HEAR FROM EDB ALUMNI

A career at EDB touches lives in many ways. Read profiles of EDB alumni and about the lasting value of their experiences at EDB.

MANOHAR KHIATANI

President & Group CEO, Ascendas Pte Ltd


Manohar Khiatani
This opportunity to work independently in a foreign country at a relatively young age contributed tremendously to my personal development and in building up my self-confidence.

“Germany” and “Engineering” were key themes of Manohar’s career. He was awarded a Singapore government scholarship and obtained his Masters Degree (Naval Architecture) from the University of Hamburg, Germany. He joined EDB in 1986, where he rose to become Regional Director, Europe in 1993 based in Frankfurt, Germany.

Manohar left EDB in 1994 for the private sector, where he was Managing Director of Preussag SEA, a diversified German conglomerate. He then rejoined EDB in 1999 as Director, Europe, once again based in Germany. Over the next 10 years, he assumed a series of roles in EDB Headquarters where he oversaw the growth and transformation of key sectors like Aerospace, Marine & Offshore, Electronics, Precision Engineering, Logistics, Infocomms & Media, and Clean Technology. He also oversaw EDB’s operations in all the Americas and Europe. This culminated in his appointment as Deputy Managing Director in 2009.

In October of the same year, he became Chief Executive Officer at JTC Corporation, and in 2013, he became President and Group CEO of Ascendas, a leading provider of business space solutions in Asia.

You spent quite a number of years posted to EDB’s Germany office. What do you remember best about that time?

My first posting as Centre Director in Frankfurt in 1989, was an amazing experience. I drove thousands of kilometres across Germany and Switzerland, to meet numerous companies and engage senior executives – and almost always in the German language. This opportunity to work independently in a foreign country at a relatively young age contributed tremendously to my personal development and in building up my self-confidence.

What is one thing you did which you felt made the most impact at EDB?

It is quite difficult to single out just one. But I would like to think that I did play a part in demonstrating and reinforcing the EDB ethos, which is ‘Dream, Design, and Deliver’.

The development of Seletar Aerospace Park (SAP) is a good example. My team had to go through many hurdles to convince various stakeholders to develop the old Seletar Airport into a world-class Aerospace Park. With hard work and some luck we finally got the green light. We had to work with many agencies, particularly JTC Corporation and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) to realize the vision.

We then knew that it would be very impactful if we could get a ‘Queen Bee’ company into the SAP. The opportunity came in the form of Rolls Royce, who was looking for a new location to build new generation aircraft engines. However, they were not considering Asia at that point. Fortunately, because of our excellent relationship and their good experience with Singapore in the Maintenance, Repair & Overhaul (MRO) space, they agreed to include Singapore in their location study. After numerous discussions with EDB, and many ups and downs, they chose Singapore. We secured not just their engine assembly plant but also the manufacture of fan blades, a highly sophisticated component. This iconic project put Singapore and SAP squarely on the global aerospace map, and after this we were able to attract many other global leaders into SAP, which has now developed into a unique and world class aerospace park.

The SAP vision could not have been realized without the EDB spirit of daring to dream and making things happen, the strong support of partner agencies like JTC and CAAS, and the trust of industry giants like Rolls Royce.

Uniquely, you left EDB to work in the private sector and then returned to EDB. What led you to this path, and what perspectives did you gain?

I left EDB after eight years. I was extremely happy with my job in EDB but I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and try something new. In my job as the Centre Director in Frankfurt, we had been promoting MNCs to use Singapore as a base to develop their businesses in the fast growing Asian region. I wanted to experience this myself from the other side of the table. I explained this to my bosses, including then-Chairman Mr Philip Yeo, who gave me his blessing and said that I should stay in touch with EDB. I joined a German MNC to develop its business in Asia. It was an exciting and enriching experience where I gained a more intimate knowledge of the regional countries and the intricacies of doing business. After spending five years in the private sector, I rejoined EDB in 1999 as Director, Europe based in Frankfurt.

How do you feel EDB prepared you for your future careers?

There were many things that EDB taught me but let me just highlight three. First, I gained a good understanding and exposure to a wide range of industry sectors and companies. This proved very useful for all my subsequent jobs. Second, I was able to build a strong network of contacts, but perhaps even more importantly, the skills of networking and engagement, which are timeless. Finally, it taught me about leadership. I had the good fortune of having very capable and nurturing bosses in EDB. I learned a lot about management and leadership by observing them – certainly much more than any leadership book can teach you.

How would you sum up your EDB experience?

EDB is a wonderful and unique place to work. The interesting job scope, the quality of the people and the nobility of the work are all one-of-a-kind. It provides you a very rich and wide canvas to develop, and it is up to you on how you use these opportunities. Almost all the ex-EDBians I know look back at their time in EDB very fondly. You can get out of EDB, but you cannot get EDB out of you.