He's 'Dad' to 350

Meet Mr Karuppiah Arumugam - father of one at home, but father figure to some 350 at work.

The 53-year-old, who is the senior manager of the Certis Cisco Aviation Security team at Changi Airport, gets such respect and affection from his staff and subordinates that many of them call him "papa" or "daddy".

"It's not about his age, but his level of experience and his concern for us," explains his deputy Mr Yan Hoi Leong, who, at 49, is not much younger.

"He has been a very encouraging figure. He pushed for me to go for further studies and even helped me get a sponsorship from the company."

Some of his officers are older than him, but still look up to him as a father figure.

"One of my staff is 76 years old, but it's still important to guide them and listen to them," says Mr Aru, as he is more affectionately known as to his staff.

"I tell them when they've done a fantastic job and they tell me 'Thank you so much, you're like my dad.'"

Having worked his way up through the years, he now heads a team of more than 350 frontline security staff at Changi Airport, and is well-known for involving himself in their lives as a caring leader.

For instance, he personally made arrangements for aviation security officer Emily Shok, 33, to be transferred to an administrative position during her pregnancy.

He even has a list of all his colleagues' birthdays pinned to his cubicle and has been known to buy meals and top up EZ-Link cards for his officers in financial difficulty.

"He really treats us like family," says Miss Tai Chiew Yen, 34, who has been working with Mr Aru for about a year.

"On our birthdays, he sings for us and gives us chocolates."

The man himself says he doesn't feel awkward or embarrassed by the term of endearment.

"I treasure the title, it shows that they have trust in me," he says with a smile.

"They know they can always approach me for anything, whether for work matters or personal affairs. That's very important for staff bonding."

As an auxiliary police officer at the airport in 2001, Mr Aru won Changi Airport's Service Personality of the Year award for going out of his way to help a stranded Canadian girl, even putting her up with his family for a few days while he frantically arranged for her to get on a flight to Chennai, India.

His own daughter, 26-year-old teacher Ushanthini Arumugam, recalls treating the girl "like a cousin" and going shopping with her.

"Daddy is just that kind of person. He would always want to help anyone who is in need," she says.

But Madam Ushanthini admits that he was strict when she was a child and "everything had to be proper".

The proud father says: "Of course, when she was younger, it was different. But a good education and a little bit of discipline are enough to guide her along.

"By the time she was in Primary 4, she was very independent."

"Now that I've earned his trust, I enjoy a lot of freedom," says Madam Ushanthini. "He's like a friend to me, we share a lot of things and I always look to him for advice when making big decisions."

When she turned 18, he even took her to a pub to show her what it was like. And when she celebrated her 21st birthday, he was right there partying with her and her friends from polytechnic.

Changi Airport is, of course, their second home. The family would go there for meals, and her father would be greeted by all and sundry.

Madam Ushanthini recently got married to her boyfriend of nine years, but her father is not ready to let go of her just yet.

"I remember daddy telling my boyfriend, 'Make sure you take care of my diamond!' " she says.

"Whenever I'm out late, he will wait until I come home before going to bed. If I'm not home safe, he can't have proper sleep."

This article was first published on June 15, 2014.
Get The New Paper for more stories.