S ingapore is but a third the size of Tokyo, limited by both resources and physical size. Local companies need to penetrate into larger overseas markets to enhance their competitiveness. Doing so allows them to expand their opportunities, access new resources, and enjoy far greater economies of scale.
However, conducting business on a global scale requires a crucial understanding of international markets. This is where IE Singapore comes in as a vital business partner. With strong insight and connections, the organisation helps companies develop enhanced capabilities through networks, partnerships and one-on-one assistance.
Apart from helping local companies grow their global presence, IE Singapore also strengthens Singapore’s position as a thriving business hub. It has attracted up to 80 per cent of the top global trading companies to Singapore – the reason why our nation is now the leading global commodities hub in Asia.
Today, we sit down with international business experts Kate Lim and Jessica Bin. They share their experiences in breaking down barriers of entry for local companies and their developmental opportunities as IE Singapore Scholars.
Bringing Companies Abroad
If you are familiar with homegrown fashion label Love, Bonito, you’d know that the company has done well to build and maintain a local customer base. But serving a small base was not enough for a company with such big potential. It thus chose to bring their brand to Malaysia, a country with similar consumer tastes to Singapore.
Supporting the overseas expansion was Kate, Centre Director of IE Singapore’s Kuala Lumpur (KL) office. She shares that the founders were initially unsure of market demands and chose to launch their brand with a pop-up store. “We identified an ideal location for the store that was a good match for their clientele. It was not within one of KL’s go-to malls, but an equivalent of an indie hangout area. The business did really well! In fact, the founders could leverage their sales performance to reach out to a better-established mall. This led to Love, Bonito’s first brick-and-mortar store at KL’s Midvalley Megamall,” she says.
On Jessica’s end, she fulfils her role as a Manager in the Project Development Division. She works closely with multilateral development banks and foreign governments on initiatives that promote infrastructure Public-Private-Partnerships (PPP) in the region.
Jessica Bin Wen Ting
IE Singapore Undergraduate (Overseas) Scholar
Manager, Project Development Division
She explains, “I work with multilateral development banks and foreign governments on projects in sectors that Singapore companies are competitive in. To do this, I build relationships with their staff, understand their strategies and financing patterns, and identify projects and initiatives of mutual benefit. For example, I’m working with the Asian Development Bank on a programme to increase the number of commercially-viable infrastructure projects in Asia, an outcome which many companies can benefit from. ”
The duo has incidentally worked on a project together when Jessica was in her previous role in the Lifestyle Business Group. Kate tells us, “We helped ITE Education Services (ITEES), the private arm of ITE, get a train-the-trainers project with the Malaysian Ministry of Youth and Sports (MOYS). We led the ITEES delegation to meet the Secretary-Generals of MOYS and the Ministry of Education. As relatively young officers, it was truly an eye-opening experience that gave us incredible exposure.”
Jessica chimes in, “The project was certainly an impactful one. ITEES went in to train Malaysia’s Ministry of Youth and Sports, which runs the polytechnic-equivalent in Malaysia. They trained them to create a better training framework for their teachers, which in turn creates a meaningful impact on their students.”
But rewarding experiences are not limited to just overseas projects. Both Kate and Jessica highlight the internal opportunities they have been given to expand their capabilities.
Kate shares, “All new hires go through a mini MBA crash course. The modules are pretty rigorous, and give you a good understanding of how businesses work. For instance, IE Singapore engaged PWC to give us a workshop on taxation, and SMU to equip us with knowledge of business strategies. This was especially beneficial for me, having had a political science background.”
Jessica adds in, “I am grateful for the opportunities we are given to learn both internally and externally.”
Kate Lim Ying Han
IE Singapore Mid-Term (Local) Scholar
Centre Director, Kuala Lumpur
Strong Support System
“Even as a new hire, you are given the opportunity to go out and talk to companies. Contrary to common perception, new hires don’t sit in a back room crunching numbers while our seniors front engagement. We are given the full support to go out there to glean industry insights. I also appreciate that people here are open about sharing experiences. They are collaborative in nature so there are a lot of internal platforms which allow you to learn about new companies and emerging industries,” shares Kate.
Jessica also highlights the family-friendly culture that permeates IE Singapore’s work environment. She shares, “I have an 8-month old baby and I am thankful that my boss understands when I need to fulfil family commitments! But with that said, it’s important that we are accountable for our work and ensure we deliver good performance.”
Willingness to Learn
Having been with IE Singapore for a while now, both scholars have a good idea of the qualities needed for one to maximise their business skills.
Jessica advises, “You have to be keen to learn, willing to travel, and able to cope in a fast-paced environment. You must also be interested to interact with many different types of people and continually hone your business skills!”
As for Kate, she tells us resourcefulness is key. “If a solution doesn’t work, don’t just cower in a corner. Find a window to go through,” she says. She concludes by perfectly defining an IE Singapore officer’s job, saying, “We are in a unique position where we have to sell a certain market to Singapore companies, and we also have to sell Singapore companies to the market. There are a lot of shoes you need to learn how to step into, and different pitches you need to learn how to refine. I think what’s truly important is your willingness to learn, and to step out of your comfort zone like how I have.”