Perseverance is Key

This issue's Leader Interview with Hyflux's Olivia Lum proves that we need to get behind innovative and disruptive technologies today which could prove to be the back-bone of many water processes in 25 years' time.


By Tom Freyberg, Chief Editor

This issue's Leader Interview with Hyflux's Olivia Lum proves that we need to get behind innovative and disruptive technologies today which could prove to be the back-bone of many water processes in 25 years' time.

As many readers will know, it's not often that we include a single person on the front cover of WWi magazine. During my reign editing 30 editions of WWi over five years, it has happened twice: firstly with Robert F. Kennedy Jnr and then with Carsten Bjerg, the former CEO of Grundfos.

For this issue, the decision to include Hyflux CEO Olivia Lum on the cover was a no-brainer. She has a remarkable tale to tell. Often cited as the great entrepreneurial story of the water market -- Lum's "rags to riches" tale is worth a read on pages 10-13.

Personally, I always enjoy reading entrepreneur's stories documenting what gave them the impetus to create their empires, or what marks them different to others and why they excel.

In the example of Amstrad creator and businessman Alan Sugar, from a young age he could see value in products which others thought were junk. Even at school he was selling old photographic film to friends, before going on to build his electronics empire.

For Virgin boss Richard Branson, he got stuck in Puerto Rico while trying to get to the British Virgin Islands to see a "beautiful lady". After a cancelled flight, he hired a plane, borrowed a blackboard, wrote "Virgin Airlines" as a joke on the top and charged people $39 for a single fare to the islands. He managed to fill his first plane. When he got home he called Boeing to find out if they had any 747 airplanes for sale: an airline was born. And it all stemmed from a man's desire to see a lady!

It was in the early 90s that Olivia Lum took a punt on membranes, long before they had grown to a billion dollar business. In 2005 she successfully won the SingSpring desalination bid to provide a 136,380 m3/day plant in Singapore -- the largest of its kind at the time. She later did the same thing for the Magtaa project in Algeria -- proposing a 500,000 m3/day project, again using membranes.

Like any business, Hyflux has not had it easy, facing tough conditions for global desalination. Yet the recent Qurayyat win in Oman, together with an expected pick up in the global market, will no doubt help Hyflux and other desalination companies to continue growing.

As with Sugar selling old photographic film, or Branson renting out a private jet, or Lum backing membranes -- it takes a certain boldness to go against the grain and propose an idea that most people think is crazy, stick with it and make it work. So let's give new technologies a chance. Who knows - the next technology that might seem crazy now might just grow into a billion dollar business over the next 25 years.

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