How Can Singapore Enterprises Flourish In The New Global Economy?
Before his appointment as the chief executive of Spring Singapore in 2015, Poon Hong Yuen was the CEO of the National Parks Board (NParks), and then served as the deputy secretary of the Ministry of Law (MinLaw). “Being immersed in very different areas of public service provided me with a broad perspective of how different agencies work and enabled me to bring what I believe to be fresh perspectives to Spring,” he says.
Thinking across different paradigms certainly comes in handy now that he is in charge of an agency whose mission is to help Singapore enterprises grow. Maximising synergies was the basic premise of the 2016 Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) unveiled by the government. The aim: provide a targeted and industry-focused approach to preparing local enterprises for future growth through productivity, innovation, jobs and skills, and internationalisation. “Through these ITMs, I believe there are plenty of opportunities for collaboration among industry partners within and across industries,” Poon says.
Next year, a new government agency, named Enterprise Singapore, will be formed through the merger of IE Singapore and Spring. The move underscores the government’s commitment to adapting and strengthening support for Singapore enterprises. Leveraging IE Singapore’s core strengths in internationalisation and Spring’s expertise in helping SMEs, the newly-formed agency will offer companies a holistic and integrated network to build capabilities and access overseas markets opportunities. Poon shares more about how homegrown businesses can spread their wings.
Singapore has always positioned itself as a regional hub. How do you see this identity evolving as Asia becomes more economically dominant globally?
Poon Hong Yuen (PHY) Asia’s growth will definitely mean more economic opportunities for Singapore. To participate in that growth, we’ll need to continue to strengthen our traditional advantages in terms of our talent, infrastructure, connectivity and rule of law. Large cities in the region are also growing and becoming more competitive, so we must keep upping our game to stay relevant. Beyond the regional services role that we’ve been providing, I believe Singapore can be the place where companies large and small can come together to innovate. For example, we’ve many high-tech start‑ups that came from the region to Singapore to raise funds, draw on talents and scale-up. Many MNCs here have also adopted an open approach where they tap on innovative solutions from start-ups and small companies. To facilitate this form of collaboration, we are encouraging multipliers such as accelerators and incubators, including those from MNCs, to set up in Singapore, and actively pulling together MNCs and SMEs to work on projects.
"Singapore’s economic success has been built on openness and connectivity... Our economic track record illustrates the benefits of economies trading with one another, so we should keep speaking up for international trade, and work with international partners to lower barriers to trade."
International brands often use Singapore as a gateway to other regional markets. Do you think Singapore businesses do this enough?
PHY Singapore companies have been more active in building their brands over the years and have become better at it. Brands such as BreadTalk and Charles & Keith have successfully penetrated international markets. Many of our companies have also leveraged the trusted Singapore brand to their advantage in overseas markets. We can do more. Spring and International Enterprise (IE) Singapore have been supporting companies in establishing their brands locally and internationally. For instance, IE’s Market Readiness Assistance grant supports promotional activities overseas, while Spring’s Capability Development Grant supports branding and marketing initiatives for companies to build their brand equity.
What should local businesses do to gain first-mover advantage as Asean integration develops?
PHY The Asean Economic Committee was formed in 2015 to integrate Asean and facilitate trade and investment among Asean member states. One of the key benefits is the streamlining of customs clearance procedures for the movement of goods across intra-regional borders. This allows SMEs to secure the flow of goods and services across intra-Asean borders and save on financial costs and time. Another benefit was the harmonisation of standards across Asean and establishment of Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs) for various products traded within the region. This removes the need to comply with varying national standards in different markets and eases movement of goods within Asean. This integration creates many business opportunities for SMEs, which should innovate and scale-up through building internal capabilities to tap on these growth opportunities.
With protectionist sentiment on the rise in some parts of the world, what role can the government play in helping to keep trade borders open?
PHY Singapore’s economic success has been built on openness and connectivity, so we’re fully committed to a collaborative model. In a way, our economic track record illustrates the benefits of economies trading with one another, so we should keep speaking up for international trade, and work with international partners to lower barriers to trade. Free Trade Agreements are important in facilitating trade. Singapore has implemented 20 of them. Companies can also face technical and regulatory barriers such as product testing, inspection and certification. The role of MRAs is to establish a global network of accredited conformity assessment bodies. This helps to remove the regulatory processes for cross-border trade and builds confidence in the products. To help companies improve competitiveness and increase market access, Spring works with the Singapore Standards Council and other organisations to develop and review Singapore Standards, and promote the adoption of standards.
Singapore companies need to have good business capabilities to succeed in overseas markets, so Spring supports companies to build these capabilities through innovation, productivity improvements and talent development.
What local enterprises that make an impact beyond the domestic market do you think make for inspiring examples?
PHY Singapore companies have been making their mark globally. For instance, Osim has over 417 outlets across 20 countries, Charles & Keith has over 300 stores worldwide with luxury goods conglomerate LVMH having a stake in the company to support its growth. Homegrown skincare brand, Skin Inc is now available in over 100 cities around the world. Besides retail and F&B, companies in other sectors have also established themselves globally. YCH Group grew from a passenger transport company in 1955 to a leading supply chain solutions company to many of the world’s top brands. Their success can be attributed to the foresight of the company’s leaders, and its early and continued technology adoption practices.