Accidental entrepreneur finds his groove in engineering
15th December 2014
WHICH comes first in entrepreneurship? Look for a bankable product or, as the old adage goes, simply do what you love and let the money come later?
The argument is as old as they come and the answer is different for everyone, but PSI Incontrol Sdn Bhd chairman and managing director Harvinder Singh, believes in his case it is the latter. He says, "I've not worked a single day in my life. The business is like a hobby for me."
PSI Incontrol does system integration work for things ranging from network control systems and power substation automation to various digital infrastructure systems.
But it all begins with a humble intention to deliver value to customers from the engineering aspects.
"I never dreamt of becoming an entrepreneur. I did not see that far, I simply went with the flow," he tells Metrobiz.
Harvinder, who began as a trainee draftsperson in a multinational company in the late 1980s after completing his degree in electrical and electronics engineering, said having been curious about how things work since his youth also moved him in this direction.
He noticed that in the early days, many large foreign companies only had sales operations in Malaysia rather than full-fledged research and development centres. He said that troubleshooting required the local employees to contact engineers based elsewhere.
"This prolonged the response times that, in some critical industries, our customers couldn't afford," he said.
In 10 years of employment, during which he rose to global role as a regional manager overseeing business in South-East Asia, the Americas and Europe, he discovered that he had a knack of understanding and simplifying how technologies worked and explaining it to others.
"That period also saw a shift from electromechanical and analogue devices to a higher level of digital electronics, involving more algorithms, microprocessors and digital displays," he said.
He was subsequently offered a role focusing on his employer's Europe business, which involved being relocated there. He declined as he wanted to spend more time with his family in Malaysia.
Knowing that his career growth would be affected, he left the company and in 1997 setup SAT Systems for Automation Technology Sdn Bhd (later renamed VA Tech SAT Sdn Bhd in 1999) as a joint venture with the subsidiary of a Austrian public listed technology company.
In fact, he only did so after he turned down an earlier offer to be the managing director of the South-East Asian operations for the Austrian company.
"I agreed on the condition that there would be full technology transfers and that engineering work would be done independently by us," Harvinder said.
With RM200,000 of his own savings, he started the company based on a handshake and hired four engineers to commence work. The first job was for an independent power producer in Sabah.
The job involve building substation automation and integrating the protection equipment supplied by another company for the three 300mW substations in a control centre.
This is just one example of the control centres the company builds. The centres enable power producers to monitor the performance or potential danger in power distribution of substations from a remote and safe location.
In the early days of the company, he had to send most of his engineers to Vienna for training, leaving him to deal with the customers. Harvinder says, because of his passion for the job, he never counted the hours he put in.
Another aspect that has gotten him this far, apart from being able to deliver value to customers, is his passion in developing people.
"In the early days of the company, I sent my engineers overseas for training. Only by equipping them with the best knowledge would they be able to bring out the best in themselves and contribute to the company's growth," he said.
Work is not the only thing that occupies him. In 2000 he raised funds to set up the Sri Dasmesh International School, a not-for-profit private school which became self sustaining after five years. The school has 450 students today.
"When you take away the element of profit, the only focus is to bring out the best in every child," he said proudly.
He said the official agreement to set up the company was only signed after more than a year, having grown from three pages to over 50, while his team continued to deliver on projects.
The company's work involves understanding the complex requirements of customers and then packaging solutions that meet clients' budgets and requirements. Some R&D for the software involved is also done in-house.
All this involves detailed engineering, testing, designing and finally commissioning of the project.
In 2005, VA Tech GmbH, the parent company of Harvinder's partner company, was acquired by Siemens AG
Sensing that the business strategy would change, he bought out the partners shares in the company and changed its name to Incontrol Tech Sdn Bhd in 2006.
It wasn't an easy time but in 2009, one of his technology partners since 2002, Germany-based PSI AG, a world leader in control room technology, came knocking with an offer of a potential merger.
Because the parties trusted each other, they eventually did a share swap with Harvinder acquiring shares in the German listed company. The local became what is PSI Incontrol Sdn Bhd.
The company has now out grown a 3,000 sq ft rented office in Sungai Buloh. It now occupies a 40,000 sq ft facility in the same vicinity has 300 employees worldwide, comprising mainly electrical and IT engineers.
The company's work now includes work on control systems for railways, tunnels, water treatment, sewage treatment, flood control and manufacturing. The company has customers in 14 countries in South-East Asia, Australia and the Middle East.
To date, the company had completed over 500 projects valued from RM500,000 to RM50mil.
Among the milestones for the company is its work on the Storm Water and Traffic Management Tunnel project or SMART Tunnel in Kuala Lumpur, and the completion of the largest control room in South East-Asia for the power utility sector in Malaysia.
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