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Straits Trading's Chew Gek Khim clinches top business award

Other SBA winners are Mapletree CEO, managing director of Affin Hwang and Sheng Siong Group

(From left) Mr Lim Hock Chee, group CEO of Sheng Siong Group; Ms Chew; Ms Maimoonah Hussain, group managing director of Affin Hwang Capital; and Mapletree Investments CEO Hiew Yoon Khong.

Businessman of the Year Chew Gek Khim (left) calls herself an accidental businesswoman while Outstanding Overseas CEO Maimoonah Hussain says she is fortunate to have found a career that she thoroughly enjoys.


CORPORATE leaders who charted ambitious growth strategies to take their companies to the next level were honoured at the Singapore Business Awards (SBA) 2015 for the transformational changes they led.

Chew Gek Khim, executive chairman of The Straits Trading Company and Tecity Group, became the first woman in more than 10 years to be crowned Businessman of the Year and the second woman to win this award in the 30-year history of the SBA.

She played a pivotal role in shaking up businesses held by Tecity Group, in particular, Straits Trading, which has morphed from a company owning low-yielding assets into one with strategic interests in real estate, hospitality and resources.

Calling herself an accidental businesswoman, Ms Chew recalled the daunting journey of change taken by the venerable company and expressed her appreciation for the many who took the painful transition in their stride.

"Not everyone has stayed with me during this long journey, but I still owe them much for their contributions," she said.

Mapletree Investments chief executive officer Hiew Yoon Khong snagged the Outstanding CEO award. But the modest CEO stressed that "the story behind Mapletree's successful journey is about building a team that is focused on our common goals".

"Growing Mapletree from a company with low-yielding properties in Singapore into a leading real estate group with assets across Asia involves building an organisation that is firmly committed to fulfilling our business objectives," he said.

"In the early years, it required our staff to believe in a business model that was relatively untested in Singapore, and execute it nimbly and well."

Since Mr Hiew took the helm at Mapletree in 2003, the Temasek unit has turned around a portfolio of ageing assets and undeveloped land inherited from PSA Corporation into income-generating assets - many of which are held in listed Reits. Between March 31, 2004, and March 31, 2015, Mapletree scaled its assets under management from S$2.3 billion to S$28 billion and shareholders' funds grew from S$2.2 billion to S$9.3 billion.

"Over the next five years, we plan to use the same business model to further scale our assets under management to about S$50 billion, and add another S$6 billion to our shareholders' funds," Mr Hiew added.

Affin Hwang Capital group managing director Maimoonah Hussain won the Outstanding Overseas CEO award for her leadership and passion in growing a medium-sized niche investment bank into a major integrated player in the Malaysian financial industry, thus serving as a role model for Singaporeans working overseas.

Mdm Maimoonah said she is fortunate to have found a career that she thoroughly enjoys and loves. "As Steve Jobs said, the only way to do great work is to love what you do."

The Enterprise of the Year award went to Sheng Siong Group. The group's expansion to over 35 supermarket outlets islandwide and its corporate makeover turned it into a household name.

The SBA, jointly organised by The Business Times and DHL Express Singapore since 1985, is Singapore's oldest and most prestigious business award.

Speaking at the SBA dinner held at Resorts World Sentosa, Minister for Trade and Industry Lim Hng Kiang stressed that companies need to restructure, innovate and upgrade employees' skills as Singapore charts its next phase of growth to one that is sustainable and innovation-driven.

He noted that Singapore's location as a gateway to Asian and global markets positions it well to tap growth clusters in manufacturing and services, such as advanced manufacturing, applied health sciences, smart and sustainable urban solutions, logistics and aerospace, and Asian and global financial services.

To position itself to tap the opportunities in advanced manufacturing and other growth clusters, Singapore will need to ensure that its businesses have the capabilities to compete and thrive in the global economy, and that Singaporeans are equipped with the skills to contribute and benefit from the good jobs which will be created, he added.

Mr Lim also pointed to schemes that Singapore companies can tap to raise productivity, including the new SkillsFuture initiative and research and development (R&D) grants under Spring Singapore.

Singapore's productivity growth has been uneven. In the past five years, annual productivity growth was less than one per cent for domestic sectors, in contrast to export-oriented sectors with annual productivity growth of more than 5 per cent.

Still, Spring has seen strong take-up for the Innovation and Capability Voucher (ICV) for companies just starting on innovation, with over 9,000 ICVs issued last year.

More than 4,000 companies are engaged under the Technology Adoption Scheme by A*Star since its launch in July 2013. Under the scheme, A*Star intermediaries will match technology needs of these companies to suitable solution providers. Some 1,200 technology adoptions by companies translated to at least 20 per cent productivity improvement, Mr Lim said.

He also encouraged companies to capitalise on new opportunities arising from the realisation of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) as a single market and production base, by tapping assistance schemes available under IE Singapore.

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