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AS Singapore stands on what promises to be an economic upturn, the world economy has changed irrevocably. In navigating the recovery, many of Singapore's companies have the opportunity to emerge stronger than ever.
However, we cannot expect it to be business as usual. Digital disruption has forever changed how we live our lives, and how business is done. As our enterprises are a key pillar of Singapore's economy, a major impetus needs to be given to help them develop skills and capabilities, test-bed new ideas, secure finance and compete with confidence in this new business era.
2017 marks the 23rd year of the Enterprise 50 (E50) Awards. Over the years, our local enterprises have demonstrated the value of the word "tenacity" - responding and many overcoming the challenges of an increasingly disruptive business climate.
With the rise of technology, many enterprises have shown me that innovation and going digital do not have to involve major business restructuring. Rather, it is about increasing their market share, targeting new markets and introducing new products.
As one of the judges for the Enterprise 50 Awards, I am pleased to see that our local enterprises are not consumed by short-term pressures but rather, the future and its accompanying challenges.
Though different in their own way, they all share common traits such as adaptability to market changes, along with a commitment and loyalty to customers.
With the limitations of Singapore's domestic market, companies like Vector InfoTech have had to look beyond our shores to grow. Today, Vector's gross turnover from overseas is 82 per cent and the company has international footprints spanning across 12 subsidiaries worldwide.
In China, Vector has adapted and localised its business model to take advantage of the One Belt One Road initiative since last year. For gaining international success, Vector is accorded the special recognition award for internationalisation at the E50 Awards this year.
Through visionary planning and strong corporate governance, many E50 winners have been able to introduce innovations that have enhanced their product or service over time.
They should, however, not forget corporate governance - something while more often associated with larger listed companies, but if adopted by enterprises even in a more basic form, promises to help even smaller businesses grow more sustainably.
Robust International, an agribusiness firm, implements stringent risk control programmes and policies that are followed strictly by all employees. A continual risk assessment monitoring of the company's suppliers is carried out in terms of reliability, quality, cost efficiency and competitiveness of cargo supplies before any contractual obligations.
Robust also maintains a continual risk assessment of its customers in terms of their financial capacities and market ethics, based on past business dealings and current market information. As such, the company has no past or current litigation since its incorporation.
INVESTING IN EMPLOYEES
Another trait common among the cream of our E50 crop is a clear and strong organisational structure. Decision making is decentralised, and executives are empowered to make the necessary decisions. This has helped their companies move towards establishing a finer balance between owner control and professional management.
Our top ranked E50 company this year, Onn Wah Precision Engineering, is a family business but the company is open to bringing in new talent and nurturing existing competent employees.
Instead of having family members undertake leadership and ownership of the company, the directors have emphasised meritocracy and qualities such as capabilities, attitude, values and leadership as the main deciding factors when it comes to succession planning.
Currently, Onn Wah has been nurturing a team of capable managers through mentorship by current core management personnel and a progressive delegation of authority to the team of managers.
The need to attract and retain the right talent is also a pressing need for local enterprises. In return, they engender the loyalty of their professional staff. This allows knowledge to be preserved and enhanced both in good times and bad. It places them in a position to take advantage of growth opportunities.
A COLLABORATIVE MINDSET
Each year, the E50 Awards brings to our attention many enterprising and successful companies. It has also, over the years, become a barometer of the vibrancy of the enterprise sector. The enterprises I have named here, and many others like them, give us the confidence that Singapore will continue to thrive as a home for bold entrepreneurs and innovative enterprises.
While growth gets a leg-up from the many government incentives available to facilitate enterprise growth, the real push for growth must come from the enterprises themselves. In this respect, many would do well to imbue some of the qualities shown by the E50 winners - both past and present.
Now more than ever, we need to draw on the strengths and resourcefulness of the private sector to chart a new course for entrepreneurship in Singapore. And to do that, we need to build an ecosystem to promote collaboration with SMEs so that they can grow to become global names.
This collaboration can come in many forms - among SMEs and between SMEs and larger corporations. For instance, startups and family businesses can benefit from the experiences, processes and branding of larger companies, while the bigger firms get fresh ideas and innovation for their own operations.
In short, business need not be a solo venture. It could be about going on a business venture together, or as simple as exchanging advice or ideas. Enterprises can then achieve competitiveness that is vital to their future profitability.