29 Jan 2020

By Doug Leone, Heng Swee Keat

8-min read

Global Asia 101

Optimism about Singapore as an investment destination. A vision and comprehensive plan to serve as Asia’s economic gateway. A commitment to the rule of law and protection of intellectual property. These are the essentials that guide Singapore’s evolution as a global investment center, as described by Heng Swee Keat, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance of Singapore, in a cross-cultural exchange with Doug Leone, Global Managing Partner at Sequoia Capital moderated by Chng Kai Fong, Managing Director of the Singapore EDB at the Bridge Forum. Here are a few of our key takeaways.

In the words of Doug Leone, Global Managing Partner, Sequoia Capital, “take the path of cannibalising yourself – that, in my opinion, is the lowest-risk path one can take.”

Change is accelerating worldwide, and Singaporean firms, like companies everywhere, need to change more rapidly. Singapore’s business sector must embrace innovation to evolve and compete, or risk being left behind. Singapore’s investment model recognizes as well that as change accelerates, not just companies, but their workers too must understand the need for continuous evolution.

“In the accounts of successful transformations around the world, what you have in common is not only change, but people believing that change is good for them,” Deputy Prime Minister Heng said. “When you look at backlash, it’s where workers have felt compromised, where they haven’t been taken care of. We can’t leave our companies behind, and we can’t leave our workers behind either.”

Government x Unions x Business: Singapore’s unique tripartite model

Since its independence, Singapore has adopted a unique tripartite model that interweaves government, unions, and business in collaborative partnership. It is one that has worked very well for the city-state, propelling it from third-world to first-world status within one generation.

Each of the three sectors has a distinct-yet complementary role to play:

  • Government: The enabler that provides education, R&D, and the stability of the rule of law;
  • Unions: The means to protect not jobs, but the workers who need them, and employability;
  • Business: The leader and driver of change, with CEOs being agents of transformation to continually re-engineer their organizations through innovation and enterprise

One additional advantage for Singapore is its multiracial and multicultural urban environment, with a thriving expatriate community, attracting talent from around the world.

“As we reposition Singapore’s economy, our concept is to create Global Asia 101,” Deputy Prime Minister Heng said. “We’re bringing together technology, innovation and enterprise, linking all the keynotes in the world where the most entrepreneurial activities are happening, where the most innovative activities are happening, and bringing the most talented people together here.”

Doug offered another perspective, drawing from his experience running one of the world’s most successful VCs, “How do you bring capital? Money is the tail of the dog. The real question is: How do you bring the founders and talent? If you bring that, everything follows.

Global Asia 101: A vision for the future

With Global Asia 101, Singapore is pursuing a comprehensive initiative across government, business and talent development, all designed to boost investment competitiveness. Singapore’s vision is to be Asia’s investment destination of choice — a hub both for Asia-based companies globalizing and moving out into the world, and for global companies that are seeking to expand and grow within Asia.

Singapore’s Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council (RIEC), chaired by the Prime Minister of Singapore, recently set new and more ambitious research priorities. The country’s universities are moving up rapidly in international rankings, as are its advanced medical centers. Its public sector was founded on fighting corruption and has a long history of respect for the rule of law, highly competitive tax rates, and one-stop facilitation of technology and business investment.

Optimism for the economic future of Asia overall is high. Since the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was founded 50 years ago, its GDP has increased 100 times. Southeast Asia is the fastest-growing region for Internet investment and business and consumer adoption. Asia’s economies are increasingly more open and more fully integrated.

Question for the future

Turning a question on how to drive Singapore forward on its head, Deputy Prime Minister Heng suggested that the question to consider instead is how to make Singapore more vibrant, both within Asia and globally.

“The world is really more spikey than it is flat, with innovative places everywhere such as Silicon Valley, New York and Chicago, which, like Singapore, are exciting urban centers, cities where so many essential things are happening.”

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