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Hoi Ming Chong was four years into his well-earned retirement when he received an offer he couldn’t refuse. It was the chance to lead a company with the closest customer loyalty he’d ever witnessed.
“I was doing tons of fishing, traveling, went to Mongolia and visited other remote places in the world. I even ventured into pineapple farming,” he recalls.
“That’s when Nera called.”
Impressed by Nera Telecommunication’s pitch, he joined the company last February, a year shy of the 45th anniversary of its establishment in Singapore.
Chong was particularly struck by the level of customer loyalty, with some clients having been with the company for decades.
“The loyalty transcends a long, long time and that is one of the key strengths of Nera. That’s a pride for us and we have to continue to harness it.”
The company traces its roots back to 1947 when a company called Norsk Electronisk Radio Aparatur was set up in Bergen, Norway. Nera Telecommunications was incorporated in Singapore in 1978 and it grew into a premium IT infrastructure provider, creating end-to-end solutions in both wired and wireless networks.
Its staff – known as ‘Nerators’ – are spread across 16 countries in the Asia–Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
But despite its longevity, global spread and solid customer base, in 2022, the company reported a loss for the first time in its history.
With the approach of Nera’s 45th anniversary, Chong decided to take the opportunity for a fresh start.
“The priority last year was looking at how we evolve the company and fix the problem with the help of new processes and new tools,” he says.
Chong’s immediate focus was on rebuilding company culture, attracting good staff and ensuring they were excited and motivated enough to stay.
“It was about how we enhance people’s capacity and capability and retain that team bond and common value system across countries with different cultures and different languages.”
By getting to know new employees, making himself available and establishing an open line of communication, Chong has created a sense of safety and trust among his team.
“I spend time with my staff, talking about priorities, strategies and so forth. I want them to know their CEO is human,” he says.
He also encourages his staff to speak up, adding that people shouldn’t assume the CEO is the smartest person in the room.
“I tell my team, we hire the best so I need to respect and trust you have the skills to help drive us forward. Great ideas remain unknown if people keep quiet. Asking questions or speaking up is how we become more transparent and how we can collectively grow together.”
With this new culture as a springboard, Chong and his team are reaching for new heights. This means expanding the company’s offerings to include a comprehensive suite of solutions in cybersecurity, enterprise service management and managed services, which gives employees the opportunity to upskill and offers additional value to customers.
It’s also about harnessing the loyalty of its current customer base while also attracting new ones in new countries.
To push boundaries, Nera leans on its partnerships, to which it demonstrates the same loyalty as its customers.
“Despite all the changes over the years, we have retained and strengthened our partnerships. And due to our evolving skillset and geographical reach, we are also developing new ones.”
With its recent focus on cybersecurity, its partnership with Juniper Networks, a leader in secure, AI-driven networks, has become especially important.
As he positions Nera for its next 45 years, Chong says the skills he has learned through fishing – especially his patience and in-depth research of his catch – have become an unexpected boon.
“When you go fishing, you target a particular species. It’s not like you get a rod and bait then go out there and wait for the fish to come,” he says.
“Likewise, we don’t get a product and then just go to the market, open up shop and hope people will come to buy. It doesn’t happen that way.”
While any similarities between fishing and business may seem unlikely, Chong believes the parallels are uncanny – and effective.
“You’ve got to know your customers. And we need to have the right skills, tools and equipment to do so,” he adds.
“Yes, you need luck. But you need to put in the 95 percent effort of planning first.”