Sound & Stage spends a most pleasant afternoon at the particularly homely RedFilo HQ, talking to founder and managing director Pach Ang about the industry, EXPO 2020 and winning the coveted Employer of the Year accolade at the recent Middle East EVENT Awards
Firstly, congratulations for the award Pach. What does it mean to you to win such an important event industry accolade?
Of course it’s definitely a big honour, especially for a young company in the market. We’ve only been here six years, so to win Employer of the Year is very special – to have the judges and the industry appreciate what we do is amazing.
What do you attribute the success to?
People know us as a good company to partner with think. My style of running the company is completely opposite to that of a corporate business. I believe in a lot of bonding, and a family set-up. You can see here from the way I set-up the environment that it’s very different to the norm.
It’s a very open, free place, we’re strong on bonding and big on camaraderie. That’s why we eat lunch and sometimes even dinner together! We cook lunch different every day, one day we’ll do Italian, one day Singaporean, another we’ll do American – burgers and all that! I have a champion Filipino chef, he can do anything.!
Though sometimes staff take it in turns to cook their speciality for the team. In Singapore we believe in one thing, ‘A family that eats together, stays together.’
How do you endeavour to make RedFilo a great place to work?
Honestly it’s not about me, it’s about the whole team – the people must be very happy and motivated. And motivation is the most important factor.
How do I get that motivation? Training...and a lot of passion! My job when they come here for an interview is to kick their ass – I joke around to them: “I’m going to make sure you quit!” and ask them “You prove me wrong, prove to me you’re not a quitter and you want to be here.”
It’s a mentality I get from being in the special forces for 32 years, when we train, we train hard. But when we do things - we do them together.
I have a bell in my office, because in the Navy Seals they told us “ring this bell when you want to quit”. Obviously we don’t want people to quit, so having it here in the office is something of an inspirational, symbolic statement more than anything else.
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You have a very interesting background, 30 years in the Singapore Armed Forces as a special forces commando – why the drastic career change?
It was a case of been there, done that. Done too much of the soldier stuff. 32 years, honestly is a damn long time! My Dad served in the British Army so from a very young age I wanted to be a soldier. When you start young you push yourself a lot, and I did a lot of land, sea and air extreme activities.
And when you do too much, you reach a certain age and don’t know what else to push. Age is catching up, and people don’t want you to kick the door down anymore – they will get a younger guy to do it.
Also, when you get older in the forces you go into an admin or instructor role, and that’s boring. So I thought “OK, it’s time for me to look at other opportunities.’ I didn’t even know if I had the creative potential to do events, I just knew I had leadership qualities - but maybe that wouldn’t translate to the corporate world. So I spoke to my wife and said “I love the commandos, I just think it’s time to look at other opportunities.”
So how did that change bring you to events?
There was an enquiry for the IDEX (International Defence Exhibition) opening ceremony in Abu Dhabi in 2009. That ceremony is all about the military stuff and then I was still in the military. My good friend is an ex-Commando who was invited to come in for the pitch. He had no clue about conceptualising or going about this kind of event, so he came to me asking for help.
So I came to Abu Dhabi, and we got the job. I left the organisation and the army – we did everything for the ceremony – it was humongous, huge. I stayed here with a very small team - about five or six of us from Singapore - and we waited for the next pitch.
Then we were quite fortunate to have a tender from Abu Dhabi Tourism to do ‘Summer in Abu Dhabi’. I conceptualised the whole festival – and we started to build in 2009, and won it again in 2011 and 2012.
Has your forces background shaped the way you operate in the events industry at all?
Well the military shaped me to have that sense of leadership and ability to command a group of people. But it’s not just about leadership and teaching people how to do events – it’s about the passion.
When I do events, I want to create things – I want my people to have the same feeling. We’re not a company that just researches, cuts and pastes. I want to design and conceptualise something that is not in the market, something that belongs to us.
I guess this stems from the military, where you go through a lot of detail and meticulous planning. RedFilo doesn’t do a LOT of events, we’re very niche, but when we want to do something...we want to do it really well.
You’re based in Abu Dhabi, are you not tempted to move to Dubai and the more vibrant events scene?
I like it here, I started out here and I think there are a lot of things to be done in Abu Dhabi still. Dubai is too competitive, everybody wants to do an event there.
One opening ceremony comes up and everyone rushes to Dubai. I think if you’re in your backyard, and don’t know your neighbours really well – there is no point going to someone else’s backyard just yet. That’s how I feel about Abu Dhabi.
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What do you think EXPO 2020 will mean to the industry?
Honestly I think with Expo 2020, there are a lot more people outside the our existing technical, event and production company sphere that are interested. I know people from Singapore setting up offices for it. Now, if the current industry players are not strong enough and don’t work together, other people will be kicking our ass.
Why? Because among ourselves we are competing, people are out for each other. You’ll have big companies from the UK and Australia who will be fresh and hold their own appeal, so in the next five years we have to do it together, work together and do it for the UAE. The industry needs to connect and not compete, see how we can collaborate and strengthen.
Finally, why the name RedFilo?
It’s from a Commando origin, and as a Commando I donned the red beret. To us when you are presented with that, it means honour and prestige. That’s your blood, sweat and tears and I wanted to remind myself of that value. Secondly, my surname in ethnic Chinese means red.
As for FILO, in events – like in the special forces, we are the first ones in (Fi), and last ones out (Lo). So I always tell my clients, “if you give me this job, I guarantee I’ll be the first one in, and the last one out.”