SMEs must learn to put ego aside to hunt in a pack

When it comes to helping small and medium-sized enterprises export their services or move up the value chain, we have been coming up with strategy after strategy, tactic after tactic (Fight unfair work practices, help firms 'hunt in packs' abroad; May 15).

The results have largely been dismal.

There are many factors that determine the success or failure of SMEs "hunting in a pack". The top three are these: trust, short-sightedness and ego.

SME owners and managers fear that competitive information or trade secrets could be exposed in a collaboration. Indeed, in some cases, their fear was not unfounded.

Some SMEs also feel that partnering other companies might cause them to lose their industry standing and blunt their competitive edge.

The last hurdle - the mentality that "you need me more than I need you" - is also an unfortunate stumbling block stopping SMEs from working together for long.

But this is not to say that collaboration among SMEs is hopeless.

I had the opportunity to witness Taiwanese SMEs in action more than a decade ago. It left a deep impression.

Their mentality and mindset were different from that of Singapore SMEs.

The Taiwanese SMEs hardly bickered behind one another's backs about who was bigger or more well-known in the industry.

There was no infighting when it came to claiming the rights or ownership of business deals. There seemed to be an unwritten give-and-take understanding among them.

Perhaps we could study the tactics of these foreign SMEs and pick up some ideas from them.

Meanwhile, although there may not be much the Government can do about our SMEs' egos, it could consider calibrating overseas projects such that the larger local enterprises involved bring micro SMEs along.

This is not something new, but our micro SMEs have yet to benefit from the practice.

Tan Kar Quan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 07, 2018, with the headline 'SMEs must learn to put ego aside to hunt in a pack'. Print Edition | Subscribe