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Speech by Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Finance, Chairman of the Future Economy Council at Launch of Enterprise 50 (E50) Awards 2019 on Tuesday, 30 April 2019, at Andaz Singapore

30 Apr 2019
Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

1 A very good afternoon to all of you. Thank you for inviting me to be part of the launch of this year’s Enterprise 50 (E50) awards.

The 26 companies profiled exemplify what it means to be leaders of transformation.

2 We started on a collective journey of transforming Singapore’s economy with the introduction of the Industry Transformation Programme in 2016. Since then, we have launched 23 Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) covering about 80% of Singapore’s economy. Each ITM develops a growth and competitiveness strategy to drive industry transformation through four pillars: jobs & skills, innovation, productivity, and internationalisation. The ITMs also put in place a framework for partnership, bringing together companies, trade associations and chambers (TACs), workers, unions, government, and other stakeholders to work towards economic transformation. 

3 Since we launched the ITMs, I have been meeting with many companies, particularly in my capacity as Chairman of the Future Economy Council, to better understand how companies are going about transforming their business. Some have asked me: “What does transformation look like? How do we know that we have succeeded?” While others have asked: “How do I start on transformation?” I am very encouraged by these questions because it shows that our businesses are taking transformation seriously. They want to know where to start and whether they are on the right path. 

4 That is the reason why it is important that good examples of businesses that have successfully transformed are shared, so that other businesses can learn from one another. 

5 Today, I am pleased to launch the Business Times’ Leaders of Transformation book. This book features 26 businesses of different sizes, from young startups like SWAT with smaller outfits to more established firms like Tee Yih Jia. Yet, regardless of their size, each one has demonstrated foresight to stay ahead of the competition by leading transformation in a wide range of industries from precision engineering to hospitality. They demonstrate that transformation is possible, regardless of your business’s size or industry.

6 How have these companies transformed? What are some of the common threads that one can find in these companies’ transformation stories? 

a. One common challenge for the companies was the amount of back-office paperwork that had to be done, which took up precious company resources. This provided the impetus for company-wide digitalisation. For some, the solution was purchasing off-the-shelf solutions, from enterprise resource planning to customer relationship management software. For others, the solution was to develop in-house digital transformation teams who are better able to grasp the specific challenges and opportunities in the industry.

b. Another common thread was using automation, such as deploying robotics, to improve efficiency. What used to be an operation involving multiple personnel doing strenuous work could often now be completed with fewer workers – sometimes, just one man! This led to significant improvements in productivity and working conditions, and freed up existing employees to handle other jobs as the company expands its operations both locally and overseas.

c. Yet another transformation strategy was to break out of old operating models and innovate. Some of the companies started out focusing on niche activities serving the local market, but they soon realised that to grow their business, they had to diversify and expand their range of services. This meant investing in technology and innovation to come up with new products and business ideas or internationalising into new markets beyond Singapore’s shores. 

d. I am particularly happy to see that in this transformation, these employers invest in growing the skills of their workers, often through on-the-job training. By putting workers at the heart the company’s transformations, they can succeed.

e. These are truly exemplary stories of transformation. But at the end of the day, there is no one-size-fits-all transformation strategy. What is important is for each company to examine its own business processes and industry conditions and find its own solutions.

7 Taking the critical step to transform is often not easy.  It takes courage and conviction from senior management like yourselves. While change must start from the top, it will not happen unless the leaders of the company are able to convince and assure their employees that the changes are necessary. I applaud the persistence and hard work of the 26 companies featured – from the company leaders to the workers. Together, you exemplify what it means to be leaders of transformation. Credit must also go to the Business Times for making these stories accessible and relatable.

8 For those who are still thinking about transformation, I hope that you will be encouraged by the stories of those featured, to drive transformation within your own companies. Given the rapid pace of change in the economic landscape and the continued uncertainties in the global economy, businesses must take the necessary steps to transform in order to remain competitive and relevant in the future economy.

The Government is committed to partnering with businesses to drive transformation, not just at the firm-level but also at the industry-level.

9 Even for companies that are featured in the book, transformation is not a destination, but an on-going journey. It is a marathon that we are on. Those who have started on the transformation journey and have done well must press on and continue to look out for new opportunities in new markets, identify ways to improve their products and processes, and equip their workers with the necessary skills. Those who have yet to start must do so now or risk being left behind. 

10 But I want to assure businesses that you are not alone in this marathon. The Trade Associations and Chambers (TACs) have played a crucial role in broadening the reach of our ITMs and driving industry-level projects. The Government remains committed to partner those who are taking steps to transform and agencies such as the Economic Development Board (EDB), Enterprise Singapore (ESG) and A*STAR, stand ready to support you in your transformation efforts – be it internationalisation, R&D or skills upgrading.

11 This book is not intended to be a comprehensive listing of those which have done well. We are seeing many companies across different industries building up their capabilities to transform. ESG supported about 7,000 capability upgrading projects last year, which are estimated to generate S$10.2 billion in value-add and 10,500 skilled jobs. My hope is that we will be able to build a strong momentum across all the ITMs and identify even more synergies and opportunities. One company embarking on transformation is commendable but for Singapore to stay economically competitive, entire industries must transform. 

12 To encourage industry-wide transformation, we are rolling out tools and platforms to support businesses in reinventing themselves. For example, in the manufacturing industry, the understanding of Industry 4.0 has grown rapidly but the pace of adoption has been lagging. To help manufacturers start, scale and sustain their Industry 4.0 initiatives, the Smart Industry Readiness Index, which was developed by EDB and leading global technical service provider, TÜV SÜD was launched in November 2017. So far, we have awarded 230 funded assessments and helped more than 150 manufacturing companies. The Index is a valuable tool to assist manufacturers in accelerating the implementation of their Industry 4.0 roadmap and extract the maximum value as they embark on this exciting transformation journey. 

Every business which has embarked on this journey can be an ambassador for change.

13 I have shared at Budget 2019 that economic transformation is an ongoing journey and there is much more we can do. 

14 This is where every business which has embarked on transformation can play a part and I would like to call on all of you to be an ambassador for change in your respective industries. You can share your stories, encourage your industry peers, and collaborate, so that we can come together to transform Singapore’s economy for the long-term.

15 I am also glad to hear that a special award for enterprise transformation was launched last year as part of the E50 awards line-up to recognise industry leaders who have displayed outstanding qualities and attributes to transform their businesses, becoming role models in their respective fields. This award is timely as it recognises the important role that enterprise transformation plays in our economy.  I understand that the winner of this award last year, Elmich, will be sharing with us more about their transformation journey. I hope we will see more of such trailblazers that can show the way for others. 

16 When everyone embraces the need for change – be it big businesses or small businesses, senior management or operational staff, the precision engineering industry or the hospitality industry – it will put us in a strong position to seize the opportunities available and thrive for years to come.

17 On that note, I look forward to the sharing later and having a deeper discussion about the opportunities and challenges of transformation with all of you and I wish everyone the very best for this year’s E50 Awards.