Singapore Power's (SP) senior adviser Quek Poh Huat lays the ground rules at the start of the interview. 

"This isn't about me, okay? The Singapore Energy Award belongs to the company. I was just fortunate to be here to oversee all this," says the 67-year-old, ironically also the inaugural winner of the Individual category of this year's awards. 

Mr Quek was appointed a director of SP Ltd in 2001 and became the group chief executive of SP from May 2004. He stepped down in January last year but is still on the frontline of addressing the sector's manpower crisis. 

He recently chaired the Power Sector Manpower Taskforce (PSMT) to develop recommendations for building manpower capabilities for Singapore's power sector. The challenges it highlighted included the ageing technical workforce and the difficulty of attracting and retaining younger Singaporeans. 

"At Singapore Power (SP), the average age of our workers is 43. And as the workforce ages, we need them to be replaced. We also want to ensure know-how is transferred," he said. 

"Working in the power sector is not seen as easy. People think that they will have to deal with harsh working conditions - having to be in substations and being on the ground. 

"But these conditions aren't always harsh. We also need to make people understand the opportunities." 

Mr Quek is no stranger to challenging situations. 

When SP introduced integrated billing for power, water and waste removal over 2000 and 2001, a computer glitch meant some households did not receive a bill for a year, then got them all at once. "It took 12 months to correct the faults," he recalls. "We had to work out instalment schemes. I even went to Parliament to explain to the MPs how to trickle down the information to their concerned constituents." 

Mr Quek was also under heat when, in 2004, the country experienced two outages. The first, in April, lasted 59 minutes and knocked out electricity supply to about 80,000 homes. The second, in June, left 30 per cent of the island in the dark for close to two hours. 

"Since then, most of the outages have been minor. Touch wood!" he says. 

Despite being in the sector just nine years, Mr Quek's list of contributions to it is long. 

Under his watch, SP has become one of the largest energy utility companies in the Asia Pacific with revenues of $8.97 billion in financial year 2012/2013. 

He has also been developing capabilities within the industry and addressing the sector's talent crunch through a variety of measures, including cultivating a close relationship with the unions. His efforts earned him the NTUC May Day Award - Medal of Commendation (Gold) in May last year. 

Mr RKS Nachiappan, general-secretary of the Union of Power & Gas Employees, says Mr Quek put in place more frequent meetings - both formal and casual - to understand the challenges and issues. 

"He has a real soft spot for the low-income group, and knows training is the best way to help make their lives better," Mr Nachiappan adds. 

In 2010, Mr Quek was heavily involved in implementing an industry-wide Work Skills Qualification (WSQ) System and even before re-employment of older workers was legislated, SP put such a scheme in place. 

Mr Quek also lent his support to bond-free scholarships for power workers and mooted the idea of the Singapore Power Heartware Fund to help the needy elderly in our community. 

"The three most important things in my life are family, friends and faith. I follow that when dealing with the union, staff, new recruits and retirees. We are a family, Singapore Power," Mr Quek says. 

Now retired, Mr Quek's focus will be on the Singapore Power Training Institute (SPTI). It currently conducts about 200 training sessions under 70 programmes annually covering areas such as electricity and gas network operations, business continuity management, and safety and power quality. 

His plan is to retain the expertise present in the industry by inviting retired power workers back to teach. He also sees room for Singapore to share what it knows with the region. 

"Singapore has invested so much and learnt hard lessons developing its know-how. This can be packaged and exported," he says. 

Also a priority is to ensure that Singapore continues "keeping the lights on". 

Singaporeans experience an average of just 25 seconds of outage a year. "And there is just a 0.01 per cent chance of a blackout. That's the best in the world," he says, beaming. 

It is a long way to have come for a man who remembers running through back lanes barefoot, electric trams in Orchard Road and calling it a night when daylight ended.

"The next 20 years will also be dramatically different from how it is now," he said, adding that the priority is finding the people who can keep things humming while also handling areas like electric cars and smart grids.

"We cannot afford to fail."