There is no sunset industry, only sunset thinking.
The comment from a chief executive of a food company was cited by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat last night as an example of how success depends in large part on the attitudes of the people in the organisation.
"Whether a firm or an industry will succeed is not pre-ordained - it depends on our mindset and how we build competitive advantage," said Mr Heng, who was speaking at the Economic Society of Singapore's annual dinner held at Mandarin Orchard.
Mr Heng, who co-chaired the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE), said that when the CFE considered the trends affecting Singapore, such as the rise of emerging economies, some people wanted to bet on new growth industries or new technologies.
But there are no shortcuts in a fast-changing world, he said, stressing that it was a readiness for change and a willingness to learn and try that was necessary.
Innovation has become vital to the success of companies, said the minister.
Beyond in-house development of new products and services, companies are also setting up corporate venture funds and incubators to work with and invest in promising start-ups.
ST Engineering, for instance, recently launched a corporate venture capital unit and started an open innovation lab called Innosparks.
Mr Heng also urged companies to work together with others in their sector to build up industry- wide capabilities.
He cited a company he visited in Switzerland that was training about 100 students to operate complex machinery even though it needed only 60 new recruits. The remaining 40 would go to its competitors.
"Why would a company train for its competitors? The CEO explained that there would be an industry-wide shortage of talent otherwise - a shortage that would affect them all.
"It was a lesson in competing and cooperating at the same time."
Industry leaders in Singapore have taken encouraging steps, he noted.
The TechSkills Accelerator (TeSA), which trains professionals in the infocomm and technology sector, is an example of such an industry-wide effort.
More than 10,000 professionals have benefited from TeSA's programmes.
The result is that companies can hire from a deeper pool of talent with relevant skills.
Chia Yan Min