Speech by President Halimah Yacob at the Singapore Business Awards

Mr Ng Yat Chung, Chief Executive Officer, Singapore Press Holdings

Mr Ken Lee, Chief Executive Officer, DHL Express Asia Pacific

Distinguished guests

Ladies and Gentlemen


Good evening.


I am pleased to join you this evening for the Singapore Business Awards (SBA). Let me begin by conveying my warmest congratulations to all the award recipients. You have exemplified the spirit of entrepreneurship, resilience and visionary drive.

As a small city-state, Singapore has always strived to strengthen our position as a leading global city. We have also anchored our position as an economy whose competitiveness and influence far outstrip our physical size. This stems from our unwavering desire to ensure that Singaporeans will continue to have good jobs and careers, and lead fulfilling lives.

We are starting from a strong position, but we should not be complacent. We have to be prepared for the future economy. Today, we are living in a time of technological disruptions, shifts in global supply and value chains, and our own domestic constraints. These changes and uncertainties will fundamentally change the complexion for our businesses. But if we draw inspiration from each other, and respond creatively, nimbly and collectively as one, we can overcome these challenges and take advantage of new opportunities. So how do we do so?   Let me suggest four areas that businesses can consider as the way forward to build stronger capabilities.

First, innovation. In this time of change, it is all the more important for us to continue experimenting and learning, creating new and better processes or products.  Only through innovation would our businesses remain relevant and ahead of the curve.  A good example is YCH Group, led by Dr Robert Yap who was the Businessman of the Year in 2014. YCH Group launched Supply Chain City at the Jurong Innovation District last year. It features the world’s first patented Fusionaris, a fusion of an automated storage and retrieval system with a fully ramped-up warehouse, along with inventory-counting drones and advanced robotics. At the heart of YCH’s expansion strategy is process optimisation and innovation driven primarily through the use of IT. 

Second, internationalisation. Singapore has the advantage of being situated at the heart of a fast growing market. Our businesses should harness this strategic strength by breaking into new markets abroad, especially in Asia. Last year’s Businessman of the Year, Mr Heinrich Jessen, Chairman of Jebsen & Jessen (Southeast Asia) grew the multinational Group in nine of the ten ASEAN markets. Their headquarters continue to be maintained in the region’s capital cities.

Third, raising productivity through technology to bring about greater operational efficiency as well as other improvements. Technological disruptions together with a shrinking workforce present both a constraint and an opportunity for businesses. How we deal with these shifts will be key to how well we adapt to the changes. Take for example, Sheng Siong Supermarket, Singapore’s third largest retailer and the SBA Enterprise Award winner in 2014. Sheng Siong recognises the benefit of adopting self-service technologies, so in 2016, they introduced a secure closed cash management solution to make shopping faster and more convenient for their customers. The solution automatically collects the customer’s payment and dispenses change accurately, removing the need for manual payment to a cashier. This ensures greater accuracy in cash payments, and frees cashiers to spend more time with customers to serve them better.

Fourth, building human capital as a strategic asset. It may sound cliché, but our people are our only assets. This is true not just for a small nation with no natural resources like Singapore, but also for most businesses which rely on their talent. One example is DBS. Mr Piyush Gupta, CEO of DBS Group and Outstanding CEO in 2015, incorporated hackathons into its talent development programme, to give DBS employees the opportunities to work with startups and gain exposure to the fintech culture, agile methodology and other digital working ideas.

To support businesses in coping and capitalising on these fundamental shifts, the Government will continue to invest for the longer term and foster conditions for growth and transformation of our businesses. For instance, the Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2020 Plan, announced in January 2016, supports and translates research for society and the marketplace, as well as builds up the innovation capacity of our companies. More recently, Enterprise Singapore was launched to provide more holistic support for our enterprises in the future economy. The result of a merger between International Enterprise (IE) Singapore and SPRING Singapore, Enterprise Singapore will adopt an enterprise-centric approach in working with our enterprises to help them harness technology, deepen capabilities and seize new opportunities in regional and international markets. 

The Government has also launched the Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) to help organise our economic transformation efforts in an integrated and coordinated tripartite approach. Together with the trade associations and chambers (TACs) and unions, the Government and businesses will work closely together to drive collaborations. For example, the TACs can lead and drive industry-wide initiatives to seek shared solutions among businesses or across industries; and our unions can mobilise our workers to adapt to change.

We are at the cusp of a transformation in the global economic landscape. There are challenges ahead, but we also see great opportunities. I am heartened that businesses are partnering each other, and with the Government to maintain the momentum of Singapore’s economic agenda. Our people are taking action – and continue to be bold, aspirational, and focused on the future. Together, we are stronger. Together, we can shape our success story.

Once again, my heartiest congratulations to all the award recipients tonight. I hope their stories will set examples for others to follow, to help inspire everyone to do the same so that together we can co-create a vibrant economy, a city of opportunities, and an endearing home for all of us.  

Thank you.