Transform or be left behind, urges SBF chairman

Mr Teo Siong Seng says the SBF will focus on becoming more "issue-centric" and deepening partnership with businesses while raising collaboration with trade associations and chambers.
Mr Teo Siong Seng says the SBF will focus on becoming more "issue-centric" and deepening partnership with businesses while raising collaboration with trade associations and chambers.ST FILE PHOTO

Businesses must have confidence, courage to transform as S'pore economy is at a tipping point, says S.S. Teo

The Singapore economy is now at a tipping point, as more companies understand the need for change and with productivity on the mend, said Singapore Business Federation (SBF) chairman Teo Siong Seng.

And businesses must have "the confidence and courage to continue to transform" or they will be left behind, said Mr S.S. Teo, as he is better known, in an interview yesterday. "Many Singapore firms have been successful, and when we're successful, sometimes we don't have the courage to move out of our comfort zones," he noted.

Mr Teo is also managing director of home-grown shipping company Pacific International Lines.

"But you also find that the global economy is changing so fast, especially with disruptive technologies, which means that businesses can get wiped out if we don't change."

Against this backdrop, the SBF, celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, is reviewing its role to be more responsive to the evolving economic and business landscape and, in turn, the needs of its members and the wider business community.

Mr Teo said the SBF will focus on two fronts: to become more "issue- centric" by driving insights into major issues facing companies; and to deepen its partnership with the business community while raising its collaboration with trade associations and chambers.

"As the business environment continues to evolve... it cannot be business as usual for the SBF if we want to stay relevant to our members," he said, adding that more details on the SBF's new focus and related initiatives will be unveiled at the opening of its new office in Robinson Road on Sept 5.

Already, the SBF has begun to do more to help tackle specific issues, such as by setting up a closed-door dialogue for the troubled offshore and marine sector in September last year, which included financial institutions, government agencies and industry representatives.

Last November, the Government unveiled two support measures to address the intensifying financial challenges in the sector, offering funds and bridging loans. "We are very heartened by this," said Mr Teo. "This ecosystem - we took 30 years to build. If we were to be squeezed out from the market, we will lose the expertise, the professionals."

The SBF last year also issued a position paper for the first time - a set of recommendations to the Government aimed at improving the business environment and the economy. It contributed significantly to subsequent recommendations made by the Committee on the Future Economy, which looked at how Singapore can be reshaped for the future.

Mr Teo said that despite nascent signs of improvement in the economy, the unease over slower global growth, anti-globalisation sentiment and technology disruption continues to weigh heavily on firms.

"The outlook remains challenging, but there continues to be opportunity around us. In fact, we're right on the doorstep of one of the fastest- growing economies in the world - Asean. So as we go through this transformation, it's important that the SBF continues to be an advocate for the business community."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2017, with the headline 'Transform or be left behind, urges SBF chairman'. Print Edition | Subscribe