People

Building bridges of friendship

Working at Surbana Jurong – a 16,500-strong global consultancy with more than 120 offices in over 40 countries – offers its employees an exciting perch to soar with life-long friendships across borders. Employees such as Gavin Strid, Richard Cruz and Alistair Tan share how they build enduring friendships while fulfilling our vision of Building Cities, Shaping Lives. 

Gavin Strid, a Project Manager with some of the friends he’s made in 16 countries over 30 years. (Clockwise from top) A street party organised by Gavin and his daughter in the Philippines; Gavin with a colleague at Cherrapunji, Meghalaya in India (known as the “wettest place on earth”); Gavin with friends across nine nationalities on the Bangladesh Karnaphuli tunnel Project, and Gavin posing with Managment Team for the same project, comprising six different nationalities

If there is one thing Gavin Strid, Chief Technical Principal, Project Management, has learnt on his travels as an engineer over the past 30 years, it is learning how to connect with people in any environment.

“What is special about this job is the people you work with. You learn very quickly that we’re all the same, we share the same ambitions, hopes and fears” he said. He has been featured in SMEC’s 70 Years of Impact story here

Gavin joined SMEC in 1989 and has worked across 16 countries on major projects for the past 30 years, travelling to places like Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, China, Myanmar, India, Vietnam, Indonesia and Bangladesh. He is now Chief Technical Principal, Project Management, based in Bangladesh, overseeing critical infrastructure projects such as the Karnaphuli River Tunnel – the first underwater road tunnel in Bangladesh. 

Some of his best memories are of celebrating birthdays and weddings and enjoying game days and social trips with his local staff. “It is the best form of team building,” he said. 

Working abroad, he says, is an extremely valuable experience because it teaches you how to be adaptable and work with people of other cultures and beliefs. “It really opens your mind and broadens your horizon,” he said enthusiastically. “There are a lot of benefits beyond the professional sphere. I believe it can help you grow into a better engineer and become a more compassionate and tolerant person.”

Gavin’s love for travelling has also inspired one of his three daughters to take up a globetrotting career. She became a diplomat before joining SMEC and then going on to join Google and is currently based in Singapore. 

“She likes the lifestyle as well,” said Gavin, “because she enjoys the excitement of coming to work and never really knowing how the day’s going to end.” But thanks to Gavin and SMEC, she always has friends to count on in many places in the world.

Language is no barrier when making buddies that rock

Filipino Richard Cruz, a Senior Executive Architect in SJ North Asia team, has a knack for making friends in China despite his less-than-fluent grasp of the Chinese language (first from left and clockwise from top left), by playing in a band, joining a sketch group, hanging out with colleagues and bringing his daughter along. (Below) Richard the doting father.

Richard Cruz, a Senior Executive Architect with Surbana Jurong’s Shanghai office, may not be fluent in Chinese but his enthusiasm and friendliness more than make up for it. Hailing from the Philippines, he has been in China for 15 years since 2005, when he first joined Surbana Jurong. 

The father of one was stationed in various branch offices in China before his current Shanghai posting. He has worked on the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City project as well as various Townships, Schools, Urban Design, Architecture and Landscape design projects in China, Singapore and other countries.

“Even though I cannot speak Chinese well,” Richard said, “I use actions to create genuine personal connections and this has always helped me build lasting friendships throughout the years.” Many of his colleagues have become close friends. These include colleagues from Wuxi, Tianjin, Shenyang and other cities and even different countries. 

“We are very much like a family at work. Before Covid-19, we went on outings and bonding trips together. We shared hobbies and interests, we watched the latest movies and organised sports activities together. We attended each other’s weddings and have celebrated the birthdays of our children together, who also grow up playing together.”

He said that these friendships are the bedrock of a more cohesive workplace. “Whenever there is a tough project, we pull through because everyone has got each other’s back.”

Living in Shanghai has also got Richard started on hobbies and interests like rock music, urban sketching and cycling. “I am active playing in a heavy metal rock band composed of different nationalities. I even invited colleagues to watch our gigs after work!  I have also joined urban sketching events by the Shanghai Urban Sketchers Group and gone on cycling trips within the city and nearby towns. Because of all these, I have made a great deal of friends from all over, which altogether makes living abroad fun.”

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