TOPLINE

Keystone Cable focuses on regional growth

Cable manufacturer is concentrating on S-E Asia region, developing its own products, and career mobility and education of staff.

THE cable manufacturing industry is generally not where you would find a former high school teacher but Josephine Wang bucks the trend.

She left the education profession in Taiwan in 1973 to be a stay-home mom and has been at the helm of Keystone Cable as its general manager and director since its operations in Singapore started in 1990.

In an interview with The Business Times, she says: "We're a family business and I had been asked by them to take charge of the operation here."

Keystone is a 140-stong privately owned cable manufacturer in Singapore with a regional presence, supplying a range of cabling options for residential, commercial and infrastructure projects, among others.

Expansion

It has a range of projects here, which has seen it supply cables for the construction of attractions such as the Gardens by the Bay and the Singapore Flyer to utilities contracts with SP Group.

When the business started in 1990, the Singapore economy was experiencing high growth and this meant increased demand from residential, industrial and infrastructure, Ms Wang recalls.

"While 2017 was softer for us in line with the overall building and construction industry performance, prior to that, we have been experiencing a healthy double digit growth in our business volume in the last three years," she says.

The cable manufacturing industry, while niche, has been more resistant to the ebbs and flows of the economic cycle as infrastructure and residential development projects continue to be a feature of the high growth South-east Asian region.

Keystone set its sights on regional expansion, starting as an early mover into Cambodia in 1995. It has since expanded operations to seven other markets in the region.

However, the company does not open offices in foreign markets, preferring to work with a network of local agents and partners, who are more aware of the intricacies of business in their respective markets.

Within South-east Asia, countries such as Vietnam, Myanmar and the Philippines are primed for higher growth as they upgrade existing infrastructures to accommodate the rapid rate of economic progress.

"As such, Keystone is still concentrating on South-east Asia where we have the geographical advantage to ship our cables to the region and can also take advantage of the region's free trade area and favourable import duties," Ms Wang says.

Keystone started as a manufacturer of low voltage power cables for the building industry, and while this continues to be the company's core business, it has diversified into making cables for infrastructure, data communications, smart city and industrial sectors - in line with both domestic and global trends.

"This continues to be a core part of our strategy; to push our boundaries in the kind of cables we produce," Ms Wang says.

Part of this push has seen the company develop its own line of products to keep up with smart city and prefabrication trends in Singapore.

Diversity

It developed Keylan, an end-to-end structured cabling solutions, as well as Keyfab, which are prefabricated cables that reduce onsite installation time and labour in building construction projects.

The diversity of cabling products supplied has also contributed to the range of projects that the company undertakes.

A majority of Keystone's projects in Cambodia are residential in nature while in Myanmar, it has taken on projects that have seen its cables used in the construction of the Yangon International Airport, and the Wunna Theikdi and Zayyarthiri stadiums in Naypyidaw.

Its position as a Singapore brand has also paid dividends in these markets as developers in the region are increasingly taking note of product quality standards and safety measures, and often trust Singapore companies for their adherence to high safety standards.

This might seem like a rosy position to be in but Keystone often faces difficulty in acquiring the right technicians and engineers as specialised schools in cabling are rare to come by.

Therefore, Keystone has to place an emphasis on investing in the training of its staff.

"For a small and medium enterprise like Keystone, getting staff cross-trained and providing career mobility opportunities within the organisation are an integral part in the running of the business," Ms Wang's daughter Pearl Yu, Keystone's director of marketing and human resources, shares.

Ms Wang explains: "I want them to have the opportunity to have a feel of what other departments within the organisation are doing. As we are a small company, we are able to get our staff to experience this more easily."

Mobility

Keystone has done this is by exposing junior staff across various departments to foreign markets to attend client meetings and hold exhibitions there. Its career mobility efforts have also seen older staff move to less physical roles within the company.

Keystone Academy was established in 2013 to provide more of such opportunities for staff and to meet the growing need to provide product knowledge sessions for customers in the region, Ms Yu says.

Through the academy, Keystone has launched a series of educational seminars on trending cable topics in the region for its regional customers.

"Interaction with our customers provides for the opportunity to teach them more about the products and serves as a means to acquire knowledge on the products they have purchased," Ms Wang says.

Internally, Keystone also invites external speakers and holds lunch sharing sessions for its staff once every quarter.

Keystone's efforts as an employer that provides training and career mobility opportunities has gained it the recognition as a Human Capital Partner of the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices in 2017.

On adopting the latest technologies for an industry that has yet to face the full effect of the digital disruption, Ms Yu says: "Keystone is looking at evaluating which emerging technologies are best suited for us to grow and how to implement new technologies effectively."