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DB&B Interview - Sharing insights on young talents & Singapore companies

DB&B

(Left)

Billy Siew
DB&B Co-founder & Group Managing Director

(Right)

Jeanette Siew
DB&B Executive Director

Cynthia Loh
DB&B Assistant General Manager

Introduction

  • Started in 1996, DB&B specializes in commercial interior projects, where they focus on designing and building offices. Headquartered in Singapore, the company has six offices across the region and 300-400 staff.
  • Billy Siew is the co-founder and group managing director. He started the offices in Beijing and Shanghai in 2006. During the same year, they expanded to the Philippines.
  • They have been fast expanding in Asia as their clients are expanding, so they grow together.
  • Jeanette Siew is an executive director leading Singapore and Thailand.
  • Cynthia Loh is an assistant general manager, who has been with the company for 14 years, which is a reflection of the good culture of the company.
  • Multinational companies account for the majority of their clients as they focus on well-known/Fortune 500 companies.
  • For example, they did Shopee’s first office in Singapore, which won an award. They have a big group of designers and project managers who work closely with clients to come up with an office design that reflects their needs and their vision.
  • Billy pointed out that Singapore is a very good platform for them to expand into India and China.
  • He added that Singapore’s relationship with Japan has progressed a lot over the past decade, and they have seen many Japanese companies coming into Singapore, whom DB&B looks forward to partnering with.
  • After experiencing their work in Singapore, their foreign clients typically also want them to work on their set-ups elsewhere in the region.

What is DB&B’s value-chain process?

DB&B are specialists in both design and build, and offer clients turn-key solutions. The company does subcontract work out for certain situations, but they generally do everything (joinery, etc.) all by themselves.

The company relocated to a new 26,000 square feet factory in Singapore in 2017 – nearly double the size of their previous factory. This was a major milestone for them as it better supports their key strength: the ability to perform both design and build. In addition, having their own factory enables them to have better control over quality and costs.

Further, they now possess some of the latest machinery, as they constantly seek to improve productivity – this minimizes reliance on manual labor, which is also DB&B’s unique competitive advantage over companies offering similar services.

How do you find good partners when you work in different countries in the region?

To Billy, partners mean shareholders, and they seek out shareholders who hold the same values.

When DB&B expands into another country, they will respect and adapt to that country’s unique culture, but not forget the company’s core professionalism and fundamental principles. When new people join them from other nations, DB&B also respects their individual culture, but at the same time, these newcomers must adhere to the company’s core values and principles – only then can they grow together.

Billy has been constantly travelling overseas for the company’s expansion since 2001, and he realized the importance of being brave enough to embrace different cultures. Instead, people should always embrace different cultures, while holding onto their personal drive for perfection in their work.

What do you feel about the young talent situation in Singapore? How do you attract young talent and groom them? Do you see any trend in this aspect?

24 years ago, DB&B had difficulty getting people to join them as they were a very new company, with just a humble start-up space as their first office.

Billy believes that every generation produces its own batch of high achievers. He sees the people born in the 1980s as the ones who will be driving the industries for the next 20-25 years, in Singapore and worldwide.

Recruitment of young talent is about succession. As long as a company is willing to share, there will always be young talents who are eager to learn. It is important to offer these young talents the opportunity to gain experience and learn. If a company is able to meet the needs of these young talents, they will be more than happy to join them.

Billy espouses the use of demographics. He believes that each of the different demographics have their own distinct skillset and mindset – making them more suited to perform certain roles.

It was also pointed out that it is a challenge for any industry to find the right young talents, due to limited pool size and ageing population. Nevertheless, DB&B has been successful in recruiting young talents due to their target demographic.

Billy added that the generation of people born in every 10-year gap are different as they are a product of their times. It is up to the company to identify people within a generation who possess both discipline and passion.

He further opined that technology is progressing so fast now that the future (i.e. year 2050) is an exciting prospect.

Can you teach discipline to the younger generation?

Billy believes discipline can be taught (e.g. by attending military service), but the degree to which a young person can absorb the lesson varies from person to person. He observes that a person’s inner capacity discipline is mostly shaped by his upbringing and his family culture.

To retain young talent, a company must offer a good balance of discipline and fun. Looking at companies today, Billy noted that their office designs have evolved from traditional layouts to more dynamic and fun designs. This promotes creativity and productivity, which in turn retains young talents.

How did you start your business?

Billy always had an entrepreneurial spirit. He used to be in the air force, and has never been in the design industry, but he possesses a high level of empathy which is a crucial factor in the service sector. As a result, he decided to enter the design industry (as it is part of the service sector).

Three years after starting his business on his own, he invited his sister, Jeanette, to join him.

As to why he specifically chose to work in the commercial office design industry, Billy had observed that the demand for office design is constantly evolving to embrace new working styles and improved technologies.

In addition, Asia is one of the fastest-growing economies and there is a constant influx of new enterprises and company expansions. This will lead to a sustained demand for new office designs.

He further pointed out that design projects for offices are generally on a larger scale than homes, and their renewal rates are also higher. Billy also made the decision to focus on the top-tier companies.

He added that the Singapore government has done a good job in attracting direct foreign investments which helps to create work. At the same time, the Singapore government has been very supportive of local SMEs.

How will the COVID-19 affect the commercial office design industry (especially with more people working from home)?

Billy has been seeing a trend of enterprises looking to see how they can have a working environment that their employees feel safe to work in.

DB&B has seized the opportunities in these changing times to work with clients to incorporate features such as automatic doors, facial recognition, layouts to ensure safe-distancing, using vinyl and leather instead of fabric for easy cleaning, nano-film, etc.

He pointed out that companies have been advocating working-from-home since many years ago, so that they can save on office rental – however, it remains a challenge for people to work from home as there are too many distractions.

Nevertheless, due to the COVID-19 situation, work-from-home will be part of the hybrid work pattern adopted by most companies moving forward.

In addition, he believes that for the future of urban planning, things will stop expanding horizontally, but instead grow vertically. Consequently, he predicts that integrated buildings will be the next big thing – where home, workplace and shopping can be found all in one building. Such buildings will cut down on transport needs and reduce pollution.

DBBians - Their core values

DBBians hold the core values of dedication, discipline, building strong bonds, accountability and innovation. All these are to support their vision of “extra excellence”.

Elaborating on innovation, Billy shared that they are the only company here who is making use of full surveillance for their worksites. They have been doing this even before COVID-19, and clients are able to monitor the progress of the worksite from the comfort of their own computers. Meanwhile, they are also looking at how they can utilize automation technology. Billy further highlighted electric cars and AI as two very exciting technological advancements.

He is a strong proponent of investing in innovation to differentiate themselves from competitors.

Regarding accountability, Billy believes in allowing his employees the space to make mistakes and learn from them. This is where the concept of “nurture” comes in, especially for young talents. DB&B have policies in place to nurture and groom the next generation.

Any message for Japanese companies looking to invest in Singapore?

Billy pointed out that there are already a number of big Japanese companies who have successfully expanded to Singapore, and so addressed his message specifically to Japanese SMEs.

His message is that change is everywhere and it is crucial to embrace change. Billy also emphasized the importance of embracing the different culture of another country, staying focused on your own expertise and know-hows, and allowing opportunities to be given to these different countries.

The same entrepreneurial spirit which Japanese SMEs used to start their business in Japan years ago should be used to drive their further expansion.

He encouraged these Japanese companies to come to Singapore as it is a very good place with a very conducive system (a welcoming government, comprehensive support schemes, competitive corporate taxes, safe living environment, etc.), and is a great starting point for them to explore the rest of the region.

Act fast, waste no time!

What are your future plans for your business?

Expansion plans for the company are always there, but expansion must go hand in hand with opportunity and demand. A company should never expand without these factors present.

Billy shared that their clients are multinational enterprises and they have frequently asked them to go into India, Indonesia and Japan. DB&B is very interested in Japan and will definitely foray into the country in future.

Billy pointed out that DB&B has weathered many crises over the past 24 years, and were the first in their industry to react to the COVID-19.

Does Billy have any retirement plans?

Billy is still going strong with no plans to retire yet, but he adds that it is important to know when is the right time to step aside and allow the younger generation to take over, to innovate and bring the company to the next level. Nevertheless, he will make himself available to offer guidance and wisdom.

Which word best describes the company?

Jeanette offers the word: Resilience. She explained that DB&B has been through a lot over the years and they emerge stronger after every challenge.

They have a good team of people who have been with the company for many years, and they are confident of emerging from the COVID-19 situation even stronger.

Advice for young people

Billy’s advice for the younger generation is to be bold enough to pursue their dreams, and be bold enough to face setbacks. Overcoming a setback is just part of the process of gaining wisdom and building a career.

Just as important: Play hard!

Please contact GPC if you have any questions regarding your market entry into Southeast Asia or vice versa, expand into Japan.
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