The fear of having to close down the firm that his father had set up and passed to him was what spurred Pek Lian Guan, CEO of Tiong Seng Contractors, to embark on a learning journey in the early 2000 to introduce new and innovative processes at the construction firm.

Said Mr Pek: "We started looking for a framework to help us improve in 2000. Those were the darker days for the construction industry. A lot of contractors got into trouble."

At the time, Tiong Seng had been around for 40 years. "I can't let it die when it is in my hands," he said.

The spectre of losing his business prompted Mr Pek to think hard about the characteristics that enabled multinational contractors to not only ride the tough times, but also break into new markets.

While doing some research, he chanced upon the Singapore Quality Class (SQC) - a certification for the overall excellence standard that provides organisations with a holistic model for managing business.

"Back then everyone asked: 'Why would a contractor want to get involved in SQC?' But we thought well, in the year 2000 there was nothing much to do," recalled Mr Pek.

Spring Singapore organised classes that were specially tailored to the firm, which helped Tiong Seng "to continuously explore what we can do better", he said.

Thanks to those classes and the many overseas trips that the firm has embarked on to learn from overseas players, Tiong Seng is today considered an industry leader.

Last year, it developed Singapore's first precast automation hub, the Tiong Seng Prefab Hub, which can produce twice as many precast components as a conventional plant, but using only a third of the workers.

The contractor is also a pioneer in adopting advanced construction technologies such as the modular formwork system, which reaps a more than 30 per cent productivity improvement compared to conventional technology.

It is also a proponent of workplace safety. Last year, it was among three contractors lauded by property developer CapitaLand for its "exemplary safety records" at the property giant's residential project sites.

Yesterday, Tiong Seng was one of three companies to clinch the Singapore Quality Award 2013 at the Business Excellence Awards ceremony. The other two winners were the Building and Construction Authority and Nanyang Girls' High School.

In total, six awards were given out, including a prize for innovation and a special commendation award. The Business Excellence Awards are given by the Singapore Quality Award Governing Council.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs, said at the awards ceremony yesterday: "In Singapore, our companies . . . face a tightening labour market and must find ways to reduce reliance on labour, and become more innovative and productive, so that we can achieve high-quality growth."

Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) can benefit from putting in place Business Excellence practices - robust management practices, processes and value systems - and firms which have benefited from putting such practices in place can play an important role to help others, he said.

"Larger organisations can share their expertise and help build up the capabilities of SMEs. And small and nimble SMEs can help test-bed new solutions, and be good innovation partners for larger organisations."

This is why a group of 20 Business Excellence certified organisations, including past award winners, are working with their SME partners and suppliers.

Together, these organisations form the Partnerships for Capability Transformation, or PACT, Circle. They have committed to projects that aim to benefit some 100 SMEs within the next year.