|This unassuming grey matter is all around us in urban Singapore, but tends to be unnoticed.
It was not until former banker Jim Teh joined Pan-United Corporation — Singapore’s largest concrete player — that he realised just how much concrete makes up the everyday fabric of the urban environment.
It sparked an unexpected passion for the job, piquing his interest so much that he has stayed on at the multinational company for the last seven years.
From major projects like Jewel Changi Airport and Terminals 3 and 5, the Cross-Island Line and Thomson MRT Line to Gardens by the Bay and the new Tuas Mega Port, this home-grown firm is responsible for some of Singapore’s biggest construction projects, commanding about 40 percent of the country’s market share.
“People may not notice it, but concrete is all around our daily lives. What interests me is how Pan-United can make a difference through constant innovation.”
-- Jim Teh
Building projects aside, concrete’s applications extend even to healthcare. In recent years, concrete specially developed by Pan-United has even been used to shield healthcare workers against harmful radiation, thanks to a collaboration between Pan-United, the National Cancer Centre and the Ministry of Health.
“How cool is that? What excites me is how we can innovate with passion and technology to make a difference in people’s lives,” says Jim, who is Pan-United’s group head of corporate development.
A culture of transformation
As part of his role, Jim is responsible for running the finance and treasury department, and the corporate finance, capital markets and investor relations functions. On the operational side of things, Jim is also the general manager of Pan-United’s slag grinding plant in Johor, Malaysia, where slag cement is made.
This is worlds apart from his previous role, where Jim had spent two decades in banking as a career banker and investment banker. During his time in banking, there were few opportunities to see much transformation, he recalls.
But from day one since he joined Pan-United, Jim has witnessed how the company’s business has constantly been evolving with the times.
Founded in 1958, Pan-United was listed on the SGX in 1993.
From its humble origins as a traditional brick-and-mortar company, Pan-United grew to become the mammoth regional player it is today, establishing a stronghold in Singapore while extending its footprint in Malaysia and Vietnam.
In Ho Chi Minh City, its joint venture company FiCO PanU is a leading concrete brand name that supplies to iconic projects including the new Metro Line One and Saigon Centre.
Thanks to its agility and significant investments, Pan-United has also rolled out new technologies to optimise its operations.
It developed in-house a proprietary software technology for concrete, AiR Digital, which has helped to optimise supply chain efficiency, including plant utilisation and management of its fleet of trucks.
To minimise physical interaction at construction worksites during the COVID-19 pandemic, while observing safe distancing regulations, Pan-United introduced a new generation of self-compacting concrete which flows easily to hard-to-fill corners.
This improved version of its flowing concrete, developed in-house by material scientists, has helped to reduce casting time by 40 percent and raise productivity by 75 percent.
The fight against climate change
By the time it is completed in early 2024, Tuas Port Phase One will effectively become a “man-made carbon sink” that prevents the emission of over 113.8 million kg of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. This is equivalent to planting 1.9 million tree seedlings or removing 24,500 cars from the road.
As climate change issues come increasingly to the fore, ready-mix concrete producers like Pan-United have acknowledged that concrete has an important part to play in decarbonisation, says Jim. Significantly, concrete is the highest consumed product on earth besides water.
Cement is a key raw material in producing concrete. The cement industry has a colossal carbon footprint — it is responsible for about 8 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, more than double those from aviation or shipping, researchers say. Carbon dioxide is emitted from the energy used to fire the kiln in the production of cement, as well as the chemical reaction when the mixture is exposed to heat.
Conscious of this problem, Pan-United has made it a key mandate to lead efforts in the decarbonisation of our built environment. It has invested heavily in low-carbon concrete innovation and technology.
In February 2023, the company announced that it is supplying 360,000 cubic metres of carbon dioxide mineralised concrete for Phase One of the Tuas Mega Port project over a two-and-a-half-year period. By the time it is completed in early 2024, Tuas Port Phase One will effectively become a “man-made carbon sink” that prevents the emission of over 113.8 million kg of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. This is equivalent to planting 1.9 million tree seedlings or removing 24,500 cars from the road, says Jim.
The Singapore Green Plan 2030 outlines national decarbonisation and sustainability targets, with a commitment to green buildings. With that in mind, Pan-United sets out big dreams to be the global leader in low-carbon concrete technology.
It has already set several targets in this area: it has committed to only sell low-carbon concrete by 2030, and aims to be a carbon-neutral concrete player by 2050.
“That creates a lot of opportunities for us to harness in the future, so we have to continue to innovate our products and bring our business toward that direction… We are aggressively going in that direction and I hope that we can get there a little earlier,” he says.
Investing in people
Being part of a management team that values people development and growth, this culture has enabled Pan-United’s staff to develop new skills to keep pace in an ever-changing environment.
Jim brings up the example of his colleague, a “finance person” who excelled at numbers. They had just started their Johor plant and needed a person to helm the logistics department.
“As we were using a lot of transportation for raw materials and finished products, this role is important and can provide high value.” He decided to ask her, “Can you help me to set up a department?”
She rose to the challenge.
With her finance background, she had a good understanding of how to manage costs. On top of that, she led digitalisation efforts to process paperwork from the Johor customs, which helped to improve the efficiency of its operations. She had a good eye for talent, and even bought a couple of vehicles to improve efficiency and cost management.
“To me, this was very powerful. Our people have the ability to change their mindsets and enhance their skillsets to grow with the firm. At the same time, leverage on their existing strength. This is very valuable to the company,” he says.
The COVID-19 pandemic was also a test of the firm’s talent and agility.
With the logistics sector taking the brunt of the business slowdown, Pan-United came up with a new form of self-compacting concrete that required fewer people to handle on-site.
The company’s ethos of teamwork plays a part, he says. “When a plant is down because of COVID, we need to quickly leverage other plants to work harder and more efficiently to cater to the environment,” he says.
People stay on because Pan-United has instilled a strong family culture and sense of belonging, where everyone strives to work together to achieve the company vision.
“When people find meaning in their job, they strive for new milestones and it makes a difference in the work they do,” says Jim.
|Today, Pan-United has a wide range of about 300 specialised products, and it is continuously tinkering with new ideas and products. “You can’t have a plain vanilla product,” quips Jim.
Jim is optimistic about Pan-United’s prospects, with $30 billion in construction contracts expected to be awarded in Singapore through to 2027. 60 percent of the spending is forecast to come from public spending, with the remaining coming from the private sector.
Into his seventh year at Pan-United, Jim’s passion for cement and concrete keeps him excited about what lies ahead for the firm.
“People may not notice it, but concrete is all around our daily lives. What interests me is how Pan-United can make a difference through constant innovation,” says Jim.
Pan-United Corporation Ltd (Pan-United) is a listed Asia-based technology company (SGX:P52) catalysing change in the ready-mix concrete and logistics space. Through concrete innovation, it has advanced to the global forefront of low-carbon footprint concrete technology. As a believer in sustainability for over two decades, Pan-United has developed in-house more than 300 highly specialised concrete solutions, half of them low-carbon solutions, for all urban built environment needs. Many of these solutions were created in partnership with customers to address present and future specifications.
The company website is: https://www.panunited.com.sg/
About kopi-C: the Company brew
This article was originally published on kopi-C, a regular column that features C-level executives of leading companies listed on SGX. The series is curated by SGX Research in partnership with Beansprout (https://growbeansprout.com), a MAS-licensed investment advisory platform, and is aimed at helping investors better understand the individuals who run these corporations.
Text: Toh Ee Ming
Photo: Company file