Friends, ladies and gentlemen,
1. The annual Enterprise 50 (E50) awards, now in its 27th year, have been firmly established as a benchmark for excellence in today's competitive business environment.
2. Last year, businesses were unquestionably hit very hard by the worst crisis in a generation. The increasingly challenging and unexpected conditions have left many companies behind, unable to operate, compete or at significantly reduced levels.
3. As a former businessman, I can perfectly relate and resonate with the struggles that many businesses have to go through. As they always say in Chinese, “创业难，守业更难”, which means that to start a business is very difficult but to sustain one and to continue to sustain it well is even harder. Even in normal times, the challenges that our enterprises have to face, the multiple curveballs that come their way have been significant, and last year, this was further exacerbated when the COVID-19 pandemic hit us.
4. This year’s theme “Innovating For A Sustainable Future” is apt, given the challenges in the operating environment and the huge volatilities that we are seeing in the global economy. In such a difficult environment, it is critical for businesses to innovate, to transform, not only to stay above the tide but to also thrive, survive and also prosper and grow.
5. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated many changes in our economy and society. As a little red dot that is reliant on external trade, businesses must be agile and constantly adapt to new operational challenges, curveballs and requirements. To shape the future, we need to consider two questions:
i. How can our companies manage the present and future challenges?
ii. And how can companies innovate for a sustainable future?
Managing the present challenges
6. Even before COVID-19, companies were already adopting technological solutions and reviewing their business plans, business models and strategies. The economic shock of the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the volatilities in the global economy and caused a rapid acceleration of these advancements. The sudden disruption of supply and value chains have caused our customers’ needs and behaviours to change in tandem. Our companies had to quickly innovate, restructure and renew their business models to better position themselves in the new value creation pools.
7. To manage the present challenges, companies must continue to be nimble, diversify and be a critical node in the value chain.
Companies must continue to be nimble
8. First, to be nimble means one would have to pre-emptively seek out new areas of opportunities instead of waiting for opportunities to land in front of us. We do not have that luxury, particularly as a small country. The path ahead will be tough, but as entrepreneurs, we have to be tougher. Our entrepreneurs have shown the gumption to forge ahead to tackle the immediate challenges presented by the crisis.
9. Take for example, Top International Holding, a key player in energy and resources that has won the E50 award for three consecutive years. To improve operations and prepare for the resumption of business activities after the circuit breaker period, the company capitalised on digital tools to automate back-end paperwork and eliminate redundancies, allowing the company to focus on what is important for business expansion.
10. Enterprise Singapore has also stepped up efforts to support companies through these challenging times. I am glad to see that despite the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 15,000 companies pressed on with projects to raise productivity, to innovate and transform themselves and to go international. This will put them in a strong position to capture current and future opportunities once the recovery comes.
Companies must continue to diversify
11. Second, our companies must be willing to pivot to new areas of opportunity and different ways of operating even after the pandemic recedes. As global production and supply chains become reorganised and operations become more decentralised, enterprises must look beyond price competitiveness and develop a superior value proposition based on innovation and strong brand attributes so that they will not be easily displaced.
12. Sustainability will be an important trend for our companies to capitalise on regardless of their sectors and I strongly encourage all companies to consider the renewed urgency to integrate sustainability into their business. Let me share with you two examples:
i. BR Metals is one of Asia’s leading processors of spent catalysts. The company recovers precious metals such as platinum and palladium from spent materials that can be used in new products. This reduces the need to mine for new metals, minimising the environmental impact and strengthening the industry’s resilience.
ii. Another company is Mao Sheng Quanji Construction. The company uses solar panels and Wi-Fi to power up and control the irrigation systems of the nursery in Changi Airport, which enables the reduction of usage of electricity, as well as minimising water wastage.
13. A recent report by consulting group Bain, showed that the green economy could potentially generate US$1 trillion in annual economic opportunities across Southeast Asia by 2030. To support companies to tap on opportunities in the growing green economy, Singapore has launched the Green Finance Action Plan in 2019 to help defray the incremental expenses of taking up green or sustainability-linked loans and bonds to support companies’ investments in green projects and the adoption of more sustainable business practices.
14. It is increasingly important for our local enterprises to harness sustainability as a competitive advantage. If integrated as part of their strategy, sustainability can be a long-term capability that could open doors to new market opportunities.
Companies must be a critical node in the value chain
15. Finally, all our companies, we look to you to becoming the critical nodes in our value chain creation and value chain capture. We should not just think of creating value. We should also think of closing the loop by capturing the value.
16. Singapore has gradually reopened our economy in a calibrated and sustainable manner. While the economy is projected to see a gradual recovery in the later part of this year, the pace of recovery across the diferent sectors remains uneven. It is important that we appreciate how our economy has transformed and we should preempt and anticipate the changes to rise above the tide.
17. To ensure that our companies stay relevant in the marketplace, we must identify those unique capabilities that will strengthen our position as a critical node in the entire global value chain. When we are the critical node ourselves, it will be harder for our companies to be displaced.
18. To get there, I urge companies to:
i. Rethink processes and value propositions to seize the opportunities available amidst the pandemic; how do we do things differently?
ii. Intensify transformation efforts to remain resilient and compete in a changing economy; and
iii. Be ready to develop your workforce and adapt to the changes in the new business environment.
19. When we do this well, we will be able to comprehend the shift to innovate and reposition ourselves in the new value pools created through this crisis and place ourselves in the forefront leading position for growth.
20. It is also just as important for our workers to remain and stay open-minded to new job scopes, new job roles and to continue to upskill to ensure that they are equipped with the relevant skills to adapt and contribute in a new business environment that is continuously evolving.
i. For example, Utracon Overseas, believes that upskilling, training and continual learning are essential to improving the competencies and workers’ productivity. The staff are given the opportunity to undertake job rotations to try different nature of work in different countries and to also broaden their knowledge.
21. For enterprises that are ready to expand, ESG has schemes such as the Global Ready Talent Programme, Scale-Up SG and Enterprise Leadership for Transformation to help enterprises develop their capabilities and expand into overseas market. When our local enterprises grow and succeed in the future, I hope they will also provide opportunities to our local companies. In this way, we can grow more Singapore companies into globally competitive enterprises.
22. In a time where there is an upswell in tide, all boats float up. In times like this, when the tide is out, you really can see which are the jems in the industry. And I hope that all of us here recognise the jems in ourselves with the tide going out so that when the tide comes in, we will soar and we will rise. The Government will be committed to help all of you to the extent that is possible for you to continue to stay ahead of the pack.
23. In conclusion, I would like to commend the Business Times, KPMG Singapore and OCBC bank for organising and sponsoring the E50 awards to celebrate the achievements of our enterprises.
24. The event today recognises the significant strides forward which these 50 local enterprises have achieved given the very challenging economic climate brought on by the pandemic. Your ability to ride the tide will enable you to grow the company and grow Singapore into a node that will not be easily displaced.
25. To all the winners, congratulations and thank you for having me here to celebrate your success.