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Mentorships for SME business success

SUSS’ new programme Enterprise Leadership for Transformation (ELT), in partnership with Enterprise Singapore, teams up business owners with industry veterans to grow their businesses to the next level

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A university with a rich heritage in inspiring lifelong education and transforming society through applied social sciences, the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) has been developing work-ready graduates and work-adaptive alumni to their fullest potential through over 70 undergraduate and graduate programmes.

Running a business in today’s challenging business climate is like navigating a ship through stormy seas — every decision counts and needs to be executed promptly. There is no room for error.

“In such volatile times, good mentorship is vital to both young and experienced business leaders to provide clarity, focus, and guide right decisions,” advises Mr Toh Hong Giep, Singapore Press Holdings’ vice-president and head of End User Services. 

“Partnerships also allow the business to transform and scale quickly, and get the necessary capabilities and operationalise new strategies in the shortest time,” the 48-year-old adds. 

Having received exemplary mentorship throughout his two decade-long career spanning Finland, Vietnam, China and Singapore, the global corporate executive is now paying it forward. He is one of 15 outstanding programme instructors, and business mentors at the Enterprise Leadership for Transformation (ELT) by Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS). 

The ELT is a one-year programme administered by a network of partners including institutes of higher learning, financial institutions and industry experts to support business leaders of promising small and medium enterprises to develop business growth capabilities. The ELT by SUSS is an intensive coaching and mentorship programme that is the latest addition to the SUSS Centre for Continuing and Professional Education’s ecosystem of enterprise support. Spanning at least 10 months, the multi-faceted training — with face-to-face delivery and engagement with instructors and peers — aims to help business leaders of promising SMEs develop a strategic growth plan and overcome their growth challenges, especially as Singapore undergoes its worst recession since independence. 

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Its curriculum is built around the delivery of practical skills that entrepreneurs can develop their strategic growth plan during the course of study. The topics delivered are strongly integrated with the actual building of a strategic growth plan, and planned around real-world topics that are vital to an SME’s growth journey. Beyond the programme, participants can also leverage an optional coaching for up to six months to kickstart their strategic growth plan.

Paying it forward

Mr Toh himself is grateful for the exceptional mentors he had in his career who gave him the confidence to take on bigger challenges and discover new opportunities.

He still remembers how as a young executive at Nokia in 2005, he was posted to Beijing, China to start a new team and establish operations there. There were multiple challenges from the onset, such as adapting to the local business culture, establishing trust and delivering fast results. 

He recalls: “My mentor was patient. He gave me the space to create my own solutions and provided guidance when I was stuck. Also, he reminded me to build a team so that I can scale myself. I found this to be one of the most valuable takeaways — we can do so much more when we have a great team. It’s never a one-man show.” 

Thanks to his mentor’s guidance, Mr Toh’s new Beijing team was operational in less than a year and subsequently took on multiple big projects.

Mr Toh hopes his rich experiences in international markets will help SME participants better tackle some of the challenges they are currently facing.

He says: “While Covid-19 has severely threatened SMEs’ revenue and survivability, it is a strong impetus for them to evolve their businesses. Many have become more diversified as a business and more tech-savvy.

“The ELT by SUSS is tailored to empower SME senior executives who are seeking practical tools to help them compete against bigger competitors with more resources at their disposal. It will be a great partnership where I can learn more about their challenges and they can leverage some of my experiences to help them improve their business.”

Tailored to SMEs’ needs

Fellow programme advisor and mentor Professor Patrick H M Loh, chairman and co-founder of Singapore Link Sciences, says the programme has been specially tailored to support SME owners who are “firefighting” every day.

The 68-year-old who is also the Professor of the Centre for Continuing and Professional Education and School of Science and Technology at SUSS, explains: “The programme departs from the traditional format of knowledge transfer in university, and instead uses a unique blend of faculty, successful business owners and senior industry practitioners such as Mr Toh. The teaching and mentoring pool combines knowledge and theories; they are rich in real-world practices with varied commercial exposures.” 

The flexible delivery format allows participants to embark on a plan to overcome their respective “growth pains”. It is also experiential in nature and conducted in a boardroom setting so that participants will not only get cutting-edge learnings from instructors, but also enjoy collaboration opportunities with other enterprise owners. 

Learning will not stop at the end of the programme. The ELT by SUSS programme office is building an advisory ecosystem of participants, business owners with proven track records, senior industry practitioners and faculty members for cross-pollination of business ideas. These ideas could one day culminate in viable and sustainable business ventures.

Programme graduates will get to continue participating in alumni activities for their lifelong learning needs. There will also be networking opportunities through events and learning seminars to build the trust and networks of the programme alumni for business collaboration opportunities.

Says Mr Loh: “Given the current global uncertainty in the midst of Covid-19 and trade war, our SMEs need to internationalise as they form an important backbone of our economy that ensures the country’s prosperity and provide jobs. 

“Our next generation of Singapore business leaders have an important role for our next phase of economic needs and ultimately, establishing a ‘Singapore Core of Adventurous Entrepreneurs’ beyond our shores.”

Click here to find out more about the ELT by SUSS.

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