Global electronics company Rohde & Schwarz has a long pedigree of success. Founded in Germany more than 80 years ago, the market leader develops, produces and markets a wide range of electronic capital goods for industrial, infrastructural and government customers.
In 2017, Rohde & Schwarz celebrates 20 years of operations in Singapore. The country today serves as an Asia-Pacific (APAC) hub for research and development, production, supply chain management and systems engineering, all done out of a S$58 million (US$43 million) facility at Changi Business Park and three factories at Loyang.
Here, engineers develop a range of products for the global market, including electronic test and measurement equipment, broadcast transmitters, military and air traffic control communications systems, radio monitoring and radiolocation equipment, and cyber security tools.
The journey of Rohde & Schwarz in Singapore from a humble support centre with six staff to a regional hub that today employs around 450 people is a story of success in a market full of potential.
A support centre of locals serving locals
Rohde & Schwarz first opened a support centre in Singapore in 1997 to offer localised customer support to emerging markets in the APAC region, with a focus on large markets such as China, Korea and Taiwan.
Singapore was selected as the ideal location for Rohde & Schwarz’s APAC base following an in-depth study that examined other key locations within the region such as Hong Kong and Malaysia.
“Singapore emerged as the most suitable location for a number of reasons,” says Rohde & Schwarz Asia managing director Dr Lim Boon Huat. While Singapore’s well-developed infrastructure, pro-business government policies and world-leading connectivity are important factors, in the early days the city-state’s availability of talent was most compelling, he points out.
“You need locals serving locals,” he explains. “Our customers in Korea and China, for example, are not very fluent in English, so supporting those customers from Europe would be problematic because of the language barrier.
“Singapore is a talent hub in the region that attracts a diversity of talents from around the world. We could build a workforce here that has strong cultural links with our Asia-Pacific customers. Also, a well-trained workforce is very important to Rohde & Schwarz, and the quality of manpower available in Singapore is quite advanced.”
Dr Lim also points out that Singapore’s geographical location offers additional benefits due to its central time zone. “You need to be able to serve customers during their working hours. From a time zone perspective, Singapore’s working hours overlap with a majority of Asia-Pacific countries.”
Regional headquarters to drive strategic growth
Providing local customer support paved the way for Rohde & Schwarz’s growth in the region, and the company expanded its operations in Singapore with a new regional headquarters in 2002.
Singapore’s educated workforce and strong intellectual property (IP) laws were the key drivers behind Rohde & Schwarz’s decision to make Singapore its regional headquarters.
“IP protection is very strong in Singapore,” says Dr Lim. “We can be sure that our IP will be properly respected and protected in Singapore, which brings comfort to our shareholders.”
The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2016-17 ranked Singapore fourth in the world and first in Asia for having the best IP protection.
This has been particularly important to Rohde & Schwarz’s product development operations in Asia, with the hub responsible for developing and producing a range of innovative new products including monitoring, portable and digital compact receivers, as well as digital and compact direction finders.
The next milestone in Rohde & Schwarz’s exponential growth came along in 2011, when the company set up its first production facility outside Europe in Singapore. This effectively brought research and development, production and supply chain management for APAC under one roof.
In practice, this has allowed Rohde & Schwarz to build relationships with strategic partners in the region for the joint development of many significant projects.
For example, in 2016 Rohde & Schwarz partnered with Balai Besar Pengujian Perangkat Telekomunikasi (BBPPT) in Indonesia to successfully install a DVB-T2 receiver compliance test system -- an early warning system (EWS) that is designed to support up to 15 different types of disasters, three levels of warnings and postcode-based regional EWS.
Striding into the future
For Dr Lim, celebrating 20 years of operation in Singapore offers an opportunity to mark Rohde & Schwarz’s many achievements in the region. Chief among them is the company’s steady continuous growth.
“This company has consistently grown at 15 per cent a year,” he says. “The mobile market specifically has grown tremendously in China and Korea, and we have benefited from this growth wave because we took steps to be well positioned in the region.”
While Dr Lim is optimistic about the future of Rohde & Schwarz in APAC, he believes that the company will need to adapt to new economic realities to ensure its continued success.
“We see that the world is changing very fast now. We expect that the whole landscape of the industry will change over the next five to 10 years,” he says. “Whether we can survive or not depends on how responsive and proactive we are in co-creating that change.”
As such, Rohde & Schwarz must continue to be agile and move quickly in a fast-changing market. This would require a coordinated approach between all company stakeholders, suppliers and government organisations.
Dr Lim also believes that Singapore remains the best location to achieve this in an uncertain future.
He says: “Singapore is small and nimble, and one of the top connected cities in the world. That means it can implement new policies and innovations very quickly. We are optimistic that Singapore is the best place for us to make that transition successfully.”