Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat at the 25th Enterprise 50 Awards Presentation and Gala Dinner on 26 November 2019.
Deputy CEO, Singapore Press Holdings
Mr Wong Wei Kong,
Editor, The Business Times
Mr Ong Pang Thye,
Managing Partner, KPMG Singapore
Mr Linus Goh,
Head, Global Commercial Banking, OCBC Bank
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for inviting me to join you on this occasion. I last attended the Enterprise 50 awards in 2017. The world has changed much since. Looking back, no one would have predicted the extent of change that came within the last few years.
The global economy has slowed significantly. We are at the tail end of an economic upswing, and now the situation is exacerbated by the rising tensions between the United States and China. The US-China relationship was already showing signs of strain back in 2017. But tensions have ratcheted up this year. The bifurcation of supply chains and technology is a real possibility; and the rapid advancement of technology is driving pervasive changes across all sectors of our economy and across the world.
The impact of these changes is keenly felt in Singapore. Our growth has slowed significantly this year. We avoided a technical recession in the third quarter. And growth next year is projected to be modest. Some of you might have caught the news that PM spoke to the editors a few hours back from Busan, South Korea. He said that we’re preparing a Budget that is strong, suitable to the state of the world and what the Singapore economy needs. I have been discussing a great deal with PM, but I cannot tell you the details yet. Therefore, I will focus my speech on what business leaders can do.
If change is a constant, I am heartened that we are strengthening our spirit of enterprise in responding to changes. As we reflect on our history in our Bicentennial year, what stands out is how the enterprise, grit and can-do spirit of our forefathers have enabled us to thrive over the ups and downs, over the decades and centuries. These same attributes have seen us through a number of crises since our nation’s independence - recession in 1985, the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997, SARS in 2003; and the Global Financial Crisis in 2008. Each time, we emerged stronger as one people, as an economy, and as a nation.
As the world continues to evolve rapidly, we must continue to keep our spirit of enterprise strong. Despite the global downturn, we have many opportunities to build on. Technology opens up many new possibilities, especially in the digital economy. Southeast Asia remains a bright spot in the global economy, and so too are other parts of the world. Our diversity continues to be our strength. By working closer together, and harnessing our diversity, we can be stronger.
Let me elaborate.
Technology opens up new possibilitiesIn the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, technology can disrupt us, if we fail to harness it, or it can enable us, if we can master it.
We must, with the spirit of enterprise, explore how technology can open up innovation and new frontiers. All of you have been paying attention to changes around you. Many have gone on to take bold steps to transform, and even disrupt your own businesses. Pang Thye mentioned M-DAQ in his speech earlier. I remembered, in my visit to M-DAQ two years ago, how passionate the team was in using technology to create new possibilities, and I am happy to see that you are among the award winners tonight.
Technology, and in particular, digital technology offers many new possibilities to transform how we run existing businesses, and to create new opportunities.It is fitting that the organisers have introduced a special 25th Year Digital Economy Award to recognise this.
The Government will do our best to support companies to digitalise and deploy technology. For example, EDB’s Smart Industry Readiness Index serves as a diagnostic tool for manufacturing companies to support them in their Industry 4.0 transformation journey. More than 200 companies have used this tool, and I encourage more of you to do so.
The Government is also rolling out a nationwide e-invoicing network to enable businesses to streamline their processes. The Government will join the network by January 2020, so that vendors can transact with us more efficiently.
Many successful business leaders and entrepreneurs I have spoken to have told me how they have been leveraging on technology, to disrupt themselves ahead of their competitors, how they have invested in their workers so that they have the skills to keep pace with transformation, and to take on better jobs. I hope that more of our companies will do likewise – transform your companies and invest in your people – and ride on the wave of technology to achieve greater success.
Venturing into Asia and beyondAs our companies strive to innovate in their businesses with technology, we can work closely to harness new opportunities overseas.
Despite the global economic slowdown, the long-term prospects and vibrancy of Asia – and Southeast Asia in particular – are promising. Southeast Asia is projected to be the fourth largest economy by 2030, with a young and growing middle class. In fact, a recent report from Google, Temasek and Bain & Company projected that the value of Southeast Asia’s internet economy will triple, from 100 billion US dollars in 2019 to 300 billion US dollars by 2025, up from the earlier projections of 240 billion US dollars.
The Government will continue to work closely with companies to support you in harnessing these opportunities.
We will further strengthen our connectivity, with the region and the world. We are improving our digital connectivity through Digital Economy Agreements. These new agreements further encourage cross-border trade and cooperation by establishing common standards in areas such as e-invoicing, e-payments, and digital identity. These complement our twenty-five existing Free Trade Agreements, including the latest one with the European Union, which came into force just last week.
In the age of trade wars, I think having our free trade agreements provides a very good cover for us. We are also helping companies here to make full use of these Agreements for their overseas expansion.
Enterprise Singapore and the Singapore Business Federation have been conducting educational and outreach activities, such as training courses, and business missions. Enterprise Singapore has also set up a comprehensive Tariff Finder search engine, for companies to find out more about the tariffs and import procedures for specific products in each market. To help Singapore companies to enter different markets, Enterprise Singapore has a network of 35 offices worldwide. Our Global Innovation Alliance network is now in thirteen cities, to connect our businesses with tech and business communities in key innovation hubs overseas. Three of these nodes are in Southeast Asia. We will continue to grow the network when there is demand.
Besides strengthening trade connectivity and expanding the networks of our companies, we have also introduced programmes – such as the Enterprise Development Grant and Market Readiness Assistance Grant – to help businesses defray costs to expand overseas. I think many of the E50 companies will have already been expanding overseas, and if not, it will be a very important step for your growth in the coming years.
Pang Thye and Linus mentioned the experiences of a few companies such as Soilbuild Group, Tat Hong and Tee Yih Jia just now. I am sure that many of you here have other inspiring success stories, and hard-earned lessons, to share. Venturing abroad is not easy, with risks involved, particularly for companies who have not done so before. I hope that more of you will share your experiences, so that others can draw insights, and learn from those who have gone before them.
Beyond learning from one another, I encourage our companies to work more closely together. Indeed, even as companies compete, there are many common challenges where we can collaborate.
We can leverage on each other’s strengths and achieve greater scale. We can collaborate to build our industry commons, by raising the skills and competence of our managers and workers, by growing the pipeline of talent, and building new capabilities. These will not only strengthen each company individually, but also enable our industries, as a group, to compete better regionally and globally.
Merging the spirit of enterprise and the spirit of partnership will enable us to achieve more together – this is the heart of the Singapore Together movement. So, I am glad that when Chun Sing, Iswaran and I reached out to a few hundred business leaders last week to discuss how we can work more closely together. The responses were very positive, and we will continue to build on this momentum, to work with everyone to turn possibilities into action and into outcomes.
Following the global financial crisis, there has been a growing distrust of big banks and big corporations in many advanced economies. Many people see that the narrow pursuit of returns to capital has led to a neglect of other key stakeholders, including customers, employees and suppliers. Many are also concerned about the damage to the environment, and the deterioration in the quality of governance.
In short, the expectations on companies have grown – with your talent and capabilities, companies must not only work well with each other, but with many other stakeholders. Companies should not only do well, they should also do good. Doing well and doing good are not mutually exclusive. Consumers and employees, especially our youths, want to support companies that have a purpose and do meaningful work. Many are increasingly shunning companies that are not.
If we can find a way to both do well and do good, we can not only provide returns for your shareholders, but also tackle the many challenges that the world faces – such as hunger, poverty and climate change. Through your collective effort, you can improve the lives of your workers, our people and the people in the region. In August 2019, the CEOs of nearly 200 companies in US issued a statement on the “purpose of a corporation” stating that “while each of our individual companies serve its own corporate purpose, we share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders” .
In Singapore, we also have very good initiatives such as the Company of Good, a network of more than 1,300 companies, seeking to empower companies to create more impactful and sustainable corporate giving efforts that benefit both their business and the community.
In short, beyond working together with one another to achieve business objectives, companies should also work together with other stakeholders, to achieve good outcomes for our society.
A good example tonight is how the winners of Enterprise 50 awards have continued the tradition of working with NUS students to solve real-world business problems together, and to give our students a window into the business world. Through such collaborations, I also hope that our younger generation will become more enterprising, and more daring in pursuing their dreams.
ConclusionIn conclusion, I encourage all of you to continue to nurture the spirit of enterprise. Your ability to ride the wave of technology, harness the potential of our region, and work together, will enable you to grow your company, grow our economy, and create good jobs for our people. And the same spirit of enterprise can be used, to deliver not just returns, but to achieve good outcomes for our society, our people and our world. So together, let us grow Singapore into a Global-Asia Node of Technology, Innovation and Enterprise.
I congratulate The Business Times and KPMG for organising the Enterprise 50 Awards for 25 years, and thank OCBC for sponsoring this event for more than a decade. I wish you here success for many years to come.
To everyone who has made it to this stage, I trust that you will keep your spirit of enterprise, and achieve greater heights in the years to come, like what we heard earlier about what Tee Yih Jia and Tat Hong have achieved since they won this award 25 years ago.
Together, we can build a better and brighter future for our people and people around us.
Thank you very much.
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