WHEN Mr Abu Bakar joined Keppel Shipyard in 1990 as a diploma holder, he never thought he could rise to become a chief executive officer.

The Singapore Polytechnic graduate started out as an assistant safety officer and slowly moved up the ranks, working in other areas such as production and marketing.

Today, the 48-year-old has been the CEO of Nakilat-Keppel Offshore and Marine, a shipyard in Qatar, for nearly four years.

"I was blessed, as Keppel guided me and really groomed me, entrusting me with more responsibilities along the way," said the father of two daughters aged 16 and 20.

He held posts overseeing Keppel subsidiaries such as Alpine Engineering Services, as well as its shipyards in Tuas, Benoi and Gul Road.

"It is about having pride in your work and doing your job well," he said. "There is some merit in having qualifications, but that should not be the only way we identify people with high potential.

"People may be late bloomers, or they missed chances to be educated because of bad timing or financial reasons."

"I appreciate that Keppel takes the lead in training and developing staff, and pays us according to our experience and skills," he said, adding he had gone for company-sponsored management and financial courses.

Last year, he completed an Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) course with the Singapore Management University (SMU) which was also funded by the company.

This was done with the help of Mr Choo Chiau Beng, the former chief of Keppel Corp, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. "He (Bakar) didn't have a degree; he had a poly diploma. The EMBA needed a degree to start," said Mr Lee. "Mr Choo Chiau Beng wrote a letter to SMU vouching for Bakar's experience and capabilities. So, employer support is very important."

Mr Bakar, a brigade commander in the Singapore Armed Forces, was also promoted recently to the rank of colonel as an NSman.

Mr Lee said: "I first met him when he was commissioned in the old Safti parade square 25 years ago on his commissioning parade, and I was very happy to discover on the day I interviewed him, that was the day he was being promoted."

"You do not need a degree to be a good commander," he added.

Mr Bakar said: "Upgrading should not be about getting promoted or higher salaries, but about helping you perform better at your job. Most people think you must get a degree to be successful, but I don't think so. There are other ways for you to get up.

"I tell my daughters this, 'Don't rush through school to get a degree. Enjoy school, build relationships with friends, so that you can understand life and your craft better'."