Valuing Versatility: Management, Singapore-style, "Revista Biz"

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Singapore, Singapore - What does Singaporean management look like? What are the secrets behind the successful growth of Singaporean companies? Yen Pin NG, Country Manager for Singapore at Pedersen & Partners, offers a sneak peak of the management and leadership backstage in Singapore.

Can we talk about a specific Singaporean management trend?

If I were to use one word to describe the Singaporean type of management, that word would be "versatile." Singaporean management is essentially a mix of global management styles. In Singapore, the management challenge is typically on having the required versatility to deal with the various cultures in the region, and at the same time maintaining strong compliance, process and targets. In comparison, the Western management style concentrates more on results. Singapore management places a rigorous focus on numbers and processes as seen in Western countries, but it is Asian as well in that top management focuses more on the softer aspects in getting consensus from all stakeholders. This combination delivers a good blend on results and a good team dynamics. In addition, as each Asian country is different, the managers need to understand the culture and the working style of each specific country. The executives here focus on maintaining good connections with their teams in all of the countries of the region. This is very important because most companies have their regional headquarters in Singapore – so the Singaporean executives will need to interact with employees from Southeast Asia, South Korea, Japan, China or Australia. Singaporean executives tend to be very global and very versatile, able to embrace diversity and must have a good knowledge of the cultures, customs and local languages in order to succeed.  

According to a survey conducted by the World Economic Forum, Singapore is one of the most competitive countries in the world, after Switzerland. What is your key to success?

I believe that the Singaporean Government has done a very good job in estimating the trends and areas of economic growth, both regional and worldwide. For example, the Singaporean Government successfully predicted the growth in the manufacturing, IT and health sectors. Therefore, we have the necessary infrastructure and a developed education system meant to provide talent development in the region. In addition, the Singaporean Government introduced financial incentives for companies that come to Singapore and establish their headquarters here. This has helped attract pharmaceutical companies that are focused on medical equipment production and biotechnology, for example.

What do you believe are the main lessons which European countries, including Romania, should learn from Singapore in terms of competitiveness?

I’m not familiar with Romania, but I can say that any country can learn from Singapore to anticipate a trend before it becomes ubiquitous.  Learn how to identify trends which will bring about a transformation in 5-10 years and position it to allow the local companies and people to capitalize on these opportunities. Singapore has succeeded in understanding the trends of globalization and has managed to set itself up as a preferred destination for companies looking to open subsidiaries in Southeast Asia, and also in the Asia-Pacific region. 

How was the Singaporean executive search market affected by the crisis?

I believe that, as with other markets, the crisis had a significant impact on growth. In Asia, the aftermath of the crisis was less marked because the Asian markets are still growing as demand for consumption has increased, but we still can see an impact when it comes to sales and operations. Asia, with its huge population, is growing more and more attractive as a market for most industries and is thus the preferred location for companies in terms of manufacturing and logistics. Singapore represents a hub for these activities, supported by financial incentives and a good talent pool, the companies are able to set up a regional headquarters here, and manage their teams in other countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines and Malaysia.

It has been said that the economic crisis is a good teacher, but a harsh one. What has Singapore learned from it?

I think Singapore has learned a lot, but three main lessons in particular. Firstly, Singapore is a regional hub which allows us to be versatile. This allowed us to reduce the impact of the financial crisis because we are versatile and our economy is powered by services. Secondly, the Government's financial incentives reduced the impact of the crisis. Incentives were implemented to reduce the expenses of the companies that hold operations in Singapore, but the country focused on areas with growth potential. Even during the crisis, there were sectors where growth was still present. Research was also a strong growth agent during the crisis. In the region, the areas with the most significant growth are in health care – everything related to medicine – pharma and biotechnology, fast-moving consumer goods as well as logistics. Singapore is a regional hub and home to the headquarters of many such companies. The best way to look at Singapore is as a destination where companies open headquarters, not a market in itself.

Written by Ovidiu Neagoe on 24 February, for Revista Biz
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