Koh Chin Chao
Senior Manager, Engineering Management & Systems Planning
Be positive and embrace challenges. Be always ready to learn and contribute through these challenges.
Deciding to put my Electrical and Electronics Engineering degree from NUS to good use, I started my career as an engineer with Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) in 2006, before the corporatisation of Changi Airport Group (CAG) in 2009.
I was first involved in the Operations and Maintenance of the Baggage Handling System (BHS) in Terminals 1 and 2. I worked with various BHS specialist vendors, maintenance contractors and the airside operations team to ensure system reliability and stability.
Honing the contingency mindset
We carried out our contingency plan periodically to handle and sort baggage manually, ensuring preparedness for any situation. Operations should run smoothly in the event of system failure even as the system recovers.
Besides learning the technical aspects of the BHS, I realised the importance of working together as a team with multiple stakeholders to get things done.
Emerging from challenges
In 2008, I joined the project team for the construction of Terminal 3. My role was to oversee the installation of the electrical systems in the upcoming terminal. It was a new challenge for me, and I was exposed to different aspects of the engineering industry, such as handling project progress, working with consultants and contractors, as well as the operationalisation of the airport.
The strong teamwork across the whole organisation ensured a successful and smooth delivery as we prepared for the operationalisation of Terminal 3 in 2009. My stint at Terminal 3 formed the foundation for my current portfolio in managing my teams that oversee Operations & Maintenance of Changi Airport’s overall electrical network and systems, Integrated Building Management System network and Fault Management Centre operations.
Expanding my horizon
In 2013, I had the opportunity to be posted to an overseas airport in Saudi Arabia for two years as a management consultant for the engineering department. We were a team of six from different divisions such as commercial, airline development and finance.
We learnt to adapt to cultural differences in a new working environment. I also worked with an international team to grow the airport, while imparting our systems and operational thinking. At the end of two years, the team managed to develop supporting infrastructure for the air cargo village, review the airport master plan and support the growth of the airport’s commercial business.
This overseas stint is my most memorable experience in CAG. Besides BHS and electrical systems, I was also exposed to new areas of airport operations such as airport planning. This greatly widened my horizon. Being part of a cross-functional team, I also understood more about commercial and airline development. Apart from work, I adapted with personal lifestyle changes, learning to cook during the fasting months in Saudi Arabia, improving my culinary skills!
It is very important to always be willing to learn and be adaptable to ever-increasing demands. For example, the growth of low cost carriers had influenced and changed the way Changi Airport developed. We are constantly learning and exploring how to adapt new ‘smart’ technologies into our areas of work.
When managing a team, it is important to encourage discussions and listen to different perspectives to derive more well-thought-out solutions. Every team member should have a role to play, so there is ownership and accountability for the work they do.
Advice for graduates
Be positive and embrace challenges. Be always ready to learn and contribute through these challenges. As Steve Jobs said, “Stay hungry, stay foolish!”