Lessons Learned from Navigating the Cutting Edge of Change

How one engineer and exec is building a bold future through emerging tech in Singapore.

Well-known for making the Singapore Civil Defense force’s high-tech Red Rhino fire-fighting vehicles, HOPE Technik’s CEO Peter Ho always seems to find himself on the front lines of innovation in Singapore.

The former race car engineer co-founded HOPE Technik in 2006 and has led its growth from the startup phase to a high-profile, multi-million dollar firm with more than 100 employees. The company designs products from industrial robots to exoskeletons.

Among HOPE Technik’s endeavors was a headline-grabbing project for Airbus, where the company designed the prototype of the SpacePlane, a flying vehicle that could travel up to 100km into space. The demonstration of the SpacePlane, supported by the Singapore Economic Development Board, took place in 2014.

Outside of HOPE Technik, Ho is active in inspiring the next generation of engineers. He is an adjunct assistant professor at the Faculty of Engineering at the National University of Singapore—where he earned his degree—and an advisory board member of the Singapore University of Technology and Design’s Engineering Product Development department.

Associations Now Brand Connection spoke with Ho recently about the professional adventures his passion for engineering have sparked.

Your professional interests have extended from race cars to fire fighting. What do you see as the common thread?

Peter Ho: I speak not just for myself but on behalf of the whole company. Fundamentally, our genuine interest is we love technology. We are very competitive in the areas where we define ourselves. The crazier the challenge we face the more competitive we are. Essentially, we like fast moving technology in a world where today’s technology is obsolete next year. That just sums it up.

What are the most intriguing challenges you face in advanced manufacturing and how are you overcoming them?

Peter Ho: The media have changed in the last 5-10 years to include social media like Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube. The biggest challenge is expectation versus reality—what is trending, what is heavily watched, what is very sensational. People’s expectations are now becoming a cartoon. They believe if they see something on YouTube it’s real. You see flying taxis but do you know the regulations on safety and reliability? You don’t hear that in a YouTube video that has trended.

The biggest challenge now is to convince people that this is really where the bar is set right now and not higher. The other side is to make sure you don’t set the bar too low. I would say we would like to err slightly on the side of too high. If we set it exactly where tech is today, there is no runway. We’re not doing a science project that works well at an exhibition. We are in the business of delivering advanced technology stuff that is used every day.

Which innovators in entrepreneurship and innovation have influenced you most—and why?

Peter Ho: I think one of the big ones the whole company looks at is Kelly Johnson—the first founder of Skunk Works, part of Lockheed Martin. I would describe him as a super engineer. He has based everything on the fundamentals. The folks at Lockheed Martin are pushing the limits on quality.

The other one I would look at personally is James Dyson. He has achieved an ability to take household things, and, by very good attention to detail in an engineering sense, really, really stand out, both in performance and application, as well as what they represent and how they operate. As an engineer, I find it his focus and ability to build something that is not made out of fairy dust very inspiring.

When you are looking for ideas, what destinations in Singapore do you find most inspiring?

There is an area just outside town call Dempsey Hill. It was once a military base. It has really old colonial buildings.

I run a lot of my discussions there with internal teammates and clients. That’s where I like to hang out to get out of the office. It is throwback to a different era, away from the hustle and bustle. Everything is a little bit calmer. For me, it sets a mood for very good discussions.

HOPE Technik has collaborated extensively with Singapore’s government. What did you learn from your collaboration?

We’re very fortunate that our government and different agencies are very forward looking. They really keep pushing, asking for more. What is fast today isn’t fast tomorrow. I find that very admirable–and very forward-thinking.

There are many sides to what we have learned from it. The different agencies have different ways of tackling a problem but are extremely structured. All of your government tenders go through a public platform. The process is transparent, which is important for any businesses.

What impact do you hope to have on Singapore’s future?

As a company, we want to make an international brand—a product company. That is what we want. In that I mean we want to be an original equipment manufacturer. We want to be that service provider that people look for and go to. We are going to focus on building stuff and building it for the whole world from Singapore.

This profile of Peter Ho, CEO of HOPE Technik, is part of Singapore: Passion Personified. It is the fifth in a series of eight profiles of individuals who embody the country’s entrepreneurial drive and “passion made possible” spirit, which shares stories to inspire the business leaders of today and tomorrow.

(Handout photo)