Yoon Young Kim is currently the cluster president of Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei at Schneider Electric. Previously, he served as the cluster president for Vietnam and Cambodia for four years, and has 20 years of experience in energy management and lighting sectors.
Oasis (OS): Right off the bat, what are some of the leadership values that you hold most true in business?
Yoon Young Kim (YK): In business, I think the first and most important thing is to put the people at the center of what we do. Customers are important to us, because without them, we wouldn’t be able to sustain our business.
At the same time, sustainability is also important to me, because it not only affects the environment we live in, but the people around us as well. This is why we have a huge focus on ethical sustainability, because it ties back to putting people first.
OS: Speaking of leadership, you’re also leading the ‘Tomorrow Rising Fund’. Could you tell us more about your vision for this impact fund?
YK: This started when we were looking into various angles of sustainability, and sustainable access to energy in particular.
First of all, we believe that having access to energy is a basic human right, so the question comes to how a company could help make this happen with sustainability in mind. This gave birth to Schneider Electric Foundation which is centered in Paris, where we try to contribute and support sustainable activities in countries we are operating in.
With the “Tomorrow Rising Fund”, we’ve worked with various organizations in Southeast Asia. For example, we worked with the Red Cross in Thailand in order to contribute to vulnerable communities. In Vietnam, we’ve worked with an energy frontier that focuses on energy training to donate toolboxes for the low income and less privileged people. At the same time, we’ve provided opportunities for young people to be trained as electricians so that they can have a steady income.
OS: Corporate social responsibility and social impact is such a hot topic today, but what does that impact really mean to you?
YK: The common idea on sustainability is that only new projects can be sustainable, but in fact, existing projects and infrastructure can be sustainable as well. For example, that comes in the form of reducing energy consumption with the difference in the electrical products we use. When we are renovating our buildings, we have the choice to choose a product that consumes less energy, which will in turn reduce carbon emissions.
When we conducted a study on GreenBiz research, we found that organizations that are actively managing climate change generally have an average of 67% higher returns on equity, as compared to companies that don’t. Also, nearly 80,000 emission reduction projects are reported in 190 out of 500 companies. This has saved companies more than USD 3.7 billion on just saving energy alone.
From this, we can really see the positive impacts that not only lies in saving energy, but also bring positive profitability for companies themselves. With a new generation, we will start to see more customers preferring to purchase from brands that are sustainable too.
OS: What have been some of the most memorable moments as a leader?
YK: One of the moments I remember vividly was when the company decided to go digital. That was a tough journey for everyone, because we had to understand what going digital really meant. It took us a lot of time to figure out processes and what worked well, but we got there in the end. The journey was not smooth though.
The second memorable moment goes back to the sustainability angle. I’ve faced many questions about Return of Investments (ROI) whenever we try to broach the topic on sustainability. The reality is that, despite its indirect and long-term positive effects, companies often have to think about the tangible and financial aspects too. This is why investing in sustainable technology is one of the biggest decisions a company can make, because you won’t be able to see the results immediately. Even for individuals who want to make their homes sustainable, it might not be an easy decision to make, but it’s definitely the right decision.
OS: Having been involved in the energy sector for the past 20 years, what are your hopes for the next generation of leaders?
YK: I wouldn’t call it hope, because I actually believe that the younger generation is really conscious and more engaged in the journey to creating a sustainable world. What I’m hoping for is that more people can embark on this journey, especially now that we understand more clearly how this can lead to the betterment of society.
Singapore is one good example of how despite its difficult position of not having its own resources, the government and leaders are very bold in their commitment with their green plans. This demonstrates to all of us that sustainability in energy can definitely be achieved. Hence, what I hope to see in the near future is more leaders coming together with a clear commitment to ensure that energy remains accessible for future generations.
OS: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?
YK: When I was 16 years old, someone once told me, “You should maintain balance in your life.” Don’t cry too much when you’re sad, and don’t laugh too much when you’re having a good time. This is a very Asian mindset, which differs from some of the western cultures I’ve been exposed to later on in life.
My belief has always been that there is no free lunch in the world. Linking it back to sustainability, there is no free lunch if you want to be more sustainable. You have to invest, and cannot wait for things to magically appear. Life is a balance, and a trade-off, so this is something I’ve been keeping in mind throughout my personal life and professional career.