My Time on Science Park

To me, the decision to attend a small liberal arts college was a bit of a gamble. Growing up, an incessant emphasis on the value of STEM related fields seemed like an unspoken indictment of liberal arts. While degrees in engineering and programming promised a clear career path, a major in the liberal arts threatened unemployment out of college.  

Even though I was confident that I wanted to pursue a career revolving around biology and business out of college, I suspected that the broad education and versatile skills I could acquire from an intimate liberal arts curriculum could prove valuable in any career I might end up having. Sure enough, being able to intern at TÜV SÜD provided an opportunity to investigate these interests and see for how my liberal arts education had and not trained me for an office experience so far.

At the very beginning of my internship, when my supervisor from Medical Health Services introduced the first project I would be working on, I felt most unprepared. The project required me to evaluate medical technology companies and compile a list of potential clients for TÜV SÜD’s medical device testing services. Its emphasis on topics in finance, which Davidson offer no classes on, immediately exposed my knowledge deficit regarding the subject. I was unfamiliar with the relevance of several financial metrics that I was supposed to use to evaluate companies, and had little grasp of how they related to the medtech industry (e.g., what would be a healthy EBITDA for a public orthopedic company with 5,000 employees). While this made it initially difficult to make judgements about a company’s health and potential value, my supervisor filled me on the most essential information I needed to know for the project. I do still suspect, however, that I could have better prepared myself if Davidson offered some sort of classroom instruction in finance or business.

As soon as I began my second project, however, my liberal arts education proved itself to be a valuable attribute in the office. Like my first project, this assignment required me to analyze companies and compile a list, but this time I was screening candidates for acquisition.  Seeking to expand medical device testing capabilities in the United States, where most of the top medical technology companies are headquartered, the CEO of product services wanted to acquire an existing American testing company and had already reached out to one attractive candidate. My task was to research other companies to build out a market landscape and identify potential alternatives.

To point me in the right direction, I was given a number of suggestions  on what might make a company attractive, such as a strong client base, technology or procedures that could be exported to other TÜV SÜD facilities, or testing capabilities that could allow TÜV SÜD to increase its market share in key testing areas. Beyond this, the actual curation of the list was left to my discretion, and my only check-in was a preview presentation to be given halfway through the project. And because small private companies rarely release the detailed financial information I analyzed for my first project, I realized this investigation would require a good deal more creativity. Luckily, the initial breadth of the undertaking evokes many open-prompt projects and papers I had encountered while at Davidson and Andover, so I was well-prepared to springboard off the limited guidance I received and to navigate a new subject.

Like for any history paper, I began with a look at available primary sources, in the case the corporate documents and information in TÜV SÜD’s possession. I looked at a consulting company’s annual outlook on the medtech industry to familiarize myself with the device testing landscape, finding information on the size and forecasted growth of different medical device categories. As I began to dig for companies meeting the essential criteria on LinkedIn, I turned to secondary sources to help to educate my assessments, like whether a rare certification might make a company more appealing, or what testing requirements the FDA had assigned for new kinds of active, software driven devices. Throughout, the web- searching skills I developed from years of school research proved particularly useful as I hunted for whatever information I could find on companies

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 12.05.42 PMIn addition to these tangible skills my liberal arts education provided me, I also encountered the benefits of a diverse pursuit of disciplines. My previous experience with biology in the lab allowed me to engage with scientific testing protocol and be able to ask educated questions during procedures. Since much of the testing I observed in the lab connected to the kind I handled in the office, my time in the lab felt like a look underneath the hood of TÜV SÜD and enriched the my other projects. My german also became surprisingly useful as nearly half of the employees in the office are from either Germany or Switzerland.

My time at TÜV SÜD made it clear that I may still have a good deal to learn when I begin my first job out of college, because there’s a clear disconnect between a liberal arts curriculum and many business- related industries. But it also illustrated the quality of training one receives from a broad curriculum that promotes critical thinking, creativity, and versatility– special attributes that can prove their worth in any profession.

Working in Singapore

For a product-testing and certification company, Singapore is a great place to do business. The country itself is fixated  on quality and fervent in its desire to produce world class products, both of which lead to demanding regulations and a constant need for testing and certification. But opportunity also flows in from beyond the country’s compact borders. Singapore’s grade-A business infrastructure, and business-friendly rule of law make it a regional business hub for all of southeast Asia. Businesses in neighboring countries seeking to market products beyond their own borders naturally turn to Singapore for testing and certification services, making it a  truly ideal place for such a company like TÜV-SÜD to set up shop.

Unlike in the United States, many European countries have no federal regulatory departments like the FDA or EPA. The governments of these countries instead accredit private companies to perform product testing, auditing, and training according to domestic or European Union regulations. TÜV-SÜD (short for Technischer Überwachungsverein SÜD or technical inspection association – south) is the largest technical inspection association company in Germany  and the sixth largest in the world, with 2.3 billion in annual revenue. Its German facilities offer services ranging from evaluations of water purity and automobile safety to the certification of socially responsible labor practices.

When TÜV-SÜD decided to expand the company’s business to southeast Asia it is no surprise that they chose Singapore, where they took over the existing government-owned facility  called PSB. That acquisition gave birth to TÜV-SÜD PSB,the headquarters of its German parent company’s business in southeast Asia.

TÜV SÜD’s five-story facility PSB, located in Singapore’s science park, has labs offering electrocompatibility, chemical, microbiological, environmental, biocompatibility, and condom testing (for the WHO), which are routinely carried out in accordance with both domestic Singaporean and multinational standards. Across the hall from the biocompatibility lab on the second floor are the offices of the corporate staff–  marketing directors, a corporate board member, and the global CEO of product services. For a prospective biology major interested in the intersection of biology and business, the ability to work on both wings of the second floor provided an ideally integrated experience.  

On the science side I spent time in the biocompatibility laboratory, which performs in vitro and in vivo testing for medical devices. The lab has done particularly well both because it can perform tests that the American and European regulatory bodies require for medical devices, but rarely permit under their jurisdiction, and the legal incentive of manufacturers to ensure that their high-risk medical products are safe, regardless of the price of testing.

Though I was unable to participate directly in hands on testing, due to their sensitive nature and the short length of my time at TÜV SÜD, I chose and spent time closely observing specific tests over the course of my six week internship. I focused primarily on in vitro tests, which I engaged through reading test protocols, conversing with lab managers and observing procedures first hand. Screen Shot 2016-07-24 at 3.20.42 PMOne such study I followed was a “mammalian cell mutation test,” also called an AMES test, which detects mutagenic properties of a substance in reverse. Using cells that lack a functional gene for the essential amino acid thymidine, the ability of the cells to grow in the absence of thymidine after exposure to the extract indicates whether it caused a reverse-mutation that shifted the gene back to a functional form. Understanding tests like the mutagenicity, cytotoxicity, and endotoxin procedures I observed also proved useful in my other work at TÜV SÜD, much of which also revolved around medical devices.

On the other side of the hall, I worked on several projects for the medical health services division of product services. For my first project, I curated a long-list of attractive medical device testing clients based on factors like product areas and likelihood of being acquired by larger companies.  For the second, on which I spent the majority of my time, I searched for small American medical device testing companies whose areas of testing or access to top industry players would make them attractive candidates for acquisition. The project included research into the logistics and potential profitability of testing,  and undisclosed financial information of private companies, and my personal investigation into potential profitability of new areas of medical device testing.

My final project focused on increasing the efficiency of the medical health services division by searching for new ways to automate certain digital services processes. I investigated ways to streamline routine audits and travel schedule management for auditors, but my most significant contribution was  an outline for a web-crawling market intelligence program that would automatically screen regulatory approval databases of organizations like the FDA to identify potential sales leads and share them among the marketing staff at TÜV SÜD.

Though my internship was short, I felt pleased to have made two potentially valuable contributions  to the company. Several of the potential M&A targets I identified were received well enough to be included in a presentation given by the CEO of product services the following week, and a data specialist from the office’s digital “Center for Excellence,” was eager to begin a collaboration with the MHS department on a pilot program of my digital service proposal. For my own part, I came away with a much deepened and enriched understanding of multinational commerce, the worldwide regulatory system, and the daily workings of a huge, diverse business.

The Sovereign Enterprise

 

Despite a marked lack of natural resources and a relatively short 40-year old history, the sovereign island city-state Singapore is a thriving and pronouncedly unique country. It’s an international business hub, one of the four “Asian Tiger” economies, and a world leader in urban engineering. Many also know the country for its multiculturalism and its harsh penalization of littering, drugs, and the even the possession of gum.

Some refer to Singapore as “the Switzerland of Asia,” and having now briefly lived in both, I certainly understand the comparison. Like in Switzerland, Singapore has exceptional public infrastructure– its airport is one of the nicest in the world and an exceptional network of high-quality subway, light train, & bus lines can transport one virtually anywhere in the city,  encouraging distributed income desegregation.

 

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 11.08.56 PM It’s also an Asian hub for many large multinational corporations, particularly in the finance and banking sectors, which attracts foreign workers to the country in droves. In fact, a combination of Singapore’s convenient location, low taxes, skilled workforce, modern infrastructure, and marked intolerance for corruption have brought over 9,000 foreign corporations from the U.S., China, India, Japan, and Europe into the country, causing foreigners to contribute 44% of the country’s total workforce. These attractive policies have, among other things, made Singapore the third largest financial center in the world.  Zürich, Switzerland’s largest city and financial hub, holds the fourth highest spot.

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The similarities end, however, when viewing the two from the perspective of governance, an area in which they fundamentally diverge. While Swiss citizens enjoy one of the most direct democracies in the world, Singapore seems to be run far more like a business than the traditional republic it describes itself as. Though the system of government is parliamentary and elections are clean, founder Lee Kuan Yew’s People’s Action Party has controlled nearly every seat in parliament since the country was founded and exerts considerable influence over the media, which is controlled by government-linked companies. His son, Lee Hsien Loong, is now the party’s head and the country’s new prime minister.  While Singapore has recently ranked among the top in the world for “order and security” and “absence of corruption” it performs far worse in categories like “freedom of speech.”  Furthermore, trials are held without a jury, protests may only legally be held in one designated area, and certain social practices like homosexuality are outlawed.

 

While such statistics may Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 11.09.34 PMmake the country appear decidedly despotic, they more truthfully represent the government’s prioritization of the country’s national interest above individual liberty or other populist sentiments. Average workers may have little say in the decisions of executives (i.e., legislature and government), but have certainly enjoyed the benefits of Singapore’s explosive growth in productivity and prosperity. And indeed, the government’s policies and foresight have been the driving force behind this growth by making the country one of the most wholly attractive and easy places to do business in the world. Low taxes, loose financial regulations, harsh punishment of crime, the ease of requiring a visa or citizenship as a highly-skilled foreigner, and the pristine state of the city all helped to attract multinational corporations that the country in turn profited from. With duties targeting the more affluent, like the prohibitively expensive S$90,000 ownership license fee that one must pay before buying a car, Singapore has accumulated one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds that it devotes in part to the welfare of all citizens.  

 

Despite the government’s obsession with attracting foreign capital into the city, it does much to mitigate the ill effects associated with gentrification and income inequality through public investment in areas like public transport systems and nearly all the country’s schools. Perhaps most notable is the country’s subsidized public housing buildings, named HBDs after the Housing Development Board that manages them.Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 11.09.51 PM

The government uses HBDs to protect non-landowning locals from ballooning real estate costs & to promote harmony among Singapore’s many ethnic groups, a task it achieves by establishing a demographic breakdown in each apartment complex that mirrors the country’s as a whole– about 74% Chinese descent, 13% Malay descent, 9% Indian descent, and 3% of other descent.

Though Singapore receives understandable accusations of being a dictatorship in disguise, I find it difficult not to view the country as a phenomenal success of pragmatic opportunism and perhaps one of the best cases against direct democracy in the world. Without the government’s shrewd rule, defined by Lee Kuan Yew’s commitment to the country’s long-term interests over individual input, I doubt the country would have ever established the same beneficial policies that have led to its success as a thriving business hub. This process has resulted in first-rate living standards and access to opportunities for all Singaporeans, as well as an impressively active role of the country in global affairs. And while some may protest leadership, most Singaporeans seem satisfied with the status quo–  85% of citizens expressed faith in the government and judicial system according to a recent Gallup poll.

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