Staying ahead amid more diverse needs and expectations

Winners of the Singapore Corporate Governance Award share how their companies manage in an increasingly complex environment.

Jude Chan
Published Mon, Oct 24, 2022 · 05:50 AM

Roundtable Panellists

Keppel Corporation: Till Vestring, lead independent director Del Monte Pacific: Rolando Gapud, executive chairman PropNex: Ismail Gafoor, executive chairman and CEO Stamford Tyres Corporation: Frank Ng, group financial controller

Moderator: Jude Chan, The Business Times

Q: What would you rate as the top corporate governance challenge for your company, and why?

Vestring: Companies today operate in an increasingly complex environment. Companies have moved from focusing on shareholders to their broader stakeholders, who have diverse needs and expectations. This has expanded the responsibilities and roles expected of companies like Keppel and of its directors.

Gapud: The disruptive forces unleashed by the global pandemic and geopolitical conflict have been ground-shaking tests of resilience. Staying resilient is grounded in sustainability, which is rooted in environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices that mitigate the risk of such disruption.

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Gafoor: Our top corporate governance challenge for the company is upholding the professionalism standards and the brand of PropNex for our growing salesforce of close to 12,000 consultants.

Our salesforce has grown consistently throughout the years. We feel that this continuous growth and retention of these consultants – while upholding their professional standards as they carry out their roles with integrity and transparency – is our greatest commitment.

Ng: At the moment, we are focused on enhancing our engagement with various stakeholders including shareholders, regulators, staff, customers, suppliers and our communities to address a wide spectrum of concerns.

Among other things, these include timely communication and shareholder engagement, social inclusion, environmental initiatives and goals, customer satisfaction, product diversification, product quality, workplace safety and health, equal opportunities, career development and sustainable business performance.

Q: How has the company worked towards overcoming these challenges?

Vestring: At Keppel, we have a clear purpose and mission and that is to deliver solutions for sustainable urbanisation.

Having sustainability at the core of Keppel’s strategy serves as a compass – guiding us in our transformation as we streamline and focus our business – to make our operations more sustainable and pursue opportunities in sustainability-related solutions. We have committed ourselves to halving our Scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions by 2030 and achieving net zero by 2050.

This clarity in our purpose and in our strategy helps the board and management prioritise among many different and possibly conflicting goals.

Gapud: The Del Monte Pacific board’s governance of sustainability is part of our corporate governance. With our board’s leadership, the company has a forward-looking enterprise risk management and ESG integration that helps us mitigate risk and promote resilience.

The board’s responsibilities with respect to sustainability is a core topic in the ESG training of directors which the Singapore Exchange (SGX) has mandated together with 27 ESG metrics, which include best practices in governance.

Gafoor: PropNex is conscientiously innovating to add value to our salesforce and staff. We ensure that our benefits are adequate and their welfare is taken care of. The training programmes provided to equip our salespersons with the necessary knowledge to conduct their business, guided by values of ethics and integrity, are part of the roadmap to align them.

Ng: We have established multiple engagement channels to understand the different views of key stakeholders, and address their concerns and expectations. These include corporate announcements, annual reports, sustainability reports, timely consultations and engagement with regulatory and governance agencies, community campaigns, email communication, as well as internal and external meetings.

Q: Are there any corporate governance-related initiatives that your company has embarked on? How successful have these been?

Vestring: There are many. In line with the board’s commitment to achieve a good balance of skills, knowledge, experience as well as diversity among directors, we refreshed Keppel Corporation’s board with the appointment of two new independent directors in 2022, with a wealth of experience in digitalisation and sustainability respectively.

Keppel was the first listed Singapore company to establish a Board Safety Committee in 2006. Reflecting the commitment of Keppel Corporation’s board to give greater focus to sustainability, we established in May 2022 a Board Sustainability and Safety Committee (BSSC).

The role of the existing Board Safety Committee has been subsumed under the BSSC, whose roles include reviewing the company’s sustainability strategy, ensuring that the group has an effective governance structure for sustainability matters, overseeing the adoption of and progress towards the company’s sustainability goals and targets, as well as overseeing the company’s health, safety, and environmental performance.

We have also incorporated specific sustainability targets in our annual scorecard, as well as in the long-term incentives of top management.

These are examples of how we are enhancing our governance structures and strengthening our capabilities amid a fast-changing environment to drive the group’s transformation and growth.

Gafoor: We rolled out the first Real Estate Salespersons Chapter in October last year, a formalised framework supported by the Singapore Industrial and Services Employees’ Union (SISEU). This serves to look into welfare, promote professionalism in enhancing business and industry practices, and offers a platform for raising issues and protecting real estate salespersons. This allows PropNex salespersons to take the lead in playing a more active and vital role in voicing their concerns and educating fellow PropNex salespersons of fair practices in the industry.

This strengthens PropNex’s offering as a fair and progressive real estate agency as we adopt fair recruitment and best practices within the industry when contracting with salespersons and establishing a dispute resolution mechanism for salespersons.

As a homegrown company, PropNex believes in giving back to the community and in creating social impact. As the company’s corporate social responsibility philosophy focuses on empowering the younger generation, the beneficiaries were selected for their programmes that support children with special needs and those from lower-income families. First launched in 2013, this annual donation drive – with contributions from the company and its salespersons – continues to signal the strength of PropNex’s commitment in playing its part in uplifting communities.

In a move that is the first of its kind, PropNex’s salespersons have been pledging a portion of their commission to Community Chest’s regular giving SHARE programme since 2013. Through this, they have been able to donate regularly and conveniently. Our goal set in 2013 was to contribute S$5 million by 2023, and we are heartened that this was met a year ahead with a contribution of S$800,000 this year.

Our cumulative efforts in raising money for the less fortunate are always in our minds, no matter how successful we become. We are currently working towards raising another S$400,000 by the end of this year for the Chen Su Lan Methodist Children’s Home.

To continue improving our corporate governance policies, we have an internal control department and work with audit firms to work on the governance standards across the board locally. This was then adapted to overseas franchisees as we searched for the right partners to expand beyond Singapore. We are heartened to share that our brand presence in Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Australia is testament to how others would like to learn from PropNex Singapore.

Ng: We are committed to striking a balance between growth, profit, governance, environment, the development of our people and well-being of our communities to secure the long-term future of the Stamford Tyres Group. This is reflected in our sustainable business strategy that highlights our environmental, social, governance factors, performance and customer experience. To this effect, we have been working with our corporate governance consultants to develop measurable metrics in our annual sustainability reporting.

The board of directors provides continual oversight over the company’s business strategies, risk-taking and long-term sustainability, in addition to keeping up to date with regulatory developments in the area of corporate governance. This is to ensure that the necessary processes and procedures for self-regulation and internal evaluation practices are in place to enhance measurable corporate performance and accountability.

Q: How would you say the implementation of good corporate governance practices has helped the company?

Vestring: Strong stewardship and governance are fundamental to the success of any company. Our robust internal processes and practices have helped to engender a reputation of trust, which is an important differentiator that has helped Keppel win the confidence of our investors as well as customers. We are also honoured to be conferred the highest AAA rating in the Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI) ESG ratings, a rating which Keppel has held since early 2020.

Gapud: The global clarion call to strengthen governance in an ESG context is indeed a more holistic approach. Not only is it a broader response but is also part of a solution to minimise disruption in the first place caused by inadequate governance. Stakeholder engagement is an ESG principle that promotes corporate transparency and good governance.

Gafoor: I think this has helped in the trust our stakeholders have in PropNex. It resulted in the growth of our salesforce, our revenue and profit for the company, a greater contribution to the society and those in need. These have contributed to the brand awareness of the company locally and internationally too.

Ng: In addition to our track record of delivering long-term economic value for shareholders, we believe that good corporate governance entrenches the group’s values and business direction, and builds trust with investors and stakeholders.

Q: More widely, how important is it for the overall standard of corporate governance across companies to be lifted?

Vestring: Sound corporate governance practices build investor and stakeholder confidence, which is essential for the Singapore equities market to flourish and continue attracting investors. Beyond the role of regulatory bodies, initiatives by organisations such as the Securities Investors Association Singapore (Sias), including the annual Sias Corporate Governance Week and the Investors’ Choice Awards, can also play a valuable role to help lift the overall standard of corporate governance in Singapore.

Gafoor: The real estate business is one of the key economic pillars of Singapore, being supported by a huge workforce in this sector ranging from developers, construction firms, interior designers, electrical works and many in the downstream supply chain. Thus, salespersons play a vital role in this sector as they chart the journey of real estate investors in the purchase of their properties.

Ng: Companies that embrace the tenets of good governance are more likely to engender investor confidence and achieve long-term sustainable business performance.


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