I have spent the last two weeks in Singapore and Malaysia looking at regional and metro retail, meeting local Australian, European and American expat business owners and researching business courses.
However, my greatest surprise wasn’t the vibrancy of the business community, growth of international brands, number of Aussie retail execs senior in, or running, Asian retailers. Nor was it the tax breaks, IT and general business support given to small business in Singapore. Not even the scale of the redevelopment in and around Marina Bay in Singapore or the outskirts of sprawling KL. No.
The greatest surprise came whilst in the back of a taxi on my way to INSEAD, hearing that Australia had a new prime ,inister. The taxi driver, a Singaporean, knew that it was out fifth PM in six years! He had just been to the polls three days earlier to re-elect Singapore’s second president. That’s their second since 1965. That’s two in 50 years! He was a little bemused that Australia had been through so much change, understood about our mining boom was coming to an end, but had heard we were investing in new, more job-friendly areas such as retail, tourism and casinos. His observations. Not mine.
Having spoken with small business owners I had forgotten, but was newly impressed at just how easy it is to start and administer a company in Singapore. Malaysia – still not so easy, but cheaper rent and salaries. You pay your money and make your choice. But not just at a corporate level but even more importantly at a family business level. And that’s true across Asia.
It was brought home by a meeting at INSEAD’s Singapore Campus. INSEAD (in French Institut Européan d’Administration des Affaires; in English the European Institute for Business Administration), is the French equivalent of the Harvard or Wharton Business schools.
It’s a business school that prides itself on being truly international, and has had a fully owned campus in Singapore for 15 years. Its business courses reflect the needs of international and Asian based business people. My main reason for visiting was to look at executive courses for the execs in some of the businesses I chair and advise, but also for my own development to look at the INSEAD chairman’s course. What jumped out was the fact that they had a large number of courses built around the needs of private and family businesses.
When I asked why, Anne Verbeek, INSEAD’s Australian-born director of corporate partnerships, pointed to the fact that 85% of all businesses across Asia are privately held, employing more than 65% of the total working population. Way more than corporate and government combined. Asia needs these businesses to thrive, and pass from one generation to another. INSEAD and the Singapore government understand the need to tailor specialist courses for family business executives.
I work with about 20 MDs down the eastern seaboard who are owners of private businesses, or who lead private businesses for family shareholders. I think I need to advise them to go north if they are to truly develop themselves.
I was so taken with INSEAD’s approach, I will be signing up for the chairman’s course next year.