Prominent business leaders win Singapore Business Awards honours; UOB’s CEO picks up top accolade

MAINBOARD-LISTED United Overseas Bank (UOB) deputy chairman and chief executive officer Wee Ee Cheong was named Businessman of the Year at the 37th Singapore Business Awards (SBA) on Thursday (Sep 8).

He impressed the judges with his vision and exceptional leadership in growing UOB into a leading regional bank with a diversified franchise across 500 offices, especially in strengthening the group's network and capabilities in South-east Asia.

In his acceptance speech, Wee paid tribute to the generations who have worked hard to build UOB, in particular, his late grandfather who founded the bank, as well as his father, Wee Cho Yaw, who built it up.

Viewing himself as a steward of UOB, he added: "That entails risk-taking and disrupting the status quo, which may be counter-intuitive for someone taking over a successful business. At the same time, to stay anchored on our core values of honour, enterprise, unity and commitment, to do right by our stakeholders. So we can continue to contribute to the growth of Singapore and the region for generations to come. This was, and continues to be, my mission."  

In an interview, Wee told The Business Times (BT) why UOB acquired 4 Citi consumer portfolios, his father's first reaction when told about the takeover, as well as how he has steered the 87-year-old bank since taking over the reins in 2007.

Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu presented the top accolade to the 69-year-old at the SBA dinner held at The Ritz Carlton, Millenia Singapore, after 2 years of it taking place in a hybrid format.

The event was jointly organised by BT and international express and logistics heavyweight DHL, to acknowledge the vital contributions made by companies and business leaders to Singapore's development, encourage the entrepreneurial spirit in the Republic, and recognise excellence in corporate management.

CapitaLand Investment's CEO Lee Chee Koon, 47, bagged the award of Outstanding Chief Executive of the Year for boldly leading his team in steering the complex restructuring of CapitaLand Group into 2 distinct yet synergistic entities - unlocking greater value for shareholders and accelerating the growth of the group's businesses.

The Young Business Leader of the Year award went to Ian Ang, the co-founder and CEO of furniture manufacturer Secretlab, as the 30-year-old has demonstrated an enterprising spirit and boldness in seeing his passion through, as well as being an inspiration to young people by taking the less trodden path.

Ang, in his speech, shared an anecdote about how someone he respects made a remark when he was 12 years old that he would grow up to be someone special. Those words turbo-charged his confidence and helped shape him into the entrepreneur he is today.

"So go back home tonight, or over the next few weeks, if you notice areas where young kids around you are genuinely talented at, don't forget to give them authentic words of validation. Your simple action may just empower and inspire a young business leader of the next generation," Ang urged the guests at the dinner.

Lee Yuan Siong, AIA Group CEO, took the Outstanding Overseas Executive Of the Year award, in recognition of the Hong Kong-based Singaporean helmsman's achievements as a global business leader in the insurance sector.

The Enterprise Award was given to digital customer experience solutions provider TDCX for its agility in capturing industry opportunities, as well as grit in competing against the global giants. Today, the company has some 17,000 employees globally and is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.  

Fu said in her speech that businesses, particularly large ones, can play a pivotal role in Singapore's transition to a greener economy, by leveraging their sphere of influence to help their sector make this transition quickly. Those that are ahead on the sustainability journey can also lead capability-building efforts for small and medium enterprises in their respective fields.

Also, they can introduce initiatives to engage their employees and customers on sustainability topics, thus generating awareness and sparking conversations about living sustainably.

There are 2 other ways businesses can remain relevant and competitive in Singapore's green transition journey, Fu said. One, set concrete sustainability targets and decarbonise their operations and supply chains. Two, pursue innovative solutions for sustainability and invest in greener products and services.

Christopher Ong, senior vice-president and managing director of DHL Express Singapore, said: "It is in our DNA to contribute to the business ecosystem that we operate in. One way we do so is by highlighting Singapore as a vibrant economy with world-class talent pool. By recognising organisations and leaders that have made a difference, especially during such unprecedented times of the pandemic, we hope to reinforce Singapore's position as one of the top business destinations in the post-Covid world."

BT editor Wong Wei Kong said: "The Singapore Business Awards recognises business excellence, and we are truly heartened to see this shining through in these challenging times."


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