Friday, 28 June 2013 09:55

SA Power 100 – 2013: Naresh Singh

Jeremy Kuper and Medha Prakasam talk to Naresh Singh, General Manager of Eskom International


Bullet biography
Education: Executive MBA (Oxford University), BSc Eng Electrical (Natal), Executive development programme (Gordon Institute of Business Science)

Career trajectory:

2012: Appointed board member, South African Chamber of Commerce UK
2009: Appointed head of Eskom's International Offices, based at the main office in the UK
2002 – 2006 : Executive Manager – Regulation, National Electricity Regulator/National Energy Regulator

of South Africa
1997 – 2001: Regional Plant Manager, Eskom Distribution KZN
1995 – 1997: Electrical maintenance manager, Majuba Power Station
1993 – 1995: Contracts manager, Majuba Power Station
1991 – 1993: Junior engineer, Randcoal

How many people are in your office in the UK?
Presently we have a strength of 12, but our complement is 20.

Your role in the UK involves procurement and sourcing materials Eskom will need in SA?
Yes. First of all, what we do here is look to see how suppliers and potential suppliers are able to deliver what we want. Whether they have the technological capability, the resource capability and whether they can meet our quality and specification requirements.

What was the biggest challenge about coming to the UK for you and your family?
There are a number of things: the social infrastructure you have back home, and the degree to which you can rely on your extended relationships for support is not something you can find in a new country. It's something you have to recreate, so that's one of the difficulties we've experienced. Short of the language, it requires a lot of effort to bridge the gap culturally.

Could you give me an example?
Well, typically, your social interactions in the UK are very different from those in SA. For example, the way in which you think about travelling in the UK and the way you think about travelling in SA is very different. In SA you would jump into your car without having to leave your house, and you would reach your place of work without having to walk on the street. Here it's all very different and difficult to get used to it. When I got here I struggled to get used to the house designs too. In SA houses are laid out so there is a lot more outside living. All those things require time to get used to. You also need to be able to deal with the weather, but I really enjoy it here now. But it has taken some effort to get to where we are.

You did mention you had a bit of a proviso there around your children's education, so would you say to fellow South Africans who have kids in school that you need to wait until a certain period till you can go home? And how does that impact on your decision?
It does affect my decision and I have to be very conscious that my decisions are not disruptive to my children. My advice to other parents would be that they should recognise that the syllabus is different and parents should make adjustments. Make sure you look after these things very closely if you want your kids to get back on top of the game as quickly as they can.

So the natural career progression for you will be within Eskom but as Eskom has limited facilities outside SA I imagine you will be going back before long?Yes the plan is to wait for the end of my contract and go back home. My intention, as I say, was to get international experience, which is working out reasonably well. And at the end of the day, I want to go back into the company and into the country.

Do you understand now why British people always talk about the weather, or is that still funny?
I absolutely do. It takes a while, but I can relate to British culture now, British life, all aspects of British society. I mean, if I were to say the significant thing about today was that the sun was shining for two hours? Well, yeah I would absolutely relate to that.

But is it people that you miss the most?
Yeah, it's friends. It's extracurricular activities that involve people or religion or things that you would've taken for granted back home. They say everybody has a difficult first year when they first come to England.

Was that the case for you?
I think that's definitely a good assessment. And then after about a year you started to realise that you had actually developed some social infrastructure around you and around your family and it felt all right. I think that after six months, the sun started coming out, we were having barbeques, and by that stage we were all quite comfortable in the environment.