Gazing at the Economic Crystal Ball

Gazing at the Economic Crystal Ball

 

Debt crises in Europe, high rates of unemployment in the Us, corporate bailout, and austerity measures – those are the somber phrases dominating the headlines in 2011. Will the economic situation improve in 2012? How do we stay competitive in the ever more challenging market? We ask our alumni.

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Deepak Mohan (MBA 2011):

The year 2011 was certainly a good year to be in school. While the economic crisis unfolded, we could be on the sidelines, observing and analyzing. It’s not only the financial sector that is affected. I’m working in the digital media sector, and we’re also affected by the bad news… I am, however, very optimistic about the year 2012. With the right attitude, you can do anything and succeed in this challenging environment.

Ng Inn Chiau (NUS-HEC MBA 2011):

In such a short working period, we have already seen two crises. In the year 2008, I was working in the infrastructure field, and our sector actually received quite a boost from the government stimulus. Now, I’m working in the banking industry which is considered more volatile. I think in times of crisis, there will also be opportunities. You just have to overcome the challenges as they come.

Tan Shao Yi (MBA 2010):

The year 2011 has been an eventful year for me, managing a telecommunication market in Indonesia while still based in Singapore. Indonesia is quite a challenging market, but we hope to make more breakthroughs. It is very difficult to say if the situation will improve. I just hope that the Europeans and US markets will not crash next year.

Dr Suanny Gouw (APEX-E MBA 2007):

The year 2011 has been a challenging one with all the bad news on the economy. To beat the downturn, people should be out more for networking to find out the available opportunities. I just hope that everyday will be a brand new day for us to make a difference in our or other people’s lives.

James Li (MBA 2000):

I am working in the oil and gas offshore industry, and, career wise, I’m quite happy with many new opportunities in 2011 despite the talks of financial crisis. I’m not really worried with the economic situation. If you are at my age, you just want to enjoy life and spend more time with the family. That is more important.

Goodbye 2011, Hello 2012!

The year 2011 went by in a blink. In a few weeks’ time, we will welcome 2012. We ask some of our alumni how 2011 has been for them, and what they hope to achieve in the coming year.

 

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Monica Singh (MBA 2010):

2011 is definitely one of the best years in my life. I got to achieve a lot career-wise, and had opportunities to travel quite a bit. In October, for example, I had the chance to celebrate Oktoberfest in Munich. While I’ve always tried to spend time with my parents, I got to do it more this year. I look forward to more challenging roles in my workplace in 2012.

Hyunsu Mun (S3 Asia MBA 2011):

I am very happy at how the year 2011 went. I graduated from the NUS MBA program and found a job in Singapore, I had previously worked for 7 years in Seoul. This year, I applied for permanent residency in Singapore. I’m looking forward to the results of my application.

Next year is going to be an important year for our family because we are expecting a baby boy in March. He’ll be our dragon boy. I have another daughter who is seven. It’ll be a great responsibility for me as the head of the family, but I’m looking forward to it.

Rajas Karandikar (MBA 2011):

The year 2011 has been good. I am not the type to make resolutions at the beginning of the year. Then again, I think I have nothing to complain about that needs to be changed with resolutions. Right now, I am just looking forward to spending the year-end holiday relaxing with the family.

Jaimin Shah (MBA 2010):

The year 2011 has been good as I’m still surviving. I will most probably go back to India to celebrate the change in calendar year with my family… Hope that 2012 will be a better year for all of us.

Cecilia Ho (MBA 2011):

I am from China, and I have just spent two years here on the MBA program at NUS. The year 2011 has been very good, with good experience in my studies as well as new job.

Shail Barthwal (APEX-E MBA 2012):

It has been a hectic year with the MBA studies as it is our final year. But it’s also been a happy year with the arrival of my baby girl, the first for my wife and I. I hope 2012 will be a better year, including a better job and a better salary.

Sashi Adsul (APEX-E MBA 2012):

The year 2011 marked my third year in Singapore. My family had stayed on in India and we have been taking turns commuting between both countries to see each other. It will be my turn to fly to India to spend the year-end with the family. The year has been good in the sense that I had the chance to change my job profile to one with a more challenging role… I’m looking forward to more challenging work in 2012.

Yeo Keng Joon (MBA 1985):

The year 2011 has been good for me. Business-wise, it’s been great. But, most importantly, this year, I just got a cute granddaughter.

The Brand Master

David Shaw (BBA 1981)

 

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He graduated with an NUS Business degree in 1981 and went straight into advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi as a copywriter. He has never looked back since, moving on to J. Walter Thomson, and then helping big guns like Lenovo Asia-Pacific and Hewlett-Packard Asia-Pacific with their branding. He created his niche in the creative world of branding and advertising. Today, he is with a successful branding consultancy business Activiste. So how did David Shaw (BBA 1981) go from finance to advertising? He shares his journey, with glimpses of the personality traits that make him so successful in his chosen field.

It’s pretty common today for people to carve out a career in an area not necessarily related to their academic qualifications. But at the time you graduated, it was unusual. What motivated you to join marketing and advertising after graduating with a Bizad degree? How challenging was it for you in making the switch?

To be frank, it wasn’t so much challenging as it was a matter of survival, and playing to my strengths. By the end of my first year, I’d concluded that accounting, business finance, etc, weren’t my thing. And I couldn’t imagine myself working in Shenton Way and liking it.

On the other hand, I was intrigued by marketing and organizational behavior. Plus, I had always liked to write. So I applied for a job as an advertising copywriter – and I aced the copy test. Turns out it was a good fit.

Advertising is all about positioning brands in a compelling way; and an advertising agency is filled with the most inspiring, “insecure” people you can find. I was able to try my hand at building brands, enabling sales, and studying all kinds of idiosyncratic, “dysfunctional” types which went into making the distinctive culture of an advertising agency. I had a blast.

How were you able to make a lateral or vertical connection between Bizad and your eventual field? How do you help companies recognize what their brand truly is?

There is no gap to bridge. My Bizad background informs my brand consulting work, and keeps me from devolving to aesthetic fluff. I’m not that rare a species. Lots of brand consultants come from business backgrounds. Often, that’s the best experience to bring to the table. Not ivory-tower consulting that’s divorced from real life.

In the best organizations, business strategy and brand strategy are intertwined. The best companies say what they’re going to do, then do it.

Within every brand, there is a product; but not every product is a brand. Behind every brand, there is a company; but not every company is a brand. That’s a quote, by the way, by Jeremy Bullmore, ex-chairman of JWT and one of the all-time advertising gurus. You’d be amazed at how many companies are sub-optimizing their performance and profits because despite their talk, they’re brand-dead. We help companies discover their brand story.

Clients get the consulting advice, advertising and/or marketing program they deserve. Over time, the cosmic scorecard is fair: You get as good as you give. I’d like to think that in my 11 years as a client marketer, I managed to get some of my agencies’ best work out of them, by being a demanding but fair client.

What other challenges have you faced, and how did you overcome them?

I spent almost 7 years living and working in Canada – as an advertising copywriter. You could see, in my clients’ eyes, every time I was introduced to them, the instinctive thoughts: Can this Chinese man write?” I had to earn respect with my first ad for them – one client at a time.

What gives you the most satisfaction in what you do? What is most fulfilling?

Helping brands find their true voice – something that’s authentic and credible. That’s very satisfying to me. You’d be surprised how many otherwise smart companies need that kind of help. And perhaps even more fulfilling, are the times when I can help people be their best selves, by doing their best work. That truly turns my crank.

What is the meaning of work and career to you, compared to family, leisure and play?

I have a confession – I’m a recovering workaholic. So I’m probably a pretty poor example to hold up to young turks just getting into the working world. All I know is that I would do things differently if I could roll back the years. I don’t want the eulogy at my funeral to be “He worked late at the office”.

What would you like to be your legacy? Is it a different legacy for your family, peers and others?

I’d like the people who’ve had the “misfortune” to walk or work a while with me to feel “He made a difference!” That would be neat.

As for the ones you love, the stakes are even higher. I’ve let people down too many times to recall. When I screw up, all I can do is pick myself up and push on, remembering that to the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.

Are you living your dream? Did you ever think you’d get into here? If this is different from your early dreams, is this better?

Sometimes it’s a nightmare! But I can’t complain. Life’s been an adventure. We make our own bed, we’ve got to lie in it. I’ve been blessed with a family I don’t deserve; friends who are blind when they should know better, and touched by a God who loves me, warts and all. I give thanks, and only strive to finish well.

Living the Reality of the Dream

Sue Yap (MBA 1994)

 

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She’s had many incarnations; from Malaysian “village” girl to Singaporean University graduate, from farmhand to founder of a biomedical company, from lively go-getter to owner of a lifestyle business. Sue Yap (MBA 1994) has experienced life’s roller coaster ride to its fullest. Its lessons are not lost on her and she shares some of them here.

What were your early years like, and how did they shape your character and career?

I grew up on the outskirts of a town, attended Convent school, and always looked forward to adventures ahead, knowing I would leave my hometown one day.

Eventually I came to Singapore for my university education. I paid my own way through university, working in various jobs. I am the eldest of five siblings and was supporting the family back home, so I was always on the lookout for part-time work.

Some of the jobs were interesting. One time, there was a circus in town – the Gerry Cottle Circus from the UK. I sold admission tickets and manned the entrance. It paid $60 a day for about 12 hours of work. It was something about 20 of us from the university hostel – Sheares Hall – did. Some of the others worked with animals.

I received my Bachelor of Sciences degree in 1984 and Honors Degree in Zoology in 1985. I started work in a fish farm in Punggol. It was the recession then, and I was grateful for a job. Many of my classmates didn’t even get work. I had no social life, working 5am to 5pm. But I love the outdoors, so I didn’t mind it or my uniform of jeans, T-shirt, gumboots and straw hat.

The job was part of the government’s project to convert pig farms into fish farms. It was something new, so there was no one to teach me the job. But I needed to learn because I had a job to do, and I had to do everything. So, on my day off, I worked for an old farmer in Mandai, just to learn from him. He liked having me on the farm, to be a good influence on his daughters, as I had an education. So that was how I ploughed on.

You did not have it easy; and even chose to do things the hard way, such as being an apprentice on your day off, to perform your job even better. How did you make the switch from farming and the outdoors to corporate life and being an entrepreneur?

The fish farm was an EDB project. One day, I came across an ex-classmate who was working with the EDB. She was so finely dressed. That started me thinking. Here I was, with an Honors degree, drawing $1,000 a month, after two years on the job. I still needed more money to support my family in Malaysia. I was in a dead-end job.

So I switched to sales, selling medical and analytical equipment. I was thrown into the deep end; I had about one day to read up on the material before I met clients. But I liked the job and I was moving into the area of life sciences. I slowly settled into it.

There was no real major inspiration for my move into entrepreneurship except for the need to be financially independent and to put my siblings through school. It was also a natural progression from being an employee to trying something on my own. I was encouraged by my husband, an MBA classmate, and the researchers who were customers and friends at the same time. My customers had always expressed their surprise that I was an employee. They thought I was a shareholder from the way I discharged my responsibilities. All of them encouraged me to venture out on my own, promising to support my business. And they did! They were probably not aware of how much they inspired me.

So you set up Research Biolabs Pte Ltd in 1993, with your husband as a partner. How did you grow it from a niche life-science service provider into a full-fledged life-science biomedical company?

Initially, we had a flat organizational structure. Sales, marketing, customer service, research and administration were closely integrated. Responsibilities were clearly defined and people worked in teams, with everyone having substantial knowledge to support sales. Every department collaborated with sales to discuss problems and brainstorm solutions. We also had a customer-oriented approach and were the only local company with its own in-house laboratory.

When we expanded into Malaysia in 1996, I appointed a General Manager to be in charge of operations there. I always felt doing that was a big risk, handing control in Malaysia to someone else, but it had to be done. We had regular meetings to set common goals and I controlled strategic directions.

Thus we grew the company until I finally sold it to my key supplier, Qiajen, a NASDAQ-listed company, in 2006.

Today, you have “moved from life-sciences to lifestyle”, as you like to put it, running Mana Mana Beach Club on East Coast Parkway. What similarities are there and what skills do you transfer from one business to the other?

The only similarity is that the clients are made up of a very large percentage of expatriates. Other than that, it’s a business like all other businesses, where one needs to be focused and watch the bottom line. My husband is the creative one in our partnership; he dreams big dreams and I work to hopefully realize the dreams for him.

Each day at work, I meet very interesting people. I enjoy listening and learning from them, sharing my previous career experience, and the excitement of my present job. My work place is unique; I get to enjoy nature, the rolling waves, thunderstorms, chirping birds.

The Best Moves Are With The Experts

The Best Moves Are With The Experts

 

Trawling through the minefield of stages and processes of moving abroad can often be overwhelming for many people. Organizing everything before the big move is also a tiring and laborious process. Thankfully, most companies engage relocation experts to aid employees with their move. Alumni share their respective relocation experiences and how relocation experts have helped them settle in into a comfortable environment, sans all the stress and fuss of relocation.

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Dennis Lin (MSc MOT 1997):

Before I moved to Beijing to settle down, I was shuttling back and forth between Singapore and Beijing for almost two months. During this period, my boss, who is also based in China, shared with me his previous relocation experience and guided me on adapting to the culture and working practices in China. A human resource company was engaged to assist me with administrative matters, and company staff also helped to arrange for my accommodation.

Initially, my wife was not in favor of my decision to relocate to Beijing although my two sons were supportive. They were the ones who helped to convince my wife to support my relocation.

Eventually, only my wife and I were relocated because my sons were all grown up – one is now working in Singapore and the other is studying in London. The move was tougher on my wife as a mother, so she stills travels frequently back to Singapore to see my elder son.

One factor that I considered before the relocation was my potential adaptability in the new environment. As a Singaporean Chinese, I was confident with the fact that I could speak the language and understand the culture. Another factor was whether I could still maintain my active social life – for example, my involvement with the NUS Alumni and my professional societies.

Inevitably, I had to make some sacrifices. But fortunately, I am still able to connect with other NUS alumni in Beijing. One interesting observation I have made since the relocation is that the Chinese tend to observe hierarchy more than we do in Singapore. For example, even for a restaurant meal with colleagues, there is a protocol to observe. Sometimes, only the boss gets to be seats; and always, the boss will start the meal first.

Janet Ang (BBA Hons 1982):

I have faced relocation four times in my career – first to Tokyo, back to Singapore, then to China and then back to Singapore. That is why I would say that my family is reasonable mobile. Each time we had to relocate, my family was enthusiastic and adaptable. In fact, I will be relocated again in one year’s time once my daughter, Maryanne, completes her major examinations.

Of course, we could not have done it without the help of relocation staff. Whenever I was assigned out of Singapore, they helped us with the necessary arrangement – everything from my children’s education, accommodation, banking, medical needs, down to groceries for the household. Their strong support definitely helped both my family and I adjust quickly and made each experience favorable.

I must say that I have also been blessed with a company of good friends who helped us. In Tokyo, I was fortunate to have been reunited with three BBA classmates who had similarly been posted there. They, too, soon became “family” for us in Tokyo. Likewise in Beijing, I connected with colleagues who helped us settle in and get into a rhythm of life in our new home.

Chen Jianwen Brian (BBA Hons 2008):

My first relocation took place in August 2008, shortly after my graduation. I moved up to Hong Kong from Singapore for a job I am currently still in. At that time, I knew that I would be leaving my loved ones and close friends behind in Singapore to live alone for an extended time – for the first time in my life.

One individual who then made the relocation smoother and more bearable was the relocation specialist who assisted me in all my relocation needs, arranged my working visa and helped me find a permanent place to live in Hong Kong.

My company also put me up in a serviced apartment located near the office for a month on the company’s expense to give me time to look for a permanent place to live. An ample relocation allowance was also given to me by my company, to be spent at my discretion so as to facilitate my relocation.

Along with my adaptable nature and the mental preparation I had made before the move, the help of the relocation specialist and company staff helped me handle the relocation well.

Feeling At Home Away From Home

Feeling At Home Away From Home

 

Relocation may be thrilling, but is nevertheless difficult. Culture shocks, communication barriers and other challenges of adjustment await. Employees facing relocation often have to thoroughly prepare themselves before leaving for new and, sometimes, strange places. Alumni share their respective relocation experiences and how friends and family have helped them adapt to changes and to enjoy the new chapter of their lives.

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Shankar Meembat (MBA 1996):

Back in 1997, it was novel for a growing international company like Nokia to have someone from Asia move to the headquarters in Finland. There were no standard operating procedures for these transfers, and I did not know anyone whom I could reach out to for guidance on living in Finland. Nevertheless, I took up the challenge and, in the end, my family and I integrated quickly with the help of a circle of expatriate friends. We provided strong mutual support to one another.

After the good experience, the family looked forward to the second assignment in Denmark where I moved to in order to head a regional team. I then returned to Singapore for five years, only to return to Finland again after another promotion. This was exactly 10 years after my first trip and, by then, relocation was easy on all of us.

I still recall my General Manager’s comment when the decision was made to let me relocated to Finland in 1998. He said, ‘Go to Finland and teach them about Asia.” Since then, that has been my guiding principle when I move employees – making sure that they are not just top performers themselves, but are capable and willing to transfer knowledge and skills. After all, an overseas assignment is meant to help local teams gain from the diversity the expatriate brings.

Today, my company has in place a good support system for relocation. Cultural and language training is provided for both the employee and spouse to help them adjust to the new way of life. The company also helps with all the various aspects of the move like transfer of the goods and work visas, and ensures that the employee’s family is well taken care of. Relocation consultants at the destination help the family settle in and usually spend more time with the spouse rather than the employee. With good reason – a happy home means a happy workplace.

Kathleen Kong (BBA 2007):

I was looking for challenges in my previous job when I was offered the opportunity to relocate to Hong Kong six months ago to be part of Daiwa’s new start-up. I was pleased when Daiwa actually flew me to Hong Kong for a day trip and the interview. Although it was the job exposure and not the relocation that I was looking forward to, there were exciting prospects of relocation, like going to a new country and experiencing the culture. However, there were always impending challenges such as the language barrier that I still face. Although Hong Kong is quite cosmopolitan that you can get by with English and Mandarin, the main language spoken is still Cantonese which I am totally unfamiliar with. This, in my free time, I have been watching TVB dramas to pick up the language.

Fitting in and being away from home is not much of a challenge for me as I have been away from my home in Taiwan since I was a child. In fact, I like how I am exploring and making many new friends. And of course, with the wonders of technology like Facebook and WhatsApp, I can still keep in good contact with my friends back in Singapore.

Daiwa also supported me with a basic relocation package, inclusive of first-month accommodation at a serviced apartment and shipment of my personal belongings. I was also lucky to have had some friends who had just relocated to Hong Kong before me, who helped me truly settle down in the environment. Although the experience was daunting for me, it has been exciting for me to be fully, independent, especially since I am still single now.

Nalin Advani (UCLA-NUS 2010):

After having managed technology companies in Japan for many years, I had the opportunity to relocate to India in 2009 to head the Indian arm of my company, Barco. Although I am Indian by nationality and heritage, I have never lived in India. Fortunately, there was my wife Sapna, who helped made the relocation a smooth one. Sapna, who was born and raised there. actively set up our new home, found a school for our daughter to go to, and helped us integrate into our new environment.

My company also provided me with ample assistance through the services of a relocation agency, which encouraged my wife and I to travel to India in advance to examine these factors in making a decision to relocate, and then again to search for the best set of options to address each factor.

My own adjustment was interesting as I began to learn and understand cultural differences, especially in corporate and professional settings. At the workplace, it was the mindset of the colleagues to which I not only had to adjust to, but also evolve with be become a more effective one. Transparency and accessibility were key – by openly declaring a need to improve and grow the capabilities of the team, I was able to involved everyone in the process of transformation. Out of the workplace, the extreme heat of Delhi summers and the difference in food were some of the many challenges that I had to overcome.

In my opinion, it is really important for an assignee to have the right attitude before making the decision to go. Then things that would normally cause grief and headache can turn into learning experiences and something to share a smile or laugh about for many years to come.

Chen Xianbao (Qiaqia Food)

Growing Qiaqia

Qiaqia Food, officially listed on 2 March 2011, is the first company in the nuts and roasted seeds industry to be listed in China. This achievement is an honor not only for the company’s Managing Director Chen Xianbao (APEX-C MBA 2009), but also for NUS Business School as we share the pride of our alumnus…

 

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Why did you choose the nuts and roasted seeds industry to begin your business venture in?

I specialize in food fermentation and am familiar with the food industry. I started with beverages, but they sold best only in summer, turnover during autumn and winter was poor. I decided to look for a substitute food product. As nuts and roasted seeds were well-liked in the Anhui province, I ended up choosing them for my business. I did not expect them to become so popular throughout the whole of China!

During the start-up phase of the business – the most difficult phase in any business – how did you ensure its growth?

When we first started the business, competition was mainly regional and not fierce yet. Our initial goals were to build our brand and be a market leader in China. Still, it was very tough. Innovation became our most important key to success.

These were some of the ways we innovated. First, we boiled instead of fried. Hence, our food was not only not “heaty”, but also tastier as the flavors penetrated the food. Second, we used paper for our packaging material. Third, we enclosed cards with cultural themes, including the “Twelve Beauties of Nanking”. Fourth, we had a comprehensive supply chain incentive scheme to motivate the workers along the delivery chain, including even the workers who replenished goods on the shelves. These four innovations helped Qiaqia make an explosive entry into the market. This turned Qiaqia into a favourite marketing case study for business schools across China in 2000.

Share with us your experience in building an enterprise.

There are six things I would like to highlight.

First, after Deng Xiaoping’s southern tour which led to the development of the socialist market economy, a huge market opened up and entrepreneurs were given tremendous opportunities to build enterprises to create wealth. The 30 years after China’s economic reform was a period when China’s GDP experienced the fastest growth, and also a period when China’s manufacturers were among the major contributors to that growth. I was fortunate to have experienced those good times, participated in the creation of much wealth, contributed to the Gross Domestic Product and enjoyed a share of it.

Second, integrity is very important when building a business. After a survey with Qiaqia, KPMG commented that they had visited hundreds of private enterprises in China, but had not seen one that strongly emphasized integrity as Qiaqia did.

Third, we believe in being customer-centered. Qiaqia’s greatest asset is not its brand or its production line, but its large pool of supportive customers. I always tell my staff that satisfying our customers and meeting their demands is our top priority, our most fundamental task. Our customers are the focus of our corporate efforts.

Fourth, brand-building is important. There are many companies in the nuts and roasted seeds business in China; Qiaqia stands out because of its strong emphasis on building the “Qiaqia” brand from the beginning.

The fifth highlight is learning and innovation. Anhui merchants have this couplet, considered by Premier Zhu Rongji as a “Number One Couplet”: 读书好, 营商好, 效好便好. 创业难, 守业难, 知难不难. (It is good to study; it is good to do business; it is even better to be efficient. It is difficult to build an enterprise; it is difficult to maintain an enterprise; ift is not difficult to know that it is difficult). I would like to add: 持 续 改 进 (Continuous improvement). One of the most important responsibilities of a business leader is in leading innovation. Maintaining status quo, you get 60 marks; innovation gets you 90 marks; leading a team to innovate and achieve outstanding results gets you 120 marks! To encourage innovation, we have established innovation indicators for our departments; at the end of the year, bonuses and other awards are given after assessment against the indicators.

Finally, we give top priority to developing talents. In any enterprise, innovation, learning and brand-building are the activities of its people.

Briefly outline your company’s current status and future development goals.

I entered the world of business in 1995. In the first year, our revenue was 2.36 million yuan. Last year, our turnover exceeded 2 billion yuan and market value was 7 billion yuan. Our goal is to exceed 10 billion yuan in revenue by the end of our twelfth 5-year plan. Qiaqia’s current core business is in nuts and roasted seeds. We plan to expand into other foods and snacks.

What are Qiaqia’s core business values?

The growth of an enterprise depends largely on its core values. These values are like the enterprise’s DNA; they play a decisive role in how big the enterprise can grow and how far it can go. With our own values, we set the development goals of our company and establish its system. Our corporate vision is to “Create a World-renowned Brand, Build a World-Class Enterprise”.

Since we first build the enterprise, our focus has been to meet customers’ needs and demands, and to become a world-class enterprise. Our values are “Unity, Dedication and Innovation”. We always maintain that we have benefited from society, and it is our duty to repay society. We actively participate in and support various social welfare activities. Our greatest social responsibility is to contribute to the prosperity of China. Our other responsibility is to look into the well-being of our families and loved ones. These may sound shallow, but our management plays an important role in meeting these very obligations.

Earlier, you mentioned integrity. How do you maintain integrity in China’s business environment?

There are different levels of integrity. One is in abiding by the law. Another is in being responsible and to fulfill our duties. We will benefit from looking after the benefits of others. Integrity is not only a responsibility; it is also a form of investment, one with a high rate of return. When we maintain integrity, doors to opportunities in the market will open naturally. It is not easy to maintain integrity, but it is worth every effort because it brings the best returns.

 

More information

Read about the ceremony cum Business Ethics Forum held in celebration of Qiaqia Food’s listing.

Transformation through Collaboration – Dr Michael Teng

Dr Michael Teng (President of MBA Alumni-NUS 2011/2012)

 

The new President of MBA Alumni-NUS (2011/2012), Dr Michael Teng (MBA 1987) believes that no man or organization is an island, and that working closely with other organizations and forging common goals are ways forward.

 

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What motivated you to run for presidency?

I wanted to contribute to the MBA Alumni-NUS as I had served in the council as Secretary in 1989. Since then, I was asked to help in the Marketing Institute of Singapore where I served 14 years in the executive council and the last four years as its President. I feel that I am able to now contribute effectively as the President after 22 years – I am now older, wiser and freer, and with more business connections to bring the alumni to greater heights.

What do you do in terms of career?

I am running an investment firm representing investors interested in acquiring distressed companies and helping them to transform and turn around. We also train and advise firms in Singapore, Africa, Indo-China and China on corporate restructuring and improving their financial performance.

How do you think your profession will contribute to your role as the association’s president?

I specialize in corporate transformation, authored 23 books on this subject, and spent 19 years as the CEO transforming major corporations and listed companies. Every organization, including healthy ones, needs to transform as business models become obsolete and competition grows intense. MBA Alumni-NUS is no exception and needs to transform, too, to stay relevant.

How do you think your role as the association’s president benefits you in your profession?

I will be leading an association whose members are the best brains in the country. There is going to be rub-off for me as I learn from them. In addition, MBA Alumni-NUS offers me an opportunity to network, make friends and do something worthwhile for the community.

During your presidency, what do you hope to achieve for the MBA Alumni-NUS and for its members and why?

I have put in place a NLP program, which stands for Networking, Learning and Profiling. I have presented to my fellow council and ordinary members, and have gotten their support and endorsement. We will continue to develop the alumni as a platform for networking (N). I want to attract older members to come back and participate in our events as learning (L) does not stop after we finish the MBA program. The council members and I plan to hold many seminars in conjunction with other institutions to enable our members to continue their learning journey. My council members and I intend to raise the profile of the alumni. Our vision is to become a de-facto authority on business matters so that, for example, when the public or media have pertinent business issues, they will refer to our alumni for comments. We intend to engage our members who are mostly industry leaders to become more active in the alumni. We will also contribute articles to the press to make our presence stronger. In addition, we plan to use the platform of “Transformation through Collaboration” to make an impact in the business community.

During your presidency, what legacy would you like to leave and why?

I have a theme for my term and I hope that it will continue long after I finish my tour of duty: “Transformation through Collaboration“. I have already mentioned the importance of transformation. Why collaboration? No man or organization is an island. I want to leverage and work with the other alumni associations such as NUS Business School Alumni, NUS Mandarin Alumni, DUAL, Marketing Institute of Singapore as well as with other associations. We can increase our profile quicker if we work closely with other organizations in joint events and strategic alliances, and forge common interests and goals.

Among your list of goals to achieve, which ones are the key ones that you intent to focus on and why?

I want to raise the profile of the alumni to befit the MBA program’s ranking as one of the top 23 in the world. As premier business alumni, we need to be relevant and visible in the business community. The alumni’s standing has to commensurate with the high academic standing of the MBA program.

How do you intend to involve and engage members of the association to help achieve these causes for both theirs as well as the association’s benefit?

I cannot do it alone. That is why I emphasize collaboration and getting the support of all the stakeholders like council members, the school and GANO. Our members will surely benefit through this collaboration and expand their sphere of contacts and networks.

Good Food, Good Relationships

Good Food, Good Relationships

They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. The same could be said about employees. Besides the usual fine-dining or pub-hopping, companies are now embracing cooking lessons to foster bonds between their employees. Alumni share how food has become the universal language among the staff of their respective companies and how it has facilitated team bonding.

 

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Michelle Tan (MBA 2008):

Food events, also known as “brown bag” events, set the mood for a more relaxed atmosphere. Food is a great conversation starter, and a wonderful tool to forage for new friendships. When I first joined the company, it was through lunch sessions with my colleagues that I was introduced to the soft aspects of the organizational culture, and taught how to better adapt to my new work environment. Till today, I make it a point to never lunch alone so that I can sustain the bond with my colleagues. Due to the fast-paced and stressful work environment, I sometimes find it hard to engage my superiors on a more personal level. Fortunately, my company organizes occasional “drinking sessions”, whereby selected staff are invited to mingle with senior management over a round of food and drinks. It was by attending these “brown bag” events that I eventually managed to know the senior management better and build rapport with them. It is thus important to organize occasional out-of-work events to build people close together as staff bonding is vital in keeping staff motivated. As the business saying goes, a happy workforce is a productive workforce.

Clifford Koh (MBA 2010):

My colleagues and I often have lunch-outs with bosses as such events are opportunities for interaction in a casual environment. Another way to break the ice would be to share background of food from our own culture. For example, I introduced custard buns, which were not commonly ordered, to my team during a tim sum outing. Sometimes, my senior colleagues would also share ways to prepare dishes for our respective families. Personally, I have gained from their teachings to prepare bak kut teh for my wife during our wedding anniversary last year. Sometimes, we even discuss various types of food for fertility, for slimming and for neuro-enhancement. I once attended a tiramisu-baking course organized by SAFRA that was definitely different from the usual movie or bowling events. Such events not only identify the better cooks, but also create a talking point within the office. In general, social get-togethers over food allow people to take time off from their work schedule and recharge for the longer journey ahead. They are also opportunities to get to know one another and one another’s family so that we can all look out for one another in the future.

Edwin Chong (MBA 2008):

Satay is one of the best foods that teams can bond over as it involves sharing and having many conversations. When I used to work in Raffles Place, it was common for us colleagues to head to Lau Pa Sat right after work for some good satay. Now, I would bring my staff out for drinks at Robertson Quay and Clarke Quay, just to “chill out”. Before food events are organized, it is essential that the event organizer be mindful of food restrictions and other considerations. For example, I would order halal food as most people can eat it, order barbecued food for variety, or even hold sit-down dinners at restaurants during festive seasons. Sadly, the last one was a rarity due to the hectic nature of the industry I am in. If only my staff and I had more time out of work, I would definitely engage my team in cooking events and see true teamwork in action!

Kirti Chopra (MBA 2010):

After closing every deal, my team and I would go out for a team lunch or dinner. I always go out for lunch with my colleagues on a regular basis and that is actually the time when we share the happenings in our lives and connect with each other. Whenever a new person joins the office, the informal orientation of the person happens during these team lunches. When one is eating, one’s formal guards are let down and others get to know how one really is. I think a social get-together over a barbecue or a potluck meal is a good idea to break the ice and promote camaraderie amongst the team members.

Toh Ern Chong (MBA 2008):

To break the ice before any company lunch or dinner, I would recommend to my bosses the restaurants that the team had visited before. I would also share with my colleagues the new “makan” places that I have recently discovered. Although cooking events may not necessarily cater to the masses, I would not mind getting my department to try out this novel bonding activity. Besides, doing something differently could trigger innovative ways of doing things at work. Also, it would be a more unique experience that my department can “boast” about to the other departments!

Caroline Wan (MBA 2008):

Food is a nice topic to talk about, especially with people whom I just met. Usually I will begin by asking whether they like Singapore food, then talk about where the best local food can be found. As most people are also excited to share their food tastes, conversations get going. Just from talking about food, I can also find out more about the personalities of the people I meet, for example, how receptive they are to new things, like new cuisines.

Prateek Jain (MBA 2009):

After working for some time in my company, I was moved in a new project team. I found the manager of that team to be very serious, and as a result, we rarely spoke. One day, we went for a team lunch. The food was excellent and we started discussing the food. To our surprise, the manager revealed how much he knew about food – from different cuisines to even how the delicacies are prepared. It turned out that he was actually a good cook. Being a food buff myself, I launched into a long conversation with him on food. We had a good time and since then, my perception of him has totally changed.

Sulabh Jhajharia (MBA 2007):

By finding a common ground – food – and with no salaries, designations or job roles whatsoever to separate us, my team and I began to see each other beyond just our job titles, and this helped break a lot more than just ice! As we are all big foodies, we also enjoying finding out the ingredients that go into the food we eat. I am looking forward to cooking events held for my company as I think we can discover so much about each other in such a relaxed and enjoyable environment. It is also a great way to learn about and appreciate other cultures that are usually best represented through their cuisines.

Jaimin Shah (MBA 2010):

After my first week at work, my bosses invited me to Friday beer with their friends. It was a very good opportunity to have open and frank conversations – not just food; alcohol, too, helps to get people talking!

Touching Hearts through Guts

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Regardless of the company, food is truly the universal language among its staff. That is why most companies host events like corporate lunches and dinner & dance gatherings that are usually eagerly anticipated by the employees and management alike. Such events, also known as “brown bag” events, allow employees at different levels of the company hierarchy to mingle with coworkers, and upper-level management to be more visible to the workforce.

“Food and drinks certainly do play a part in reinforcing bonds within the company, and a common sense of identity and solidarity,” says Arthur Tan (BBA 1992), founder of wine distributor Wine Tatler LLP.

To employers like Arthur, the benefits of organizing such events are apparent. Not only would morale be boosted as employees feel appreciated, but open interaction and networking between executives and employees can now be carried out in a non-intimidating environment.

Rising Expectations, Rising Budgets

“Companies no longer hold dinners at a run-down & stuffy traditional Chinese restaurants,” says Arthur, jokingly. According to him, companies are paying more attention to the ambience and quality of food whenever they organize employee gatherings.

“Being in the wines distribution business, I also realize that budgets have risen too. Gone were those days when event organizers would buy wines as an after-thought, at the lowest possible prices. Now, attention and adequate budget is set aside to buy the right kinds of wines to pair with the cuisines served,” he adds.

Arthur thinks that this change in attitude can be attributed to the trend of increasing job mobility in the past decade. In the past, employees tended to work for the same company for longer periods of time. These days, employees are easily enticed to move for various reasons such as greater challenge or job satisfaction, higher wages and better work environment. Thus, companies have to be more alert and proactive in making themselves attractive to potential employees and to retain existing staff. Apart from higher salaries, other perks such as work environment, staff welfare and corporate values and culture are equally important.

Notes Arthur, “Employees gatherings used to be the sole domain and privilege of big companies which could afford such luxuries. But corporate employee gatherings like the annual dinner & dance have now become a sort of must, to reward employees for a job well done. Even when there is a recession, companies try not to cut back on expenditures for ‘D&Ds’ as they are no longer treated as luxuries; they are, instead, seen as morale sustaining and boosting measures even in tough times.”

Referring to the organizational theory of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Arthur highlights that instilling a sense of belonging through such gatherings would also ensure that employees stay and remain productive.

Building and Bonding Teams

Companies are now even more consciously using such food-and-drink gatherings effectively as a tool for team building or bonding. Arthur’s brother and fellow NUS alumnus, Chairman and Managing Director of Food Empire Tan Wang Cheow (BAcc 1981), agrees. Says Wang Cheow, “Yes, we see this especially during our family day or during any festive season.” Like his brother, Wang Cheow is also a proponent of winning the hearts of employees through “brown bag” events as they help to strengthen the bonds between colleagues.

When endurance and physical challenges used to be the theme of team-building activities, companies are taking a step closer to their employees’ hearts with something which most people can relate to – cooking and baking. At such sessions, the process of food preparation is used as a vehicle to articulate team values and ideas.

“Team building used to be associated with physical activities,” recalls Arthur. “Baking or cooking sessions are an alternative and, possibly, a complement to the traditional ones as they focus on softer communication and coordination skills,” he adds.

Cheers to Casual Camaraderie

While companies do play a big part in integrating their staff, some employees can also initiate the creation of genuine camaraderie. There is a natural tendency for colleagues to form after-hours drinking “kakis” to indulge in their own “happy hours” at favourite pubs, thereby expanding their circle of friends. Some of these watering holes even hold promotions that facilitate such camaraderie, such as special discounts for staff of different industries on different nights of the week.

“Forging good working relationships is possible during working hours, but grows difficult due to the existence of office politics and formal reporting lines and hierarchy,” explains Arthur. “After office hours, people tend to let their guard down and socialize more freely, with less inhibition.”

Arthur believes that this employee-initiated camaraderie helps to strengthen rapport and bridge differences at the ground level. He adds: “If one looks at the Japanese culture of colleagues socializing after work, one would see why the Japanese are able to work as one and always at consensus.”

Arthur thinks that with the abundance of fragmented meeting places for dining and drinking to cater to all kinds of people and occasions, fostering deeper and personal relationships amongst colleagues is facilitated, and could prove to be valuable to companies driven by synergy.

He assures that the high sociability of the Japanese can be emulated, as it is an intrinsic skill found in most people. He says: “Human beings are social animals. People will always have that need to connect and interact, be it between family members, friends or colleagues.”

Judging from today’s trend, companies and leaders should not underestimate the power of a simple feast, be it just lunch or an extravagant do. Nourishing the body strengthens team spirit at work.