IN TODAY’S Success: The Insight Story column, SunBiz gets the thoughts of Niro Ceramic group managing director Ian Kok.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

My life experiences, both on a personal and a professional level, have profoundly influenced the leader I am today. Through various personal and professional challenges, these experiences have helped me manage setbacks, build grit and cultivate values and principles such as continuous learning and honesty. These experiences have made me live by the motto that “the end does not always justify the means”.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional life?

Mentorship has been a vital source of guidance for me, providing hands-on wisdom and greatly influencing my leadership skills. From the start, my mentors taught me the importance of taking full responsibility for my goals. This advice has been key to my professional growth, promoting a culture of ongoing learning and strengthening my resilience.

Best piece of advice you ever received in your career.

Early in my career, I was given the advice that “there is no substitute for effort”. It has resonated with me throughout my professional journey.

What advice can you offer those looking to start their career/own business?

Always learn on and off the job, build your network of friends and business peers, and build or instil personal industry and resourcefulness.

How do you think the industry you are in will evolve?

The tile industry experienced a significant revolution many years ago through the introduction of digital printing technology. This technological breakthrough has spurred many innovations in tile design and size. It is expected that this innovation will persist and drive greater enhancements.

Digitalisation has not only revolutionised tile manufacturing but has also created opportunities for innovation in marketing, sales and operations. Areas such as customer service, marketing and sales strategies will also be refined progressively, though the effectiveness of these innovations is yet to be understood.

It can be expected that tile designs and sizes will progress further in looking and feeling like real stones – marble, granite, sandstone and therefore encroach deeper into the natural stone market as well as being alternative replacements for other flooring and wall products.

The evolution of the tile industry will likely lead to diversification in the types and numbers of market players, including companies that excel in manufacturing, marketing and sales. Limitations in domestic market size will push market players to rationalise their operations. As a result, the ability to be more export-oriented will become a crucial trait to develop to gain a competitive edge.

How do you stay abreast of issues affecting your industry?

I think it is imperative as a leader to be closely in touch with the market – engaging with customers, suppliers and service providers in the industry. Being part of an industry association is also important to have like-minded partnerships with your peers to take necessary steps to safeguard the industry.

I regularly follow industry-specific publications, business magazines, and online news platforms that provide up-to-date information on leadership, management and the ceramic tile industry.

We all know about the industrial revolution, are we in for a technological revolution? Your thoughts.

I believe we are indeed in the midst of a technological revolution. Technology has been rapidly advancing in recent years, and its impact on various industries, including the tile industry, is profound.

In terms of manufacturing and production, the introduction of advanced machinery and automation has revolutionised the way tiles are made. This has resulted in new innovative products that are more natural and more beautiful, improved quality control, and enhanced efficiency. Additionally, the introduction of digital printing technology has expanded design possibilities, allowing for greater customisation options and intricate patterns on tiles.

Moreover, technology has transformed the way the tile industry approaches design and visualisation. Advanced design software and 3D visualisation tools allow customers to have a realistic representation of how different tiles of their choice will look in their home spaces, either on their tablet or their large-screen TV, before making a purchase. This capability not only aids in making more informed design choices but also reduces wastage and enhances customer satisfaction.

In addition to these advancements, technology is also playing a significant role in driving sustainability initiatives in the tile industry. Energy-efficient manufacturing processes, recycling programmes and the use of eco-friendly materials are becoming more prevalent. Digital platforms and software help monitor and optimise energy consumption, reducing waste and supporting environmentally conscious practices.

How do you expect policies on climate change to impact businesses in the future?

I believe that climate change policies will have a profound effect on the way businesses operate. Lawmakers, regulators, investors all have a vital role to play in supporting businesses to invest in sustainability as the investment required is large and protracted. In alignment, these stakeholders have to pave the way for sustainability-invested businesses to clearly have a competitive advantage over those businesses that are lacking in such sustainability efforts. Businesses clearly have a significant responsibility toward the environment and its well-being and therefore how its product and service offerings are prepared and delivered must contain a sustainability footprint.

Most-admired business leader? Why?

I have always admired Lee Kuan Yew who had been obviously more than a business leader. He had proven time and again to be a tremendous visionary, an extraordinary leader and a world-class statesman.

If you could have an hour with any thought leader in the world, whom would it be and why?

In this era of innovation driven by digitisation and how it can create breakthroughs with new business models, the person I would choose is Elon Musk. He has opened up new frontiers in business with a clear vision of how present technology and engineering can be innovated.