Conversations with Ronnie Gan

By Glenda Foo and Caleb Thien

Ronnie Gan is the Head of Business Development, Smart Infrastructure at Siemens in ASEAN. In this article, he shares his career journey in Siemens, his experience working in a cross-cultural and multinational team, his thoughts on mentorship and continuous learning, and his advice for youths interested in joining his profession. 

I do not have a typical workday. Every day is different and this is what I like about my role. There are days when I do a lot of reading and research on trends, companies, customers, and technology. There are days where I prepare and run workshops, attend meetings, and prepare presentations for myself or my colleagues. Some days I write speeches and talking points, and on others, I monitor and track performance and operational matters. Every day is very dynamic.

Smart Infrastructure is a business line within Siemens. Infrastructure is one of the key building blocks in any community. We need to ensure that an infrastructure is resilient, robust, safe, sustainable, and improves our lives. We want to build that perfect place for ourselves and our future generations where we can live, work, study, and play in a very healthy and enjoyable environment. 

In order for us to do that, I believe that we need to do a couple of things. First, we need to plan in a smart manner. Then, we need to look at how we can design and build things smartly. Siemens Smart Infrastructure covers everything from the distribution of electricity, renewable energy integration, and all the way to the control of the buildings.

We focus on making infrastructure people-centric. We think about questions such as how do I charge my electric vehicle, how do I make sure that my buildings still get clean energy, how do I ensure that there is constant renewable energy which is highly unpredictable in terms of demand and supply, and how do I help non-living things like the building tell me as the occupant that they are not feeling too well. I like Smart Infrastructure because it touches my life and our lives. It makes our lives a lot more fun, enjoyable, and healthy.

The team works on different levels. On some days, we sell products. On others, we meet customers to understand their challenges in meeting certain targets. Then, we brainstorm with them to work out possible solutions potentially with partners and other ecosystem players. We do not believe that we can give a customer everything. We believe that we bring clients more value by bringing together different partners into a platform or a system where we all work together to solve the client’s challenges. This is what makes my job exciting.

A good day at work for me is when a group of people come together to make things happen, to make things that matter real, and then execute it – whether it is just within Siemens, or with customers or suppliers.

In my role, a technical background is not mandatory. However, one needs to have an inquisitive mind to challenge the status quo, understand the logic or rationale behind why certain things are done the way that they are, and question the fundamentals. If you are not inquisitive or busybody about others, you will not seek to find out about things. I want someone who is able to figure out what s/he does not know (or what we call conscious incompetence). If you do not know what you do not know, you would not go and learn things. But if you know what you do not know and you have that inquisitive mind to close the knowledge gaps, you can learn a lot more than if someone had taught you.

For example, I can teach you all about material science. However, if there is no need for you to know the information today, you will not remember it. But if there is a need for you to learn something, and because you know that you have this knowledge gap, whatever small information that you pick up will be retained in your memory and you will make use of it, think about it, and question it. It is extremely powerful to know what you do not know.

In my role, I really need to be inquisitive about what my colleagues, competitors, partners, and customers are doing and what they are stressed about. For example, I need to think about how the Singapore Budget impacts businesses in Singapore and how it helps my customers invest in expansion.

I think being able to articulate clearly is also important and relevant for my role. It is about synthesising different blocks together and explaining it in a language that others can understand.

You also need to have an open mind and be humble. Being humble means you are always willing to learn – it has nothing to do with age, gender, or seniority.

In addition, passion in one’s work is important. It has to be the purpose beyond what you see on the surface. The purpose of Siemens is to make things that matter, things that are real, and to make use of technology to better our tomorrow.

No, I did not. I started my career as a military officer for 10 years. After I left, I joined a huge Singapore technology company, so I was always involved with technology. Then, I was asked to join Siemens and I have been with Siemens since then.

Over the last 10 years at Siemens, I have worked in multiple roles. I started as a salesperson selling technology products and then moved on to other roles such as strategy and account management. Strategy has been a common thread throughout my entire working life. Strategy is important, but strategy without operations or tactics are worthless. If you are not strong operationally, it is hard to think about strategy.

Strategy planning roles are exciting because you see the future of the organisation. However, it can also be scary because you need to convince people that what you see is the way that the organisation should go in the future.

My role is an ASEAN role so I have colleagues in other countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.  I really enjoy working with them because the diversity in culture and nationality brings different views and perspectives. In Singapore, we are so used to comfort. However, certain countries have blackouts, floods, and typhoons. It is quite interesting to hear why certain solutions that I thought would work would not in certain countries because of country circumstances. It opens my eyes to things I did not see.

I also work with global colleagues in Germany, China, India and other countries. That is one of the fun parts about working in a multinational company like Siemens. You learn different things about different cultures and pick up a few buzz words in their language. Speaking just a few words in their language brings you closer to one another.

Unconscious bias is something that all of us have. It is important to make sure that we try not to have them. We need to be really aware of it. In a multinational team where we have diversity in language, race, and religion, you need to have a very open mind and be transparent. Be tactful, humble, and clarify issues or doubts with the team. English is not necessarily everyone’s first language and is actually a very ambiguous language. Different words might have different meanings in different countries or communities.

There is no right or wrong answer to this – all of our journeys are different, and so are the paths to success. Instead, what matters more is the way we measure success. Instead of chronologically measuring success, we can measure it through the seasons in life we grow in. 

As such, my definition of success changes as I get older. Typically, in our first ten to fifteen years, we tend to learn more about the work, with some learning faster than others. This leads us to the next season in life where we begin gaining the skills to lead teams and eventually to give back to the organisation and society. To know what the factors of success are, one would first need to find out what their definition of success is.

Mentors need not be your superiors, as they are not necessarily good at mentoring. I have had mentors who were not even from my workplace, such as those I encountered in the Boy’s Brigade when I was in school. They provided me perspective and taught me the importance of maintaining a positive attitude to survive Basic Military Training in National Service, which helped me immensely in my later years.

Mentors need not be actively sought out; instead they may be present in the right seasons of your life to journey with you. Of course, as I progress in my career, I may find myself lacking in some abilities. Here, it is helpful to proactively speak to seniors who are more experienced or higher up in the organisational hierarchy to understand how a chief executive officer or board member thinks.

It is hard to categorise everyone who you learn from as mentors, but they do broaden your perspective nonetheless.

I also have mentors who are outside the industry. They identify my blind spots in both my work life and my personal life.

Also, as we may become defensive and easily hurt by the criticisms of those whom we did not allow to confront us on our weaknesses, it is important for everyone to have a mentor whom we allow to ‘speak’ into our life, so that we may take these criticisms as points of learning instead.

To me, challenges create opportunities. With an average of approximately 7 million people moving to urban areas annually, the middle income population is growing significantly. This leads to greater consumerism, and in particular, e-commerce. As such, more infrastructure such as data centres, transportation and residential areas will need to be built in order to sustain such growth, increasing the demand for electricity.

Additionally, such growth will need to be sustainable. For example, solutions will need to be implemented to keep urban areas made of concrete cooler.

Ultimately, the technology and market is ready for smart infrastructure to be implemented. However it is crucial for them to be implemented at the appropriate time, as the financing of such projects are costly.

Young people struggle to be realistic about their abilities. They are heavily influenced by the media they consume, which tend to portray others in a light of perfection and success. As such, they fail to see the failures and hard work behind the successes of others. Just as one aspires, one must also be realistic about their abilities.

Young people also compare too much. Just because these successful people are their friends or schoolmates, it does not mean that they would be just as successful. Everyone’s journey to success is different.

Maintain a positive attitude toward learning, and do not stop learning no matter how senior you are. There is always something new to learn, and someone you can learn from. For example, I know about electric vehicles and DC and AC charging, but I do not fully understand their mechanics. Hence, I learn about it from my colleagues.

Also, the benefit of being in a healthy organisation is the diversity and safe environment that allows me to be vulnerable and to learn.

There is no shortcut to mastery. Although the depth and width of experience can vary, to be good at something, you need to spend quality time learning about it. In any job, it is important to strive for excellence and contribute your best in order to avoid regrets.

With that being said, my family takes up a big part of my life.

When I was younger, I aspired toward owning a car, a house, and a family. However, in my later years, my values changed, and I no longer value them as much, because they do not necessarily make me a better person.

Nowadays, I value coming home to a healthy and happy family, and spending quality time with them. Because I enjoy my work at Siemens very much, I also value doing my best for the company.