SOE Awards 2019 – Speech by Mr Chee Hong Tat, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry

President of Spirit of Enterprise, Ms Rachel Wong,

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentleman, 

Good evening. 

I am pleased to join you tonight for the 2019 Spirit of Enterprise (SOE) Awards Ceremony and Dinner. This is an occasion to celebrate the spirit of enterprise and give recognition to the deserving local entrepreneurs. 

All of you have done well in your respective industries and have made an impact to our enterprise landscape. Behind each of your successes, I know that there is an inspiring story of entrepreneurship. 

I would like to share the stories of two enterprises.

First is Eu Yan Sang, a leading health and wellness company in Asia with a long history of over 140 years. 

Over the years, Eu Yan Sang has achieved remarkable growth by modernising the business and broadening the appeal of Traditional Chinese Medicine (or TCM). For instance, Eu Yan Sang revamped its brand identity and physical stores, differentiated its products through modernised dosage forms and packaging, and set up an e-commerce website to reach new segments of tech-savvy consumers. 

It also collaborated with academic institutions such as Nanyang Polytechnic in TCM research to validate and improve the quality of its products.

Eu Yan Sang has also invested in the development of its employees, and was awarded the SkillsFuture Employer Award 2018 for its advocacy in developing people through continuing education and mentorship.

I would like to congratulate Mr Richard Eu, Non-Executive Chairman of Eu Yang Sang International, who will be receiving the SOE-NEXIA-TS Entrepreneurship Award tonight, which recognises his leadership in transforming the company into one of Asia’s largest TCM groups today.

The second company is a relatively young company. It is called Brass Lion, a local distillery of home-grown gin.

When the company was conceptualised in 2012, there were no local craft spirits in the Singapore market. The founder, Ms Jamie Koh, decided to take a road less travelled, and turned her passion into reality. Brass Lion is now Singapore’s first full-fledged micro-distillery that specialises in producing high-quality small batch craft spirits. 

Brass Lion Distillery has a unique value proposition as it uses botanicals native to the region to create a gin that is infused with a distinctively local heritage.

Beyond producing the spirits, Brass Lion Distillery also educates visitors on the process, including the care and craft that goes into gin production, which further enhances the visitor experience.

I wish Jamie and her team all the best, and hope that in the near future, she can realise her vision for Brass Lion to be the next ‘Tiger Beer’ for spirits and fly the Singapore flag high internationally. 

There are many among you whose stories are equally inspiring. I shared the stories of Eu Yan Sang and Brass Lion because they represent two different types of local enterprises – companies with a long history and companies which are relatively new. Despite their differences, they share many traits in common, which are also consistent with what we have observed of many successful businesses. We frame this under the 3 ‘T’s of transformation:

The first T is about Trying out new ideas. From Eu Yan Sang’s e-commerce platform to Brass Lion’s speciality gin infused with regional botanicals, they have demonstrated the need to constantly explore new and innovative ways to create new value propositions to stay relevant – be it novel products or experiences, or the use of technology. And be willing to step out of our comfort zones, take calculated risks to test new ideas and be prepared to accept some mistakes and failure along the way.

The second T is Talent development.  A company’s transformation has to go hand-in-hand with training and talent development. No matter how good the idea, the company will still need to have staff that can execute the plans and deliver results.  When companies invest in their people, it will bring about long-term benefits such as increased productivity and enhanced employee engagement. 

The last T is Team up with partners. One way for businesses to grow fast is to form partnerships and collaborations. Companies can team up and tap on each other’s strengths to capture new opportunities. 

For example, Singapore Airlines’ KrisShop has partnered local brands such as Boon Tong Kee, City Satay, and Golden Duck to list their products on its KrisShop e-commerce platform, which is accessible to over 35 million passengers of the SIA group. This helps SIA meet the demand of travellers who are looking for interesting local products and gifts. At the same time, it allows our local SMEs to tap on the fast growing travel retail market, and gives them exposure to international customers.

In addition to the 3 ’T’s of transformation I have just talked about, our enterprises also need to develop the capabilities to deal with unexpected and disruptive developments in a rapidly changing world. 

I was in Tokyo last week when Typhoon Hagibis hit many parts of Japan. Many prefectures were affected and lives were lost, homes were destroyed.  I would like to extend our condolences to the victims and their families.  

In Tokyo city, the damage was more limited because it has better infrastructure to cope with the strong winds and heavy rains.  The tall buildings are designed to sway with earthquakes and strong winds. This is their safety feature.  The buildings derive their strength from not just having hard concrete structures, but also the flexibility to deal with shocks and extreme scenarios.

The same applies to enterprises. We need to ask ourselves: are we able to deal with unexpected developments in a flexible and nimble manner?

I know this cannot be achieved overnight but this must be built up over time, and be part of the enterprise’s corporate DNA, in order to withstand the test of time. 

I would like to end my speech by expressing my appreciation to SOE for the good work in promoting and advancing the entrepreneurial spirit in Singapore. 

Earlier this year, I attended an event called UNICON, which was organised by the NUS Entrepreneurship Society. I met many students who are passionate about technology and entrepreneurship. This is very encouraging. 

So I am very pleased to learn that SOE has been facilitating mentorships for students with successful entrepreneurs, through your Student-Entrepreneur Programme and your Student Interviewers’ Programme. 

To date, more than 60 schools have participated in the Student-Entrepreneur Programme, which has engaged over 3,500 students.

This year, SOE’s Student Interviewers’ Programme (SIP) has attracted the participation of 161 students from seven institutions. 

By doing so, SOE has not only created a community of entrepreneurs but also inspired our next generation of entrepreneurs to allow the spirit of enterprise to flourish. 

Congratulations to all the award winners tonight. I wish you all the best in your business journeys.