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THE Swiss business community in Singapore has re-branded itself as SwissCham to raise its profile in view of its growing importance here and to reflect its work as a chamber of commerce and industry. Previously it was known as the Swiss Business Association.
Having taken this major step forward, SwissCham has followed it up by introducing an annual award to recognise outstanding Swiss businesses which give priority to talent development. The SwissCham award is for "Excellence in People & Skills Development".
The winner of the inaugural SwissCham award is Singapore-based Firmenich Asia Pte Ltd. Its parent Swiss company, a world leader in developing and marketing fragrance and flavours, had a turnover of about US$3.3 billion in its last financial year.
In today's fast-paced knowledge economy, talent is not only crucial, it is also scarce. For many companies, finding and retaining the right talent is a top priority, says Tom Ludescher, chairman, SwissCham Singapore.
"Swiss companies and industries have a longstanding tradition to actively support the training and talent development of their employees. This importance of continuously investing in people and fostering a culture of constant development and lifelong learning is highly relevant for Singapore, which is reflected by the many initiatives launched or supported by the Singapore government, particularly through SkillsFuture Singapore," Dr Ludescher told The Business Times.
Try to imagine Singapore or Switzerland without their skilled, highly educated and motivated people. They would just be red dots on the global map without any significance. It is their talents that let them rank on top of the global talent rankings, he adds.
"Try to imagine watch-making without skills passing to successive generations over centuries. Switzerland and its watches would never have become such strong global brands representing quality, reliability and innovation. That's why the SwissCham decided to launch an Award for Excellence in People & Skills Development. We strongly believe in people, we believe in teamwork, lifelong learning and we believe in progress. That is why we decided to introduce this very first and unique award," says the SwissCham chief.
The nominations received for the inaugural SwissCham Award were evaluated by an independent jury, consisting of high ranking representatives from business and academia in Singapore. They were impressed by the variety of companies and different business activities nominated for the award.
"This alone is a reflection of the importance and recognition of skills in today's business world. From food to fabrics, from banking services to security issues, from Internet to logistics - the entries covered it all," Dr Ludescher says.
The scoring by the jury covered three elements: scope, commitment and results of the people and skills development initiatives of the nominees. "Being seen as visionaries, leaders and influencers in the respective field was definitely considered a pro for a high scoring; so was demonstrating a measurable impact by being a strong enabler for moving the company, industry or society forward, and adopting a people and skills development model which is sustainable and replicable," says Dr Ludescher.
Among the nominations, one company stood out for its approach of adapting the Swiss dual education model to the specific requirements and conditions in Singapore. Firmenich was chosen as the winner for its dedication to the development of the local workforce by its integrative and comprehensive training concept. It also promotes strong partnerships with local universities.
The award was presented at the SwissCham gala dinner on June 6. Among those present were the Swiss Federal Councillor Guy Parmelin, Switzerland's Ambassador to Singapore, Thomas Kupfer, as well as representatives from SkillsFuture Singapore, the Singapore Manufacturing Association, the Singapore Management University, the Nanyang Polytechnic, A*Star and the University of St Gallen HSG.
SwissCham Singapore has over 200 corporate members, representing all major industries of the Swiss economy, from services including banking and finance, insurance and reinsurance, transport and logistics, wealth management and other professional services to a broad range of high-tech industries, such as specialty chemicals or biotech as well as trade and luxury goods.
The members include the large Swiss multinationals, well established SMEs as well as innovative startup companies. Today, Swiss companies in Singapore employ about 28,000 people in the country, most of them Singaporeans. So the Swiss business community is an important employer in Singapore - and for Singaporeans, says Dr Ludescher.
"We serve our members by being a networking platform and facilitate doing business in Singapore through an active sharing of knowledge among our members. We are actively engaging with local companies and entrepreneurs as well as with other chambers of commerce in Singapore and the region. This is with the aim to promote Swiss companies and Swiss business culture in Singapore and foster trade growth and investment ties between Switzerland and Singapore," he adds.
Rajan Arul, general manager & vice-president, perfumery - Asia, Firmenich Asia, says that the company feels extremely honoured to have been recognised for its HR best practices, notably its excellence in people and talent development.
"Selected out of 11 major Singapore-based companies, this award pays tribute to our commitment to attract and retain the best talent in the industry in Singapore, Switzerland and beyond," Mr Arul says.
"As the largest privately owned company in the fragrance and flavour business, with a 122-year legacy of leading our business responsibly, talent is at the heart of our strategy. It is the talent of our colleagues that ultimately makes the difference. It's thanks to their expertise and passion around the world that we excel in creativity, innovation and sustainability, as well as delivering and executing with excellence.
"It is people who build companies and legacies. That's why as a company, we are determined to ensure that we support our colleagues globally to be the best they can be, by fulfilling their professional aspirations and reaching their full potential with Firmenich."
Firmenich says its business is creating emotions through the senses of taste and smell. It is a family-owned company, founded in Geneva, Switzerland in 1895. Through the fragrance and taste experiences it creates for customers, the company says that it touches over four billion consumers a day, across more than 130 markets, from their cereal in the morning, to their shampoo, shower gel or the fine fragrance they wear.
"Sustainability is at the core of our strategy. When you consider it takes 3.5 tons of rose petals to produce one kilo of rose essential oil; and one million roses to produce the 3.5 tons of rose petals, there is no other option for us than to harvest them sustainably, if we want our business to thrive for generations to come," says Mr Arul.
Firmenich has been in Singapore since 1974. By 1990, Firmenich Asia Pte Ltd was incorporated and it built a perfumery compounding plant at Tuas. Since then, its presence in the region has continued to grow and today the company has about 280 staff in all the three main business units: perfumery, flavours and ingredients.
In September, Firmenich will accelerate its growth in the region with the inauguration of a new Global Perfumery Creative Centre at Singapore Science Park I.