01 Apr 2001


Khoo Teng Chye: Technology Turnaround in Singapore

by Alejandro Reyes

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At the PSA Corporation’s Pasir Panjang container terminal in Singapore, the cranes operate automatically: no drivers, just operators remotely controlling up to six of the lifting machines with a single joystick. Welcome to the most advanced port in the world — and the most efficient. “Our labor productivity has multiplied four- or fivefold in the last fifteen years,” beams  Khoo Teng Chye (110th AMP), group president of PSA. “Our company is a world leader in applying technology to port management and fully automating operations.”

With seventeen million containers passing through annually — about fifty thousand a day — the island nation of Singapore is the biggest container port and transshipment hub in the world. “We can turn ships around faster than anybody else,” boasts Khoo, a civil engineering graduate of Australia’s Monash University with an MBA from the National University of Singapore. Each piece of equipment in PSA’s terminals is computerized and linked to a network. Singapore’s shipping companies, customs operation, and port authority are all connected to PSA’s Portnet data-processing system, which has been available on the Internet since the end of 1999.

PSA aims to make Portnet a global standard, particularly as the state-run corporation expands overseas. It now has about ten port ventures in seven countries. Khoo reckons that within the next six years, more than a third of PSA’s business will come from outside Singapore. PSA is to be privatized soon, with a stock market listing possibly as early as this year. “We have to look for new business beyond Singapore, but we can’t do that as a pure government agency,” Khoo explains. “We’ve had a tremendous change in the scope of our mission and in our organizational culture. It’s necessary to get people to think more globally and to be more savvy about business and finance.”

Khoo is well-equipped to lead that drive. In 1992, while still serving in the government’s Urban Redevelopment Authority, he completed the School’s Advanced Management Program. “It was a hugely broadening experience,” he recalls. Khoo’s appreciation of his Harvard stint is one reason why he is helping HBS prepare a case study on PSA. “To learn from the experience of major companies and understand how managers tackle problems can be extremely rewarding,” Khoo explains. “That kind of value lasts.”

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