Dato Sri Kitnasamy : Beneath the Surface

Looking at pictures of Dato Sri Kitnasamy S/O Marudapan, it is easy to form the impression that the Chairman and CEO of GATES PCM Construction Ltd is a heart-warming and passionate individual. One might also conclude that he has a humble personality.

He is in fact, all of these.

But hidden beneath the surface is a big person with a driven disposition (“When the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis hit, I was left with only two options – adapt and survive or give up and accept defeat – I was never one to choose the latter.”), sharp business foresight (“Through my market research and speaking to various industry experts, I realised that there was a major untapped potential of underground construction and transportation.”) and a loving temperament (Affectionately known as Mr Krishna amongst his staff, he built on solid understanding amongst all employees at GATES PCM).

Today, the 58-year old is constantly on his toes as he devotes his time to the development and advancement of Singapore’s railway industry - more specifi cally, our underground transport system.

Like many other entrepreneurs, Dato Sri Kitnasamy had his share of ups and downs through his entrepreneurial journey.

Facing Adversity

Born into a family with nine other siblings, Dato Sri Kitnasamy grew up watching his father scratch a living at a cow farm he owned. Witnessing his father struggle, not only did he learn the value of hard work, he became clear that he wanted to be his own boss instead of working as an employee. “I was always an ambitious child, whether it was buying a bicycle or owning a car, I would go all out to be the fi rst in my family to attain these. It was the same with starting my own business. I wanted to be the fi rst to overcome our living circumstances back then, so that my family can lead a better life,” Dato Sri Kitnasamy recalls.

Sharing his business ideas with family members and friends however, did not earn him much support. Questions were fi red his way endlessly.

How could he afford starting his own business? Where was he going to obtain the initial capital? How could he possibly succeed with so little working experience? Is he capable at such a young age?

It was a big risk and even then, Dato Sri Kitnasamy could understand the concerns and fears his family and friends had. Yet, innately, he knew he was meant for something greater and that determination pushed him to defy the norms.

“I knew that resigning myself to a working class lifestyle would be settling for too little and simply shortchanging myself.”

With that in mind, in 1983, Dato Sri Kitnasamy set up his fi rst company Denwick Piling and Civil Engineering, where he would spend 14 years handling various projects, creating new business relations and amassing diverse industry. It was a dream come true for the 26-year old man then. During the early stages of the business, with only three employees, Dato Sri Kitnasamy would often deal directly with clients, executing projects personally.

“I wanted to prove to clients that they made the right choice by engaging Denwick,” and indeed, with each timely and successful completion of projects, Denwick quickly built its name in the market. Those initial clients then became the best testimonials for his business.

“We once had a client return for our services even after almost a decade since they engaged us,” Dato Sri Kitnasamy explains.

However, things took a turn for the worst when the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis hit, sending the entire construction industry into recession. Denwick incurred massive fi nancial losses during this period of economic downturn.

“Our clients did not have the funds to pay us anymore even though we did the work for them.” Already in his 40s, this was a major stumbling block for Dato Sri Kitnasamy.

Getting back on Track

Refusing to accept defeat, Dato Sri Kitnasamy began to search for a new avenue that would give him the opportunity for a comeback.

Speaking to various industry experts while making careful calculations, Dato Sri Kitnasamy identified a gap in the railway industry that he could fill.

“During that period in Singapore, roads have already been largely paved and our land space was densely populated with many high rise buildings. This left a major untapped potential of underground construction which the railway industry is a major part of.”

“Plus, the government was announcing new railway lines that would be built in the foreseeable future. The industry had abundance of opportunities for the future,” he adds.

Hence, he jumped in and established GATES PCM Construction Ltd.

With the know-hows he gained from Denwick, it was not difficult to get his business on track.

“There was no need for a trial and error period with GATES PCM.”

Instead, Dato Sri Kitnasamy focused on growing his business with a single strategy – Building relationships that lasts – both external (clients and partners) and internal (employees) relationships.

Building Relationships that Last

By maintaining a good rapport with old and new business partners as well as building trusting relationships with clients, many opportunities came Dato Sri Kitnasamy’s way, allowing him to drive major local projects such as the construction of the Circle and Downtown Lines, as well as track maintenance and rehabilitation works.

However, besides external relationships, early into the business, Dato Sri Kitnasamy was also quick to recognise the importance of developing a strong internal bond and a loyal workforce. “Be it attracting new employees or retaining current employees, manpower management is one of the core challenges that many small businesses in Singapore face today especially those in labour intensive industries like ours,” he says.

“Today’s employees are looking for mainly two things – a sense of belonging and career progression. Giving employees a sense that they belong to the company stretches them to go beyond their best, while providing a clear career ladder gives them something to look forward to.” Hence, instead of focusing on hiring new staff, Dato Sri Kitnasamy created a family culture within GATES PCM through the active engagement of staff at events and outreach programmes, and groomed current employees into leaders, allowing them to rise through the ranks.

Today, despite having over 700 staff under him, from on-the-ground employees to managerial employees, there is a solid understanding amongst all that each and every staff is a part of the GATES PCM family.

“As employers, we should never forget that human resource is crucial and when working with people, communication is key. If your employee feels that you do not care, they will not be your employee for long,” he adds.

Indeed, his hard work, determination and caring nature bore fruit in 2015 when he was announced the Overall Winner of the Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

Describing his entrepreneurial journey as one driven by sheer determination and perseverance in the face of adversity, looking back, Dato Sri Kitnasamy maintained that he would not change one bit of the entire experience.

“I believe each difficulty faced and each trouble passed had a part to play in making me who I am today and I am grateful for all the experiences that I have received.”