. Based on our Energy Efficiency Indicator study, close to half of the organisations surveyed have invested in systems integration in the last year and the same percentage plan on doing so in the next year.

While the built environment is but one part of Singapore’s Smart Nation journey, it is an integral one and I am optimistic that as we herald in a new era of building management thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), advanced analytics, and machine learning, our strides in this area will contribute richly to Singapore as a Smart Nation.

SJN: What role do you see Johnson Controls playing in helping Singapore gear towards becoming a Smart Nation?
KL: I see Johnson Controls playing two key roles here:

Trusted technology partner. We are a single source of integrated Smart green building systems, services and solutions provider, offering a comprehensive life-cycle approach to in-building technology and operations from planning and design to installation to integration to optimisation and maintenance. In Singapore, our solutions are currently installed in more than 40 per cent of commercial buildings. In 2017 alone, we have helped the likes of Great World Serviced Apartments, both ITE HQ and ITE College Central, and Joo Chiat Complex achieve the Platinum Green Mark awards. Besides products and solutions, we are also investing in energy-related studies like the Energy Efficiency Indicator and our Smart City Index, aimed at unearthing industry insights and lessons that would be useful for our customers to know.

Empowerer of current and future workforce. According to Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore still has ‘a long way to go’ in developing deep engineering capabilities. He called on the country to do ‘much more’ to overcome its resource constraints. To address this labour crunch, we have adopted two approaches:

  1. Attracting and Grooming the Next Generation of Engineers and Technicians. At Johnson Controls, we see it as our responsibility to attract and groom the next generation of engineers and technicians, and train them so that they are not only grounded in the fundamentals, but also equipped to handle the disruptions of the industry.

    This is why we collaborated with ITE to establish the ‘ITE—Johnson Controls Building Technologies and Solutions Centre’ at ITE College East. The Centre has the first fully-functioning chiller plant system designed for a classroom setting in Singapore, and will serve as a training centre for students enrolled in Higher Nitec in Facility Management; Nitec in Facility Technology; and the new Work-Learn Technical Diploma in Mechanical & Electrical (M&E) Services Supervision, allowing them to apply their knowledge to real-life Smart building management systems. Previously, students could only attend observation lessons outside of the classroom and did not have access to live systems to experiment and operate in real-time. We hope that this immersive and hands-on learning will equip and empower students as well as invite them to build a career in this industry.

    Partnerships with educational institutions have always been a mainstay in our growth and outreach strategy. For example, we are a supporter of the BCA-MOE Back to School programme, an initiative to enhance student engagement and education in environmental sustainability and to groom the next generation of “green-collar” workers. Under the programme, students from institutes of higher learning (for example, Nanyang Technological University and National University of Singapore) are given the opportunity to act as consultants to help their schools attain the BCA Green Mark certification. Johnson Controls plays the role of industry mentor, responsible for supervising interns from these institutions through various tasks, such as measurement and analysis of Green Mark matters in the school.

    We are always on the lookout for potential partners to reach our mutual goal of safe, Smart, and sustainable cities, and are looking forward to other opportunities like these.

  2. Innovating our processes to Empower Current Engineers and Technicians. Recognising that the talent pool of engineers and technicians is tight, Johnson Controls is innovating its processes and one of our key initiatives is the Smart Connected Chiller. A chiller is one of the most critical pieces of equipment in a building, responsible for cooling, ventilation and keeping the occupants comfortable. It is also responsible for as much as half the energy usage in your building. With such an important piece of equipment at hand, it would be a dream come true if you could predict when it requires servicing or when it is running at less than peak performance resulting in unexpected expenses. Now our engineers and technicians can. We partnered with Microsoft, using Azure IoT suite to build a solution that connects data streams from sensors on the chillers to the cloud. With the chillers now communicating with our engineers and technicians, they can keep an eye on the chillers remotely, knowing exactly which ones are scheduled for maintenance and when, which ones are behaving strangely and understanding why and what needs to be done to fix them and even knowing when one will fail, if such and such a part is not replaced within the next two weeks. Time is freed up for them to focus on more high-level and strategic matters like developing the next innovation or working with our customers to integrate all the systems within their buildings.

SJN: How did the collaboration with the ITE come about?
KL: The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) is a formalisation of our partnership with ITE, which dates back to 2014, where both organisations explored ways to attract post-secondary school students to engineering. Since then, Johnsons Controls has been sponsoring book prizes and providing internship placements to ITE students.

SJN: Where do you see Johnson Controls in the next five years?
KL: The way I see it, Johnson Controls is completely aligned with Singapore on its Smart Nation journey. We offer all the Smart Nation elements that PM Lee referred to in his 2017 National Day Rally speech—from security systems to CCTVs and sensor networks, from Smart lamp-posts to engineers and technicians. With our products installed in more than 40 per cent of commercial buildings in the nation, we have the expertise to implement all the solutions Singapore requires and I am excited to be playing a big role in helping Singapore toward our Smart Nation vision.

Copyright © 2018 ingapore Institute of Management

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Today's Manager Issue 2, 2018

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