Speech by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the opening of Unilever's Four Acres Singapore Campus

28 June 2013

Mr Paul Polman
CEO, Unilever

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen

I am delighted to be here to open this beautiful Four Acres Singapore facility today. This is Unilever’s only campus outside London. It is our first corporate university campus in Singapore of this scale, and this four acres of land - actually it is five point something - will train 900 global leaders from Unilever every year, twice the capacity of Four Acres London. It will develop and run half of Unilever’s global leadership development courses, including several with Singapore-based educational institutes which you have just heard – SMU, the Human Capital Leadership Institute, with other institutions here. And we hope that we can play a small role in helping Unilever’s leaders understand Asia better, while maintaining a global outlook. So it is fitting that you are in Singapore, in a place called Nepal Hill.

Singapore is very honoured to host Four Acres. You could have sited the Campus anywhere in the world, or certainly anywhere in Asia. But basing Four Acres here makes sense for both Unilever and Singapore. To you, we would like to think that it enables Unilever to take advantage of our talent development ecosystem and capabilities. It reinforces Unilever’s Home for Business in Singapore and it helps Unilever to groom leaders who will seize the opportunities in emerging regional markets and fulfil your corporate goal, your stretch target, of doubling your revenues by 2020. To Singapore, it also makes sense because Four Acres complements our Home for Talent initiatives. It will play an integral role at LINK@Nepal Hill. LINK stands for Leadership Initiatives, Networks and Knowledge ecosystem. It is EDB’s buzzword, but it means a cluster of leadership development institutions like INSEAD and Essec and now Four Acres, clustered together, deriving benefits and sparking off ideas with one another. So we will do our best to help Four Acres and Unilever to thrive.

This is the latest example of the long and excellent partnership between Unilever and Singapore. It goes back more than 50 years, when Unilever was selling detergent and edible fats in Singapore. It has progressively upgraded its operations here, and linked Singapore with its global network of businesses and services. So today, Singapore is one of your global operations hubs, and your regional business headquarters for Southeast Asia and for Australasia. Many high-value global functions are managed out of Singapore, e.g. brand development, supply chain management, customer development, HR, finance; and Singapore is one of six global hosts for Unilever’s Customer Insights and Innovation Centre.

We are happy that Unilever has built up its presence here, and that you want to do more. And we would like to help you to do more, because Consumer Businesses is a growth industry that we are developing to tap the rapidly growing Asian middle class. The numbers are growing, their purchasing power is growing, their taste and sophistication are also rising, and I think that we should be part of this story. It is a high-value sector, it fits our knowledge-based economy and it fits in with our advantages of being globally connected here. It will create diverse and exciting jobs with global or regional coverage for Singaporeans. Therefore, in recognition of this friendship, a deep and abiding one, Singapore is pleased to confer on Unilever the Distinguished Partner in Progress 2012 award. Congratulations! Of course, this is more of a beginning than a capstone, so we look forward to doing more with Unilever in the future.

This Four Acres Campus is an example of how much emphasis good companies put on talent development. It is a reminder that countries too need to develop their people. It is true for all countries, whether you are big or small, whether you are resource-rich or resource-poor. Many countries are trying to do this, some better than others. They have developed schemes to expand their resource pool. Even China and India, who must have the biggest absolute numbers of bright and talented people in the world, are doing this. China has a “One Thousand Talents Scheme” to attract top global research talent to base themselves in China, to come back to China, to develop new ideas and stimulate new activities in their already rapidly growing economy. India has got Ramanujan Fellowships to bring overseas Indian scientists back to India. In case you may not know, Ramanujan was a very brilliant Indian mathematician, died young, but he was a magician. And till today, his work is studied and is relevant, and the Indians naturally hold him in very high regard. So by the time the Chinese and the Indians need talent, and go to these lengths to develop and attract talent, what more the rest of us? What more a little place like Singapore?

In Singapore, we have focused on this obsessively for a very long time. People are our only resource. We have made education, lifelong learning and talent development a national priority. We have built a good education system across the board – primary schools, secondary schools, ITEs, polytechnics, universities. We have got a professional Education Service, comprising well-trained, empowered teachers – good quality people, properly paid, properly resourced, backed up with the authority and the ability to take initiatives and to do what they believe is best for their charges. We have a national Continuing Education and Training system, to keep our workers’ skills current in a rapidly changing world because we know that you cannot finish your education in school, or in university. While managers and top management need to keep themselves current in facilities such as Four Acres, so too, workers and rank-and-file must update themselves, and stay abreast of new technologies, new techniques, new ways of working, new ways they can keep themselves relevant and earn a living for themselves. We have also built a meritocratic system, to reward and advance people based on their contribution and potential, and to expect from people more, those people who are able to contribute more back to society. These efforts have borne fruit. Our students do well in international comparisons, whether it is PISA, comparing school results or school children’s abilities, whether it is a WorldSkills Competition, whether it is International Olympiads of different kinds. Our workers are in high demand internationally. Our unemployment is very low, especially among young people, which may not be so dramatically surprising to Singaporeans; but if you come from Europe, you will know that youth unemployment is an enormous problem. In many other parts of the world, young people are less easily fitted into jobs than people who are already working. In Singapore, that is not the case.

We have had some progress. But in a globalised world, retaining and grooming talent is more important than ever. So we have to go further. We must develop every Singaporean child to his fullest potential, while giving those who start off with less every chance to level up. We have got to create more education pathways to nurture our students’ diverse strengths; whether it is sports, arts, whether it is Maths and Science, technology, whether you start off on one path and you want to divert to another, whether you are developing early or late. The possibilities must always be there to grow, to blossom, to develop your best.

We need also to build a strong Singapore core in the workforce, for example, through the Singapore-Industry Scholarship, EDB’s Overseas Internship Programme and so on. We are very happy that Unilever in Singapore, with your very international complement of managers are also focusing attention on developing Singaporeans so that they can expand their skills and contribute and compete on their merits in this high quality organisation. Most importantly, we want to keep Singapore an exciting and vibrant city, a place where people want to live, want to work, want to play, want to come back again and again, so that talented Singaporeans ourselves will want to stay here and pursue new opportunities, create new successes, and best improve life for all Singaporeans.

I am confident that Unilever will succeed. I am certain that Singapore will continue backing you and succeed with you. And I look forward to working with Unilever for more than another half century to thrive together. Congratulations once again on the opening of Four Acres Singapore!