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Championing SME interests 'is about doing, not talking'

"I am a lot more in favour of what we can do, instead of what we can talk about," says Kurt Wee.


KURT Wee may be the voice for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) here, but he would much rather be judged by his actions instead.

"Over the years as I evolve, I am a lot more in favour of what we can do, instead of what we can talk about," he declared.

The chairman of the SME Committee (SMEC), part of the Singapore Business Federation (SBF), came into office in April last year, and has wasted no time in making changes to better serve the needs of the SME community.

For example, a new research sub-committee was formed to compile data that will be relevant for SMEs. This additional data will complement the committee's "on the ground sensing" and experience, which will allow them to be a better representative of SMEs, said Mr Wee.

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Other fresh priorities of the committee include finding ways to cut bureaucratic red tape and simplify regulations for businesses and industries.

His involvement in SME affairs is nothing new; he also double-hats as the President of the Association of SMEs (ASME) since 2013, where he was the vice-president for nine years before that.

One of the latest developments he is driving is the SME Cloud Exchange, a software platform that integrates accounting, human resource and compliance solutions for businesses. It aims to help SMEs lower costs and increase productivity through digitalisation.

Currently in its soft launch phase, the platform will be further enhanced based on feedback before being widely promoted to SMEs by the end of this year, he said.

With more than a decade of experience engaging with entrepreneurs, Mr Wee names the Fair Tenancy Framework (FTF) as one of the initiatives that gave him the biggest satisfaction for helping to push through.

Launched in 2015, the framework came about from SME complaints of unreasonable rental practices by aggressive landlords, he said.

To address this, SBF's Rental Practices Working Group was formed, which eventually led to the creation of the FTF, which contains guidelines for transparency of rental data for commercial properties.

While Mr Wee observed that the situation has improved since the framework was launched several years ago, work is still not done.

"This year, we are pushing the FTF to the landlords for them to recognise and endorse fair play and market transparency when it comes to rents," he said. "It's a consciousness that we are trying to push for and proliferate - it's still something we don't take for granted."

With the rental and manpower cost issues faced by SMEs here, Mr Wee considers hunting for a broader marketplace to do business as the number one priority for companies.

The only way businesses can grow is to scale overseas, be it through physical stores or via online platforms, he said.

To that end, he said the SMEC is pushing for overseas economic node centres to make it easier for SMEs to access and succeed in these markets.

He added that discussions are under way with Enterprise Singapore on how SMEC can create a bridge to enable this to work.

But for businesses to truly take off, be it in Singapore or elsewhere, they must be able to "deliver careers", or have a manpower strategy that allows staff to learn and be plugged into the company's vision.

"It's not just about a promotion or wage growth," he explained. "It's about seeing your employees as people, bringing the best out of them and equipping them so that they can grow with the company.

"If you are unable to deliver careers, then it will be very difficult for you to remain stable, much less scale and go overseas."

His focus this year is to run SMEC in its refreshed format as it irons out some of the tweaks made since April 2018. It will also focus more on activities and programmes rather than advocacy, in addition to the pipeline of initiatives already in the works.

His goals for this year may be modest, but he is not afraid to dream big. One of the ideas he is exploring is "massive" co-working buildings to house micro and small enterprises.

"This could be similar to what Block 71 is for startups, but set up in different parts of Singapore.

"I see the potential for creating this kind of infrastructure, and we intend to talk to JTC seriously about it."

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