CEOs Speak: How to lead and innovate in times of crisis

5 Nov 2021


It is in times of crisis that leaders play a more critical role than ever – in unifying their teams, providing direction, and turning adversity into opportunity.

This was the consensus among a panel of business leaders who were part of a robust discussion on Day 3 of the International Built Environment Week 2021, as they weighed in on the challenges faced by the industry amid the pandemic.

For Mr Liam Wee Sin, Group Chief Executive of Singapore-listed property developer UOL Group, there is a silver lining in every crisis.

“A crisis is a reset in any business cycle,” he explained. “We look for possibilities and we hunt for opportunities. Even in a crisis, there’s always potential, a segment in your sector that’s emerging.”

While there is uncertainty in these unprecedented times, he added, the key is to step up and find ways to lead with a steady hand and empathy.

Resetting for the future

Embracing the need for change and new ways of thinking will remain a central theme for the Built Environment (BE) sector as it navigates a post-pandemic normal.

“Coming out from this crisis, we really need to think about doing things very differently,” said Building and Construction Authority (BCA) Chief Executive Officer Kelvin Wong. “This gives us a real chance to (re)align and emerge stronger.” 

One key challenge the industry must address is its highly fragmented nature, said Mr Wong. He cited how within the supply chain, cement trucks are known to drive circles around the worksite until it is ready to receive the delivery. The gaps in different parts of the construction supply chain can be a drag on productivity.

Mr Neil Yong, Executive Director of construction firm Woh Hup, noted that the pandemic has also highlighted the need for businesses to adapt and do more to differentiate themselves.

“We need to think about how do we create value in our industry, how do we capture this value, and how do we export this value?” he said, adding that collaboration between various stakeholders to build different capabilities and tap on new opportunities can be one way to create value and stand out.

There are also many opportunities to be found even in these challenging times, added Mr Luke Goh, Chief Executive Officer of National Environment Agency.

“A good entry point is to think in terms of opportunities – to anticipate what the needs are going to be, and then to position for it,” he said, noting that economic recovery and environmental sustainability are and should not be mutually exclusive.

He pointed to the country’s goal of having vehicles run on cleaner energy under the Singapore Green Plan 2030 as one example. This plan requires building charging points and infrastructure for electric vehicles in buildings across Singapore, which companies in the BE sector can offer.  

Innovate by doing things differently

As the BE sector continues to transform, companies that innovate will have an edge. BCA and the Infocomm Media Development Authority launched the Call for Proposals for Integrated Robotics & Automation (R&A) Solutions at the event. Solution providers with readily available robotics and automation solutions can apply to receive support from the Advanced Digital Solution initiative under the SMEs Go Digital Programme.

This industry is perceived to be dirty, dangerous, and demanding: The 3Ds. We have to make our industry more digitalised, desirable, and one that can make a difference to the future built environment. 
- Mr Liam Wee Sin


CEOs in Convo_01
Mr Liam Wee Sin, Group Chief Executive of UOL Group

Under this initiative, construction companies can get up to 80% co-funding support when they adopt R&A solutions from the pre-approved list of solution providers. The support is timely given that many construction companies have been facing extended manpower constraints amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Innovative solutions that this initiative will support include material transporter robots to 3D printing systems to drones for facade inspections, helping firms raise their productivity levels while reducing their reliance on low-skilled manpower and improving worksite safety.

“Even though we grapple with existing challenges, we always keep an eye out for the future, preparing ourselves for tomorrow,” said Minister of State for National Development Tan Kiat How, who unveiled the initiative.

The key to moving forward, he added, lies in innovation – “doing things differently, overcoming our constraints, creating new opportunities for firms, for ourselves, and for the next generation of built environment professionals”.

Mr Seah Chee Huang, Chief Executive Officer of DP Architects, believes that leaders must embrace continuous learning to chart the way forward. He was responding to a question from moderator Michael Koh, Executive Fellow at the Centre for Liveable Cities, on how leaders can spearhead change.

“Leaders can sometimes be the biggest stumbling block, because we are the decision-makers,” he said. “But if you’re (aware) of the changes or develop deep knowledge about how to apply these changes, that’s half of the effort there.”


The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) champions the development and transformation of the built environment sector, in order to improve Singapore’s living environment. BCA oversees areas such as safety, quality, inclusiveness, sustainability and productivity, all of which, together with our stakeholders and partners, help to achieve our mission to transform the Built Environment sector and shape a liveable and smart built environment for Singapore.