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Transforming for the future
SINGAPORE marked its bicentennial this year on a relatively sanguine note despite trade tensions and slowing Chinese growth exerting strain on the Republic’s trade-dependent economy.
Amid the celebrations, businesses are keeping a close eye on the economy, keenly aware that tougher times are ahead and the need to gear up for the future is now more urgent.
The ebb and flow of Singapore’s relevance and fortunes over the past 200 years clearly show that nothing is guaranteed. Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, speaking at a National Day event earlier in August, urged Singaporeans to “never be complacent”.
He made a call to intensify efforts to transform the economy in a few ways which include continuing to diversify Singapore’s markets, supply chains and distribution networks. The nation must also continue to work with like-minded countries to explore “new areas of cooperation that can bring mutual benefits”, such as the digital economy.
In addition, “we must continue to create real value for ourselves through innovation, so that we can compete on the quality of our ideas, standards and trust, rather than on price alone”, Mr Chan said.
Leaders in the business community have echoed the government’s sentiment, saying it may be opportune for companies to push ahead with evolving themselves.
“It’s hard to tell if the slowdown will eventually lead to a recession, but the news certainly serves as a timely wake-up call for the business community not to be complacent and to persist with transformation efforts, making the most of the opportunities still abundant in the region,” wrote Ho Meng Kit, Singapore Business Federation chief, in a July opinion piece.
“Like a forest fire that clears out dead brush, leaner times can also be fertile ground for innovation and new growth,” he wrote.
Recently, the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry also issued survey findings showing business sentiment has been affected, with more firms predicting a fall in revenue and profits. But when asked what he thought of such pessimism, the chamber’s president, Roland Ng, said: “Pessimism could lead to a sense of crisis, which could in turn drive firms to transform. This can be a good thing.
“If everyone has this mindset, we can think of how to transform and how to use technology to grow our businesses.”
In this CEO Conversations Singapore Bicentennial supplement, The Business Times speaks to business leaders who have innovated through the peaks and troughs, and taken their companies to new heights. For example, Thai Sing Foodstuffs Industry started out in 1969 as a humble maker of Chinese sauces and Nonya pastes but now supplies to major hotels and restaurants. Today, the company also exports to Australia, Indonesia, Holland, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, China, Brunei and New Zealand, and plans to take its signature sauces further afield.
“I’d like to bring these Singaporean flavours to more countries,” said Thai Sing’s managing director, Richard Lai. “Food is a way of introducing our culture to others, so in a way, we are like ambassadors of Singapore.”
Property developer Lendlease Asia has made its mark on Singapore’s landscape over the years, with familiar buildings like Jem and 313@somerset.
Its chief executive officer, Tony Lombardo, said: “From our humble beginnings, Singapore is now our Asia headquarters. Since then, we have created some 400 projects in Singapore from educational facilities to life science projects, industrial buildings, shopping malls to warehouses.”
Businesses that continue to enhance their competitiveness will find themselves in good stead for the longer term.
Looking further into the future, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong addressed major issues for Singapore in this year’s National Day Rally, such as the need to accommodate Singaporeans who are living longer and who wish to work longer. The government will support employers and employees in enabling this, he said.
And in the spirit of constantly reinventing and redeveloping Singapore over the decades, PM Lee shared updates on the Greater Southern Waterfront, with plans for housing, office space and recreation in the pipeline.
“This Bicentennial year, as we commemorate our history and progress, we also commit ourselves to improve on what we have, and build a better Singapore for our children,” PM Lee concluded.