Taking the helm after the firm posted the first loss in its decades-long history, NeraTel’s CEO Chong Hoi Ming shares how he turned the ship around.
kopi-C is a regular column by SGX Research in collaboration with Beansprout that features C-level executives of leading companies listed on SGX. These interviews are profiles of senior management aimed at helping investors better understand the individuals who run these corporations.
When Nera Telecommunications (NeraTel) asked Chong Hoi Ming to be its new chief executive officer in 2022, he was four years into his retirement. “After being in the industry for more than 20 years since 1994, holding a variety of leadership and managerial positions, I was enjoying a tonne of fishing and travelling,” he says.
However, the firm’s long history and ability to inspire loyalty in customers intrigued him. Incorporated in Singapore in 1978, NeraTel celebrates its 45th anniversary this year. The info-telecommunications infrastructure provider serves a loyal clientele base – some of whom have been with NeraTel for over 30 years – across a range of industries including telcos, utilities, and financial services.
A challenge piqued his interest too. Despite NeraTel’s long operating history and significant reach – with about 1,000 employees operating across 16 nations in the Asia Pacific, Europe, Middle East and Africa – it recorded a loss for the first time for the 2021 financial year. This was mainly due to Covid-19-related project delays, cancellations and other problems.
With Chong’s extensive experience in corporate leadership, which included change as well as general management, he felt he could help the company. He had worked in various capacities in Dimension Data Asia-Pacific, 3D Networks, BMC Software, Global IM-PACT (now known as Silverlake Innovation Partners), IBM Malaysia and Mesiniaga Berhad.
“It became my mission to turn NeraTel around, this business with a more-than-40-year history that did well in the past and was now confronting this massive loss. I came to think of it as my calling,” he shares.
Laying a solid foundation for the future
After he came on board, his first priority was to improve the company culture and employee morale. Part of this involved emphasising the crucial values of respect, integrity, passion, teamwork and paying attention to customers’ needs.
Chong highlights that mutual respect among staff is critical to fostering a welcoming and well-functioning work environment. This includes team leaders and management respecting their subordinates, because part of being a leader is hiring the best and trusting that they have the skills and desire to help drive the company forward.
Chong himself gets to know new employees, keeps an open line of communication with staff, and encourages them to share their ideas for the firm, as he believes that management may not have all the answers.
To inculcate the values and strengthen relationships among staff, the company now has many team bonding sessions, and events where it recognises good performance and gives awards to those who exemplify the values. “We hope that our ‘Nerators’, as we like to call our staff, feel like they belong to our corporate family, take pride in their work and do a fantastic job.”
In Singapore, it has relocated its corporate headquarters from Defu Lane to Tai Seng as part of an ongoing plan to increase internal efficiencies. He says: “Now that we have centralised the Singapore team under one roof, we are striving for better internal communication, inter-department synergies and many other improvements.”
NeraTel has also stepped up in-house training and upgraded remote teams’ skills. With these efforts, it has honed its capabilities without increasing headcount significantly, enabling it to reduce its outsourcing to third-party vendors. “All of these changes will result in a leaner, more agile NeraTel that is well-positioned to capitalise on new opportunities.”
Seizing the moment in fast-growing sectors
One of the firm’s targets is the rapidly growing field of cybersecurity. The deployment of 5G cellular networks will lead to more connected devices, spurring a further rise in cybersecurity threats. Moreover, criminals are increasingly tapping on advances in artificial intelligence and automation to launch more sophisticated cyber-attacks.
Over the years, NeraTel has earned a sterling reputation for crafting end-to-end solutions for wired and wireless networks. Expanding its offerings to incorporate a comprehensive suite of cybersecurity, enterprise service management and managed services was a natural next step.
“We can support organisations in cybersecurity and boost our bottom-line through our array of industry-leading solutions. These empower our customers to dynamically bridge any gaps to stop cyber-attacks and network breaches from taking place, all without slowing down their day-to-day business operations,” Chong explains.
The firm also bundles its cybersecurity services with other options, such as security risk and compliance assessments, vulnerability assessment and penetration testing, security strategy and architecture consulting, managed security services and more. “Ultimately, our goal is to be a one-stop solution provider for our customers.”
This ambition extends to its other services. “As we keep building the network infrastructure to cater for 5G services and the Internet-of-Things, we are fully committed to providing end-to-end solutions to build, upgrade, improve and optimise networks covering wireless, internet protocol networking, optical, cybersecurity, terminal devices and infrastructure.”
At the same time, under Chong’s leadership, NeraTel is reviewing its geographical footprint so that it can increase its presence in high-growth countries and reduce its exposure in locations that have underperformed or are even making losses.
By securing higher quality deals, NeraTel is also aiming to reduce risks, minimise delays in payment collections and improve its cashflow, which allows the company to better allocate resources to its projects.
These strategies have started to pay off, helping the Group significantly narrow their loss for the 2022 financial year.
“Barring unforeseen circumstances and further foreign exchange losses and impairments, we are cautiously optimistic that our operations and prospects in the 2023 financial year will be better than in the 2022 one,” Chong says.
“When it comes to macro trends, we are like fishermen in a storm. There’s not much we can do about them. All we can do is work harder, stick close to our goals and keep driving on. We will keep doing more, to bring better value to our loyal customers and to attract new ones for the future.”
About Nera Telecommunications Ltd
Nera Telecommunications Ltd (“NeraTel”) is a leading Communications and Network Solutions Provider with an established track record delivering full suite turnkey network and wireless solutions. Incorporated in October 1978 and listed on the SGX Mainboard since July 1999, the company employs some of the best teams of certified engineers in the region with expertise in Network Infrastructure, Wireless Network Infrastructure, Cybersecurity, as well as Support and Managed Services to serve its strong customer base from a wide range of industries including telecommunications, enterprises, government organisations, transport and utilities, amongst others. Headquartered in Singapore, NeraTel has a diversified geographical presence in over 16 countries across Asia-Pacific, Europe, Middle East and Africa.
The company’s website is http://www.nera.net
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Feng Zengkun is a freelance writer and journalist based in Singapore.