Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at the Launch of SME Leadership Academy by Google and UOB

Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at the Launch of SME Leadership Academy by Google and UOB

1. A very good afternoon to all of you. It is good to be back at Google because the last time I came here, we were talking about how to reach out to the SMEs and today, we see the partnership between Google and UOB. I’ll tell you why I am so happy and assured by this move. Can you bring up the slide which shows that SMEs make up 99 percent of our businesses, 47 percent of our GDP and 72 percent of our workers? So if we were to look at the slide, are we happy or sad? Should we be proud or do we think we can do better?

2. I always remind myself how much more we can do better. Indeed, if SMEs make up 99 percent of all our companies, employing 72 percent of our workforce, and they only produce 47% of our GDP, then in the definition of the banking world, we are underperforming right? This is the reason we are here. Surely, we aim to do much better than this. It is MTI’s intention, UOB’s intention and Google’s intention. For all of us here today, we are united by one thing, we want to see the number grow to more than 47 percent of GDP. We hope that SMEs would also be much more productive and much more efficient. The essence of our challenge in Singapore is how do we get our SMEs to be much more efficient, much more productive and much more competitive? 

3. Secondly, I do not like the word SME because it is too broad a category. You should stop thinking of SMEs as being Small and Medium Enterprises. We need to get you out of this mental model. Can you instead be Singapore MNCs Emerging? You cannot think of yourself as SMEs but have a higher order ambition. We need a higher order ambition in the following ways. 

4. Number one, our markets should not just be about Singapore. Our markets must go way beyond Singapore.  It does not mean that you must be big to be a multinational corporation. In fact, one of the wonders of digital technology is that today, we can scale across borders and reach out to markets without having to do the conventional scaling up in terms of brick and mortar or in terms of the number of employees.  This is the reason why I am so cheered by the partnership between Google and UOB. It combines the kind of things that we want our SMEs to adopt and leverage on in order to create those new growth opportunities that go beyond the conventional constraints of physical size. Today, when the two combine, there are a lot of efficiencies to be gained.  

5. The first challenge to overcome is this. In the past, when the SMEs go around and look for solution packages, everyone is duplicating or reinventing the wheels. In fact, there are many solution packages that can be customised and plug and play as we call it, to be made ready for the SMEs.  Secondly, in the past SMEs believe that they do not have the scale to adopt technological or digital solutions, and that is not true. In fact, we have broken the paradigm of “I need to be big in order for me to have scale to adopt some of these solutions”. In fact, the logic has been reversed. Today, one can adopt the technology and therefore can be big, and not because I’m big therefore I’m able to adopt the technology. Last but not least, we need to change our mindset from thinking that SMEs will only work in Singapore and cater to the Singapore market. We need to go beyond Singapore. The world is our hinterland, and there is absolutely no reason for us to stay and set our sights only in the Singapore market. So stop calling yourselves Small and Medium Enterprises but start calling yourselves “Singapore MNCS Emerging”, and have a higher order of aspirations for tomorrow. 

6. Ladies and gentlemen, I really want to thank UOB and Google for doing this for our business ecosystem. Because we have said so much about bringing the Singapore economy to the next higher plane, and we can’t do that unless we overcome the numbers and if we can do so, you can imagine how much more powerful the Singapore economic engine will be. 

7. Actually my set of numbers of are slightly different from yours. Today, when I tier all the companies. 50 percent of our workforce are working in companies at the bottom two tiers, below $1 million and below $10 million. 50 percent are working in the top two tiers. For the top two tiers, the value-add and value creation is the vast majority of the economy. So our challenge is to unleash the potential of the bottom two tiers. And if we can do that, we can scale up our GDP, we can scale up the business opportunities and we can scale up the productivity and the kind of wages that our workers can all command in our economy. So it is not about Singapore being short of manpower, being short of big companies. It is how we scale up, allowing our Small and Medium Enterprises or enterprises of all kinds to scale up on the digital front. Thank you once again to UOB and Google for leading the way. Thank you very much for your good work.

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