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TOP corporate leaders who were instrumental in driving transformational changes and charting a new path for their companies were honoured for their achievements at the 32nd edition of the Singapore Business Awards (SBA) on Tuesday night.
Heinrich Jessen, chairman of Jebsen & Jessen (SEA), took the top award - Businessman of the Year - for building his family business into a regional powerhouse comprising seven core business units.
Today, Jebsen & Jessen (SEA) employs more than 4,000 people spread across over 50 subsidiaries and associated companies; it has also distinguished itself as one of the first carbon-neutral industrial companies in Asia.
Speaking at the SBA presentation dinner, Mr Jessen said: "When my father came (to Singapore) in 1963 and started the company, he was attracted by an enlightened government, a rock-solid legal system, safe streets, clean environment and good foundations and conditions for business, and a youthful enthusiasm of a young and growing nation. These conditions and qualities remain today as well. That is something that every businessman and businesswoman of Singapore can appreciate."
Singapore Airlines (SIA) chief Goh Choon Phong was named Outstanding Chief Executive of the Year for his role in repositioning the airline group to better tackle industry headwinds for the long term.
In his speech, he pointed to the challenging operating environment and stiff competition, which are putting downward pressure on yields. The airline group has responded by implementing strategic initiatives, from investing in overseas carriers in India and Thailand to building new streams of revenue via adjacent businesses, such as pilot training.
"These initiatives are not small in nature, and when carrying out a transformation, the senior management team needs the strong support of both the board and the employees," Mr Goh said. "We are fortunate to have had this support, to put us in a stronger position for the future."
Meanwhile, Quek Chin Yeow, deputy chairman of Sotheby's Asia and chairman of international jewellery for Sotheby's Asia, was awarded Outstanding Overseas Executive of the Year. He was lauded for being the driving force behind Sotheby's growth in Asia as well as for capitalising on opportunities in the emerging Chinese market.
He said: "If I were to pinpoint one single pivotal thing that has transformed the art business, it is that art today is regarded as an asset class . . . This has become super important and crucial, and has galvanised the whole industry."
Finally, mainboard-listed Straco Corporation took home the Enterprise Award for its success in carving out a place as one of the few key foreign players in China's tourism sector, as well as for its role in turning the Singapore Flyer into a top tourist attraction here.
Accepting the award on behalf of the company was founder Wu Hsioh Kwang, who spoke about the challenges the company faced when it made its foray into China's tourism market.
"But through the joint efforts of the team and adoption of effective business strategies, we were able to achieve consistent results year after year," he added.
Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) and Second Minister for Defence Ong Ye Kung was the guest of honour at the black-tie event held at The Ritz-Carlton Millenia, Singapore.
In his speech, he touched on the Committee on the Future Economy's projections of the "seemingly underwhelming projection" of 2-3 per cent gross domestic product (GDP) growth for Singapore in the medium term, noting that Singapore's GDP per capita today is already significantly higher than it was a decade ago.
"If a business can leverage technology, venture overseas, take its talent abroad like many MNCs do, and tap the high-growth markets of the region, it will perform far better than this macro number," he said.
Jointly organised by The Business Times and DHL Express Singapore since 1985, the SBA has become Singapore's most prestigious business accolade.
Wong Wei Kong, chairman of the SBA organising committee and editor of The Business Times, said: "The Singapore Business Awards honour business leaders who have demonstrated continued commitment to excellence and leadership in innovation, talent development and sustainability. Their achievements have been instrumental in shaping the narrative of the Asian economic success story, overcoming challenges and seizing new opportunities within and outside their respective industries!"
Ken Lee, chief executive of DHL Express (Asia Pacific), said that building a successful business and keeping it relevant to the times is a constant challenge.
He added: "In honouring these business leaders, we recognise their personal and corporate achievements and, importantly, the great inspiration they serve to the local business community."
READ MORE: Special Report: Singapore Business Awards