Ng Chee Soon: Painting a clear picture

By Prasiddha Gustanto. Originally published in The Jakarta Post, Dec. 6, 2014.

Sennheiser Asia president and managing director Ng Chee Soon is a strong believer in the values that passion can bring to leading a company, especially one as deeply involved in emotion-driven industries as Sennheiser.

Every CEO of a company expects his or her employees to perform their best. How they approach their employees differs from one CEO to another, with regard to the line of business they are engaged in and their previous professional experience.

For Ng Chee Soon, president and managing director of Sennheiser Asia, a company engaged in numerous fields of audio technology, being passionate and working to inspire these feelings in employees are crucial aspects for providing the best possible services to customers.

“I suspect that in an industry like ours, where we try to encourage the experience to the highest level possible, it helps if we bring to the business a sense of passion,” said the 51-year-old executive.

The Jakarta Post spoke to Soon during the recent launching of Sennheiser’s Urbanite headphones in Indonesia.

Question: How would you describe your overall management style?

Answer: Personally, I believe in looking very long-term. I spend a lot of time trying to picture what the company needs to evolve into and paint a very clear picture and try to distill it into something I can articulate very clearly. And then, to formulate a set of strategies. And communication is very, very important, because I believe for companies to be successful, everybody in a company, particularly the key management team, needs to have exactly the same vision or picture of where we are going and how we are going there. . . . I prefer to leave people a lot of room. The market changes. You can’t be managing every change along the way. But the direction needs to be very clear. And then people know how to adapt within those guidelines as quickly as possible to market changes. That also encourages creativity.

Q: How do you encourage employees to deliver top-quality services?

A: Quality is very broad. It isn’t just how the product is made. It’s the whole experience for the customer. If it is a nice product but when they need help, they get awful services, I’m not sure if they will think it’s a quality brand. . . I do my part in inspiring them, to paint a picture of a greater goal or destiny of what we’re doing. I help people see the greater meaning of what they’re doing. We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of self-motivation, which comes when people feel like they are in control of their job, who feel like they have a sense of flexibility, who feel like they’re respected for what they do. Once people feel that they are not micro-managed or following instructions down to the last letter, you’ll be surprised by how proud they feel of their job and are encouraged to do the best they can.

Q: What are the most important qualities for leaders to have in the sound industry?

A: Passion helps a lot. After all, this is an emotional industry. What is music? If you think about it, people listen to music for different reasons. Most of us experience music with an emotional response. Maybe it brings memories, a special occasion, when you go through the deepest depths of your life or meet your first boyfriend or girlfriend. You listen to this piece of music that keeps you encouraged. There’s a very emotional context to music. So I suspect that in an industry like ours, where we try to encourage the experience to the highest level possible, it helps that we bring to the business a sense of passion.

Q: What has your prior experience in companies like Hewlett-Packard and Compaq brought to your current position at Sennheiser?

A: The world is definitely more and more connected. It’s harder to draw a clear line between industries. I believe that is very enriching to be exposed to different industries. . . …I learned that in management, there’re also a lot of commonalities. Management is about people. You don’t work alone. You’re trying to paint a picture of how to develop a company, but then the actual “making it work” is all dependent on 50, 100 or 200 people working in harmony toward the same goal. That is common to every company.

Q: Can you give examples?

A: In Hewlett-Packard, I learned the meticulous process of planning and strategizing. I believe that this has helped me tremendously in my career growth and also in helping the companies that I work with develop the strategies and business over the years. Sennheiser is no different. This is one of the values that I’ve brought to this company.

Q: What are important career skills to have in the audio industry that aren’t exactly related to audio?

A: If you’re a leader, you can’t look at the job like a job. It’s an emotion-driven industry. It really helps if you can dive into your job with a lot of passion. I don’t think you need audio knowledge. I happen to have a love for music and some professional engagement as a music teacher, but frankly it could be anybody related to music. But with the right passion and right management background, someone could do equally well in a job like this.`

Q: What do you see as the greatest challenges that Sennheiser faces? As a leader, what are your strategies for overcoming these challenges?

A: The diversity of Asia is a big challenge. You can’t have a single way of doing marketing or going through markets. That in itself brings a level of complexity and a big challenge. Also, for a company like ours, we all have limited resources, in terms of money and human resources. . . . So where do you go, how do you do what you want to do, and when you do those things are big challenges to me. We need to be guided by where we want to go and the broad strategies of how we want to do that. It’s not a next-year thing, it’s a five-year journey.

Q: What does Sennheiser consider special about the Indonesian market? What does it see as the Indonesian market’s potential?

A: Indonesia is very attractive to a brand like Sennheiser for many, many reasons. . . . On a global scale, it is one of the most consistently growing markets anywhere in the world. Some markets may have very high growth rates, maybe even higher than Indonesia, but they could be fluctuating. . . . But you look at the last 10 years maybe, Indonesian growth is one of the most stable in the world and consistent. And there’s every reason to believe that going forward in the next 10-15 years it will be equally consistent in its growth as well. And that alone for a brand like Sennheiser is a very meaningful market to engage in.

Q: Based on your close relationship with your Indonesian distributors, what can you say about Indonesian consumers for Sennheiser? What do they look for when they look for their sound products?

A: We find consistently that the very products that more and more Indonesians are looking for is quality. Quality not just in audio reproduction, but also quality of the product itself. . . . But I believe that more and more Indonesians are finding that appealing, because you don’t just want a product that just looks good and doesn’t sound very good. You don’t want just a product that looks good and doesn’t last very long. Sennheiser sounds very good but also can be very appealing to people who want to look good as well.

 

AT EASE

Q: What activities or hobbies do you like to do in your spare time?

A: Apart from swimming and running, I enjoy listening to music, reading and playing with technology products.

Q: What do you do to stay healthy? Do you do sports or exercise? Or have a particular diet you’d like to share?

 A: I was a school swimmer and played a little water polo in my youth. I recently rediscovered my passion for triathlons a few years ago and I have been active in sports since. I enjoy sports and I see that not only as a way of keeping fit but also to relieve stress. While I do not have any particular diet, I have a strong preference for including fruits in my meals on a daily basis.

Q: How often do you spend time with your family? What do you like to do together?

A: On weekends, when I am not traveling or working, much of my time is spent at home, with my family, or out having a meal or watch a movie together. We also do sports together sometimes. We enjoy music too. On a couple of occasions, I have participated in concerts performing on the piano with my wife and our two daughters, and they were very memorable experiences for me.

 

Place and Date of Birth: Singapore, 1963

Experience

President and managing director, Sennheiser Asia, from 2009 to present. Previously, he held a managerial position in several companies, including senior vice president of sales, Sennheiser Electronic (2006 – April 2009), managing director, Asia Pacific Supplies Business, Lexmark International (2004 – 2006), managing director, ASEAN/South Asia, Lexmark International (2001 – 2004) and regional director, Asia Pacific Market Development, Compaq Computer (2001 – 2001).

Education

Nanyang Technological University (1984 – 1988).