This is part 2 of 2 on southeast Asia (specifically Singapore) and its role in today's global economy. Read part 1 here.
In our previous post, we covered the position Singapore occupies in today's global economy. But what has made and continues to make Singapore so successful?
Besides having an exceptional founding father in the person of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's success recipe is centered around three policies: meritocracy, pragmatism and anti-corruption.
Singapore's definition of meritocracy is that everyone is given the same opportunity to succeed based on their merits and the most talented are rewarded with the best positions.
It's true that in Singapore the selection tests tend to be mainly based on academic performance -- which has recently raised some questions in the country and started a debate about recognizing a wider range of skills, such as entrepreneurship, leadership or even communication. But in my frequent interactions with government agencies and civil servants at different levels, I have nothing but praise for their professionalism in all matters.
Pragmatism is nowhere better observed that in Singapore's foreign policy. It is not for its climate that Singapore was selected a year ago to host the first USA-North Korea summit on the island of Sentosa. While the twentieth century was the century of competing ideologies (e.g. liberalism vs. communism), the twenty-first century started as the century of realpolitik and Singapore understood this reality earlier than most.
But above all it is the ethical business culture and anti-corruption policies that make Singapore stand out from the rest of its neighbors. It is so ingrained in the corporate culture that I found it extremely difficult to get business partners to accept a lunch or a dinner invitation.
Besides these three pillars, Singapore can also credit a number of cultural assets for making it one of the richest countries in the world.
Social harmony at all levels of society is a major factor of success. Singapore is a multi-cultural, multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-lingual society where respect for others prevails against all prejudices. You can pray to the god(s) of your choosing, dress like you want, eat what you like, cherish your own values and beliefs as long as you do not impose them on others.
But even more importantly, as a business leader, I appreciate the peaceful employer-labour relationships, lack of worker exploitation in the name of growth and the absence of contentious trade unions.
Like most Asian countries, Singaporeans value working long hours well above their European counterparts. On average, we are talking about 45h per week and with overtime it is not uncommon to have operators clocking close to 70h a week.
Finally, according to the 2019 World Justice Project (WJR) report, Singapore is also ranked as one of the safest countries in the world. The report measures the perception of people about violence and crimes as well as protection from armed conflict and terrorism. Singapore is one of these rare places in the world where parents of a teenage girl would not worry about letting her out after midnight and taking public transport.
In conclusion, there are powerful political and cultural factors that make Southeast Asia one of the most desirable areas to conduct business in. And if you're looking to diverse your manufacturing beyond China, you would be wise to consider Singapore. I'm happy to help.