“I’m the only one in my family with a strong passion for design. Everybody else in business. My dad’s a businessman. My mom’s in the beauty line and owns a salon. My younger sister is in the banking sector. I’m in the business of the arts.”
From designing Christmas cards and the function hall of his high school building at 14, coming up with the best concept on the smallest budget, Desmond pursued a creative career at 18, studying graphics, linear forms, colors and Visual Communications.
Now 27, he’s doing what he has always loved for Singapore-based Interior Design (ID) and related services provider, DB&B Group of Companies, overseeing the Philippines and the South East Asian operations of its commercial ID and multimedia arm.
“Interior design is not just about beautifying space,” he explained. “It’s about making occupants enjoy the space. I want to turn empty spaces into something functional and at the same time, good to look at. It’s more challenging than drawing in paper. I believed 45 years later, it will still be challenging for me.”
His mentor, DB&B’s co-founder and regional managing director, Billy Siew, hired him as a trainee in 2004.
“He taught me a lot – then and up to now. DB&B creates a good platform for young people to grow.” Desmond was the perfect proof, rising to Group General Manager in just 4 years with the company.
DB&B credits him for its rise as the city-state’s most preferred Commercial ID and Project Management establishment. He was named Top Project Manager in his first year, the youngest recipient of the award in the company history ever.
Being too young was never a setback for Desmond. “Age is just a number,” he quipped. “I know what I do and I believe in what I commit. I present myself to clients with confidence and they have confidence in me.” He works hands-on. “I learned everything, from how carpets are laid and how tables are built to top management tasks.”
Designing for corporate clients is more than aesthetics, however. At the end of each day, Desmond has to decide fast so they can meet deadlines. Every well, he turns in reports. He has to make clients understand the design function, the schedule, the cost implications. “We have to communicate very clearly.”
DB&B takes a pro-active relationship with clients and zeroes in on the smallest details during projects discussions, from the best materials to the best furniture and fixtures – mid-range priced for those building offices on a short-term lease and premium, high quality for those intending to stay long-term.
Definitely, it’s more complicated than designing houses, with more to consider corporate culture and practically, among them. Bright colors and clean lines go well for call center with young agents but it’s wiser to stick to the traditional look when doing conservative institutions like banks. Some departments need to be close to one another. Seating ans space sharing has to be provided. And everything has to be finished in time. Even a single day of delay costs a lot.
It was tough going at first. At one point, “I almost gave up. But now, I’m glad that I didn’t. When you have passion, you don’t need determination. My mentor taught me the ropes. He warned me he has to throw me in the jungle. I run projects on my own though his voice was behind me whenever I hit a wall. He knows I have to make mistakes in order to learn and I must be answerable to my mistakes. That’s why now I’ll never say there’s a problem. There’s always a situation and they can always be solved.”
Nevertheless, every project is a challenge. “I work with people from different cultures – Americans, Germans, Chinese, Filipinos. I study each culture to see eye to eye with the clients.” DB&B operates beyond the city state to Kuala Lumpur, Beijing, Shanghai, Manila and Mumbai. Add to that, it specializes not just in ID but also in project management, interior allocation, space planning and construction restoration. Its market base spans the whole range from giant multinationals to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) across diverse industries, with designing requirements from 16,000 square meters to 100 square meters.
Giving people the best product at the shortest possible time at the most efficient cost was always top priority. So much so that the company set up a Corporate Services Department to provide value-added services and developed the DB&B Methodology to continue servicing clients after handing over the project.
And that’s why for the past two years DB&B ranked among the top 500 performing companies in Singapore and among the top 100 SMEs not just in its home country but Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia as well. “DB&B kept pace with the rapidly growing Asian market,” Desmond noted. Naturally, “We want to duplicate, if not surpass, our success in the Philippines.”
Just by chance, DB&B outfitted the office of its first Filipino client in 2006 and saw the emerging demands for offshore call centers and business process outsourcing (BPOs). In the same year, DB&B opened an overseas office in Makati and less than a couple of years later, tripled its manpower.
Despite the global economic crisis, demand for corporate offices, new, expanding, renovating or relocating, will always be there. Hence, DB&B expects 20 to 40 percent growth for the regional design and build industry in strong markets like India and China and up to 40 percent growth in the Philippines. “Our prospects until 2010 are still looking bright.”
So far, DB&B’s corporate interior design and build projects in Makati can be seen at the Enterprise Centre, RCBC Plaza, RCBC Tower, Equitable Tower, Exportbank Plaza, LKG Tower, Philam Life Tower, Salcedo Towers, Rufino Tower, Ayala 6750, Robinsons Summit, Roche Building and PBCom Tower.
Its Quezon City projects are in the Cyber One, Eastwood, Olympic Heights and E-Commerce Plaza. In Taguig City, the company designed offices at One World Square, NetCube and Fort Banifacio; the Ayala Life-FGU Center and Paragon Plaza in Muntinlupa City; the Raffles in Pasig City and the Atlas Copco in Paranaque City.
DB&B started in crisis during the Asian economic meltdown of the 90′s and flourished in crisis. “We went through it well,” Desmond reflected. “Our strategy changes depending on the economy. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. We strategize two years in advance and a lot depends on our methodology. It’s very detailed and includes how we do out projects, our work process flow, human resource policies, after sales service.”
In fact, the DB&B methodology is the company bible evolving 13 years since the company was born. So far, it has gone through 7 revisions and Desmond was proud to contribute to perfecting it. “Many parties contributed and we never stop working to improve it.
This is what makes us 3 steps ahead of our competitors.
Part of the methodology is taking care of accounts before, during and after sales. “Even before they sign the contract, we advise clients if the space is feasible for their needs and workroom process for free. We do feasibility studies to help them decide where to locate. We don’t disappear after the handover. There’s no perfect project. Sometimes, items like hooks and paintings are missing, door handles are loose, or carpets stained. If the lights suddenly go off, we change the bulbs. We do reconfiguration, add chairs and carpeting. Of course, we give a one year warranty after completing the work. But we have maintenance contracts servicing clients all the way till they move again so they can concentrate more on their business.”
Beyond the business, DB&B is committed to its social responsibility. “The DB&B Foundation wants to give back to society in every country we operate. We want to teach underprivileged children about arts and crafts and improve their lives. Right now, we are looking for philanthropic in Manila.”
In the future DB&B looks forward to global expansion although to date: “We are concentrating in Asia. Once we have a stronghold here in 2 to 3 years, we’ll target the European market. We believe that in crisis, there’s always opportunity. The greater the challenge, the greater the opportunity.”
Personally, Desmond sees himself growing with the company over the next decade. “I’ll still be here though I’ll look older. I’ll bring DB&B to the next level, expanding regional personnel, improving our methodology.”
At the moment, he keeps a tight schedule but feels relaxed and unruffled while at work. “I wake up at 7.30am. If I don’t have appointments, I meet with bankers and potential clients the whole day. At the office, it’s meetings with finance manager, HR managers, project managers, sales, technical people. I communicate with my mentor often. I stay up to 10-11pm if I don’t have dinners with clients. At night I can think best, when it’s quiet.”
When he can, Desmond still attends art shows. “I like to see how the artists portray themselves.” He himself used to paint abstracts in gouache, in hot colors, Andy Warhol-style. “I find my inspiration in coffee shops and on the road. It comes naturally when you have a passion for design, it can come in all sort of places. I attend musicals and plays, too. I love Broadway and classical ballet.”
After all is said and done, the most important thing in his life remains to be DB&B, where he is most happy. “I have passion for both business and creativity. Being in DB&B, I have the best of both worlds. I’m in the business of being creative.”
Source: Manila Bulletin, February 2009