Dreaming in Green
Technology entrepreneur Poyan Rajamand shares his journey of starting a sustainable business and embracing multi-culturalism in Singapore.
BY Low Shi Ping
ILLUSTRATION Ken Lee
or Iran-born Swedish entrepreneur Poyan Rajamand, it was Singapore’s diversity that spurred him to settle in the country shortly after completing an internship at a hedge fund here in 2008.
“I was impressed by the multi-racial and multi-cultural environment. Singapore accepts that there are differences in ethnicities, cultural values and religions,” he says, emphasising the diversity.
The Lion City offered him new perspectives, as well as career prospects. Rajamand, who is passionate about sustainability, accepted a job advising on energy and clean financing matters at management consulting firm McKinsey & Company within a year of moving here.
But working within an unfamiliar system was initially challenging. Rajamand, who became a Singapore Permanent Resident in 2012, had to get used to the country’s corporate culture, which tends to be more hierarchical than those in Germany and Sweden.
“In Sweden, lower management is expected to make decisions, while in Singapore, we have to follow a process to arrive at a decision made by senior management. As a result, I felt that meetings were not productive because we often found ourselves having to check back on matters,” he shares. To better understand his new work dynamics, Rajamand sought the help of his Singaporean friends. They explained that the layers of approval was due to the culture of strong governance.
Determined to adapt to his environment rather than have his colleagues adjust to his norms, Rajamand made it a point to be mindful of their practices, and eventually grew comfortable with them.
“ We share our co-workers’ happy and sad moments in a way that is different from Europe, where the culture is to draw a clear distinction between private and professional life. ”
Poyan Rajamand, co-founder Barghest Building Performance
RIGHT ON TECH
Yet, as someone who has always been environmentally conscious, Rajamand knew that he wanted to do more than consulting work. His dream was to build a business with sustainability at its core.
In 2012, together with a co-founder with a background in real estate, he established Barghest Building Performance (BBP). The company uses equipment like sensors and equipment controls installed with a customised algorithm to substantially increase the efficiency of existing airconditioning systems which, in turn, reduces the energy consumption of buildings.
“More than just making new products that consume less energy, we need to look at ways to reduce the energy consumption of what is already in existence,” he explains. “We built our system specifically for airconditioners because they are the biggest users of energy in Southeast Asia.”
Initially, garnering clients who had concerns over potential technical issues was difficult, but his team managed to convince them of the financial rewards of saving energy. He came up with a sharedsavings solution whereby the client pays BPP a percentage of the amount they have made from energy savings, instead of forking out an initial fee.
Today, BBP counts Resorts World Sentosa and Changi Airport Group among its clients. But more remarkably, Rajamand has noticed several positive changes in Singapore’s green technology sector since he joined it. Among the most encouraging is a shift in the profile of solution providers, which once mainly comprised large multinational corporations.
The 43-year-old points out that rapid development in new fields, such as wireless communication and advanced analytics, has resulted in a wave of younger companies offering new innovations, and differentiated products and services. This, he says, has been supported by political will. “The Singapore government has done a fantastic job of driving both awareness as well as demand for green technologies in the local market,” says the sustainability entrepreneur.
“Through the Building and Construction Authority, the government has been courageous in introducing legislation and increasing its demands on the industrial and commercial real estate sectors to go green over the years,” he adds.
He also observes an overall shift in mindsets, and reports a change in the managers, engineers as well as decisionmakers he meets. “They want to embark on a sustainability journey, and look for good partners to help them along the way. This has driven companies to search for new solutions and, in turn, increased demand for the green technology sector.”
He notes a contrast with the past, where companies did not include sustainability as part of their corporate strategy, and were less open to green tech solutions.
“ RAJAMAND HAS NOTICED HOW IT IS ALMOST AN UNSPOKEN RULE THAT COLLEAGUES OF DIFFERENT ETHNICITIES COVER FOR EACH OTHER DURING THE MAJOR RELIGIOUS AND CULTURAL HOLIDAYS, BECAUSE THEY UNDERSTAND THE IMPORTANCE OF EACH OCCASION. ”
THE HUMAN TOUCH
On a personal level, Rajamand has been struck by cultural contrasts between Singaporeans and Europeans. “The expected speed of communication is much faster in Singapore. My professional conversations have increasingly moved to mobile platforms where there is an expectation of response 24/7,” he shares.
Despite having to get used to a new style of communication, the entrepreneur has been able to connect with his Singaporean colleagues on a deeper level.
For instance, he has been privy to the personal lives of his colleagues through attending their weddings, gifting them with red packets during important occasions like the birth of a baby, and supporting them in their times of bereavement.
“We share our co-workers’ happy and sad moments in a way that is different from Europe, where the culture is to draw a clear distinction between private and professional life,” he says. Rajamand particularly enjoys the working environment where differences are celebrated. He speaks of the opportunity to have a deeper and richer understanding of the rituals, cuisines and fundamental beliefs of different cultures.
Before living in Singapore, he was unaware of Chinese and Indian holidays. But now, he is intimately familiar with the customary practices of lo hei and exchanging oranges during the Chinese New Year festivities.
“The deep respect that Singaporeans have developed for everyone who lives here, and the conscious effort towards a harmonious multi-racial society, is something that serves as a role model for me,” he says.
He has noticed how it is almost an unspoken rule that colleagues of different ethnicities cover for each other during the major religious and cultural holidays, because they understand the importance of each occasion, and what it means to those who partake in them. This is remarkable to him, coming from a country where as an immigrant, he was expected to assimilate into a homogenised society.
Clearly, the Swede has taken to Singapore’s diversity, both in terms of its people and its landscapes. In his free time, the father of three enjoys visiting the nation’s outdoor attractions with his wife and kids.
“We enjoy the country’s tropical beauty, and frequent the Botanic Gardens, MacRitchie Reservoir Park and Gardens by the Bay. It’s a chance for the kids to release their energy,” he shares.
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