| Singapore | 30 Sept 2016 | Asia Samachar |
Imagine navigating an entire 40-year career through Singapore’s developing business world without undergoing a job interview even once. Mr Gurdip Singh Usma has done just that and this is perhaps one of the most compelling hints at his success as an accounting professional who made the switch to corporate management early in his career. This culminated in a 19-year stint as President and Chief Executive Ofﬁcer (CEO) of Singapore-based manufacturing business, Crescendas MEC Group.
One of ﬁve children of Punjabi migrants from Usma village close to Tarn Taran in Amritsar district, Gurdip arrived in Singapore in 1955 at the young age of six years. His father, Mr Boor Singh Usma, had become dissatisﬁed with the farming life after returning to India from Singapore following the Second World War and the end of the Japanese occupation, and decided to make a home for his family in Singapore. He started a retail textile business serving primarily the Sikh community while holding down a night watchman job at the Indian High Commission in Singapore.
Educated at the Anglo Chinese School, Gurdip obtained his Bachelor of Accountancy (Honours) from the University of Singapore in 1975. As luck would have it, he was among the ﬁrst batch of GCE ‘A’ Level students to attend national service the year the rule on doing national service before university education was implemented, which caused him to give up an Indian government medical scholarship in order to fulﬁll his obligations to his country.
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While the opportunity to pursue a medical career was lost, the door to the professions in Singapore’s corporate world opened. Gurdip was handpicked by Arthur Andersen & Co while he was still in university and he worked with the global accounting ﬁrm for ﬁve years before being enticed away by his client, Molex Singapore, one of the largest connector companies in the world.
After just a year at Molex as ﬁnancial controller, Gurdip was promoted to Assistant General Manager and Head of Manufacturing Operations in 1981. For the ﬁrst time, he found himself in a challenging position – a newly minted senior manager in his early thirties in charge of subordinates who were highly-trained engineers much older than him. Earning their respect and learning how to lead them required perseverance, conﬁdence and fortitude. A six-month operations training stint in Japan also provided a good foundational ‘crash course’ to equip Gurdip with the necessary know-how on the internal workings of the industry and the company.
International travel became a mainstay of Gurdip’s work life. In 1986, he was posted to the United States for two years to develop and install a worldwide standard costing system for Molex, whose head ofﬁce is situated in Illinois. He gained recognition for the successful implementation of this project through two special awards from the company before returning to Singapore as Regional Finance Director for the Far East region. In 1990, he moved to Bangkok to head the company’s Thailand operations for two years, bagging three company-wide ‘Best in Class’ awards for highest sales, proﬁtability growth and entity of the year.
When Molex partnered a local company to set up a cable assembly manufacturing business in 1992, Gurdip seized the offer to become a partner and head the joint venture. Over the next 19 years, he steered Crescendas MEC Group (previously MEC International Group) through periods of growth as well as a couple of ﬁnancial crises until the successful business was sold to a Singapore Exchange-listed company for an undisclosed sum in 2011.
As a producer of wire harnesses, cables and other value added assemblies, Crescendas MEC Group served a clientele that consisted mainly of well-known American, Japanese, European and regional multinational consumer electronic end-product manufacturers of televisions, radios, computers, video recorders, printers and disk drives, among others.
Under his leadership, Crescendas MEC Group won the Enterprise 50 Award for ﬁve consecutive years from 1998 to 2002. The Award recognises the 50 most successful private companies based in Singapore. Gurdip later served as Vice President of the E-50 Club from 2005 to 2007 and 2009 to 2013.
At its peak in the late 1990s to early 2000s, Crescendas MEC Group had a total workforce of 1,400 employees and sub-contractors across Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and China, and was considered one of the largest harness and cable manufacturers in the country. As labour costs in Singapore escalated and Crescendas MEC Group’s customers began migrating to lower cost countries in the region, the company also made the decision to venture into these previously-unexplored markets and set up operations there under Gurdip’s leadership, thus ensuring its survival. Gurdip says that, although it was a tough decision to shut down the company’s plant in China just prior to the 2008 global ﬁnancial crisis, he believes it was the right decision as it helped the company stay on track to continue delivering proﬁts and improving efﬁciencies.
He believes that having the ability to be nimble, knowing one’s customers well and being able to respond to their needs are important values that have served him well as a business leader. In addition, he places great emphasis on using automation and computerisation to provide accuracy, reduce manpower and to ultimately help make good business decisions.
For instance, as one of the ﬁrst small-to-medium-sized companies in Singapore to install the Systems Applications and Products in Data Processing (SAP), a fully integrated enterprise resource planning system, Crescendas MEC Group was recognised on SAP’s website as a model case study in successful implementation and was also the subject of a Channel NewsAsia feature on the topic.
Teaching, Community Service
Since his retirement from full-time work in 2011, Gurdip has served as an adjunct faculty member at the School of Accountancy in Singapore Management University. He teaches Corporate Financial Management to ﬁnal year students using case studies from his real-life corporate exposure. His course is popular with students and is almost full every semester.
If he has any regrets, it is that he missed out on a lot of time with his wife and three children during his busy years. The travel demands of his job and his reticence to uproot and disrupt his children’s education meant that he could only make fortnightly or monthly trips home from the United States and Thailand. He says: “I am indebted to my wife, Amreet, for taking care of the kids alone during all these periods.”
In addition to his corporate roles, Gurdip is active in the community. He is currently Chairman of the Board of Trustees at Singapore Khalsa Association and Vice President of the Central Sikh Gurdwara Board. In mid-2015, Gurdip was elected as Chairman of the Sikh Welfare Council.
He chaired the World Schools Debating Championship in Singapore in 2002, when it was held in Asia for the ﬁrst time. He was the founding Chairman of S-League team, Clementi Khalsa Football Club. He is a former Vice President of the Malaysia Singapore Sikhs Sports Council and started the Asia Paciﬁc Sikh Golf Championship in 1998, which continues to run biennially. He was Chairman of Silat Road Sikh Temple from 2005 to 2011 and Chairman of the Sikh Centre from 2011 to 2015.
Gurdip is heartened by the increasing number of Sikhs entering the commercial sector in Singapore today. “There were very few locally-trained accounting professionals in Singapore at that time. I was probably one of the ﬁrst Sikhs to be the CEO of a multinational in Singapore. Now you see a number of Sikhs in top positions and they have started to shine.”
He hopes they too will make a strong imprint on Singapore’s national landscape.
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