Business success possible without corrupt practices

When I started doing business with neighbouring countries in 1976, I was advised that certain countries in our region were "ridden with corruption" and that I would need to grease the palms of my prospects to obtain business.

From 1976 through to 1999, I had dealings in Asean countries, India and Greater China, and did not need to grease any palms to obtain business (Firms can choose not to enter corruption-ridden markets, by Mr Lee Chiu San; Jan 2).

My experience in the last two decades is more in line with associate editor Vikram Khanna's points (Walking the talk on corruption; Jan 3).

He wrote: "Today, every politician and bureaucrat in India knows that the Tata group will not pay bribes. But this has not prevented it from prospering."

I had good success with many customers and prospects in India and China who respected Singaporean businessmen for being "incorruptible".

It is not that I never faced the temptation to gain business dishonestly.

But here are some thoughts that went through my head in such situations: First, how much should I pay? What if the amount I offer is insufficient?

Second, what guarantee do I have that after I pay the amount demanded, my competitors do not offer more to the greedy official or prospect?

Third, what if the person "greased" is not the ultimate decision maker?

Most importantly, it is a fact that to stay profitable or derive the expected net profit, I would have to add whatever amount given "under the table" onto the selling price, and that would distort the value proposition of my business.

Based on these considerations, I stood firm on value proposition and think my customers found my proposals easier to deal with.

I have learnt that being "flexible" will cheapen my offer and complicate decision-making. Even if I did not lose the business, it would have delayed the sales process, with the seller and buyer outguessing each other.

We don't need to avoid doing business in any market because of corruption. We need to be conscious of the pitfalls of doing business in a not-so-straightforward way.

If the value proposition is right, there will be takers.

Those who deal based on what an individual will pocket will lose out as a result of acquiring a product or service at inflated prices and not getting the benefits in the longer term.

Geoffrey Kung

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 08, 2018, with the headline 'Business success possible without corrupt practices'. Print Edition | Subscribe