SCALING GREATER HEIGHTS

CHEW GEK KHIM

EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN

TECITY GROUP
STRAITS TRADING COMPANY LIMITED

(SuperNova Category Winner 2019)

“In life, it is difficult to say that what one would have done differently. I believe in the story of how the fluttering of the wings of a butterfly can set off a consequence in something deemed entirely remote.”

After graduating from the National University of Singapore in 1984, Ms Chew Gek Khim took up her grandfather’s offer to join the family business following a three-year stint at Drew & Napier. Today, she is the Executive Chairman of The Straits Trading Company Limited, founded in 1887 as a tin smelting company but is today an investment company with diversified interests across the Asia Pacific. First appointed Non-Executive and Non-Independent Chairman in 2008, she has since held the position of Executive Chairman from 1 November 2009. 

Ms Chew is also Executive Chairman of the Tecity Group, which she joined in 1987. She is Chairman of Malaysia Smelting Corporation Berhad and ARA Trust Management (Suntec) Limited, and sits on the Board of ARA Asset Management Holdings Pte Ltd as well as Singapore Exchange Limited. 

The Deputy Chairman of Tan Chin Tuan Foundation in Singapore and Chairman of Tan Sri Tan Foundation in Malaysia, Ms Chew is also a Member both of the Securities Industry Council of Singapore as well as the Board of Governors of S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. She was Chairman of the National Environment Agency Board of Singapore from 2008 to 2015, and was previously a Director of CapitaLand Retail China Trust (formerly CapitaRetail China Trust Management Limited), a Board Member of the Singapore Totalisator Board, and a Member of the SSO Council.

An accomplished leader and well-respected figure in the corporate field,  Ms Chew was awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mérite in 2010, the Singapore Businessman of the Year 2014 at the Singapore Business Awards, and the Meritorious Service Medal at the National Day Awards in 2016.

What were some of the hardest challenges you had to overcome in your initial years following your joining the family business?

One of my toughest challenges was building up a new skill set. I had worked as a lawyer in a law firm and practised law but I had never conducted business before. I did not study accounting and I had to learn how to read a set of accounts. I also needed to understand how businesses operated.

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What is one advice you would give to second- and third-generation entrepreneurs taking over their family businesses?

If you have very good familial relations with the person you are working with, do not let work ruin it. When I asked to work with my grandfather, one of my conditions was that it should not affect our relationship as grandfather and granddaughter. Hence, I suggested to him that we would try the working relationship for two years. If at the end of two years, he found me unsuitable or if I did not like the job, we would part ways amicably. That way, we would continue to have a good relationship as grandfather and granddaughter.

Was your grandfather strict in his professional expectations toward you, regardless of how he doted on you as his granddaughter?

I think my grandfather tried his best to be professional in his behaviour towards all family members. To illustrate, all of us who worked for him had to write to him and address him as “Tan Sri”. He also tried to treat all family members who worked for him no differently from any of his professional staff.

From its purely tin smelting days, Straits Trading has undergone a major overhaul. Will we see further diversification or transformation of your business? Are there more phases to the overhaul?

There is no further diversification for now, but it would be unrealistic to say that a business cannot diversify further in the future. I would not describe these changes as “phases to overhaul” but rather a form of business evolution and capturing opportunities to make new investments in the same field.

What would you consider to be some of your better judgement calls?

My better judgement calls have been to accept my limitations and to try to find good partners and good CEOs to help me.

Is there anything you would have done differently? If so, what is it?

In life, it is difficult to say that what one would have done differently.

I believe in the story of how the fluttering of the wings of a butterfly can set off a consequence in something deemed entirely remote. A different action would or could easily lead to a host of different consequences.

How do you keep the company up to date and/or take it forward?

We try to keep up to date by reading, arranging for talks with experts from various disciplines, and generally encouraging our staff to keep learning. I don’t think it is possible to prepare entirely for the worst. Everything depends on the circumstance, and I don’t think one can generalise. It is very difficult to prepare for the worst.

To what would you attribute your success as a businesswoman? Is it tenacity, sheer hard work, or does good fortune or “luck” play a part?

It is too early for me to say I have been successful for my life is not yet over. There may be successes or failures or interesting adventures yet to happen. Having said that, I have found that hard work, tenacity, luck and good fortune all play a part in business.

What kind of philanthropic work do you support or are involved in personally?

The Tan Chin Tuan Foundation was started in 1976 by my late grandfather at a time when Singapore was a developing country. The constitution stated that it must help the poor, the widowed and the orphaned. Today, many of these needs have been met. As a result, we try to “fill the gaps” in the philanthropic sector by being an “aggregator”, “educator” and “benefactor”. As an “aggregator”, we try to bring different groups together and get them to learn from each other or to collaborate, while as an “educator”, we try to lead by example in areas where we think philanthropists can make a difference.

Your family’s philanthropic arm follows a similar philosophy as your business. How does supporting projects with good governance and accountability produce a multiplier effect for each dollar donated?

The underlying philosophy is that without accountability, there is no certainty that the person running it is doing it properly. It follows that with proper accountability you are likely to have a more successful business or nonprofit organisation. I would not go so far as to say that with proper accountability one will produce a multiplier effect, but we have seen that with proper accountability and a well-run nonprofit, other donors are happy to contribute to the same cause. Furthermore, while efficiency and governance are important, we cannot be overly onerous or harsh. Care and compassion are critical and more important than financial efficiency where people are concerned. The needy require multiple levels of support, and if we exact a financial model all the time, it can be hard to offer them the support that they need.

Why do you think there are less women than men in business? What in your opinion is holding women entrepreneurs back from attaining success, and what can be done to help them?

I think the reason is that women have a broader definition of success. Many women find success not in business but in their families and in helping others and so on. Hence, you can find very successful mothers, who would probably have been successful in business but who choose to focus their efforts on their families. One of the best ways to help women would be to mentor them. Ideally, women should have both male and female mentors. I had male mentors and I benefited tremendously from them.

Join us to empower women and share your success stories.
Call for nomination for 2020 edition opens October 2019.

AWARD JUDGE

BG (NS) Chan Wing Kai

Director

Seed Global Investment

BG (NS) Chan Wing Kai spent 29 years in the Singapore Armed Forces as a military officer. He rose up to the Army’s top leadership and held numerous key appointments.

The years in the Armed Forces provided him a strong foundation in leadership, human capital management, operational planning, training development and critical diplomatic skills.

He retired from active military service in 2016 and is currently a Director with SEED Global Investment, a real estate investment firm. He oversees the company’s portfolio and business development in the US and UK. He holds a MSc in Applied Finance from the Singapore Management University, and is no stranger to corporate finance, portfolio management, equities, bonds and derivatives.

AWARD JUDGE

TIN PEI LING

Member of Parliament
CEO

Business China

Ms Tin Pei Ling is the Chief Executive Officer of Business China, a non-profit organisation that harnesses the support of the public sector & private enterprises to strengthen the ties between Singapore and China. Prior to joining Business China, Pei Ling was the Group Director of Corporate Strategy for Jing King Group.

Pei Ling is an elected Member of Parliament in Singapore since 2011 and currently serves on the Public Accounts Committee. She also serves on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Communications & Information (from 2018, Dy Chairperson) and Health (2011 – present) and previously for Law/Home Affairs (2011-2015) and Social & Family Development (2015 – 2018, Dy Chairperson).

AWARD JUDGE

RYAN CHIOH

Managing Director

Faseastflora.com

Mr Ryan Chioh joined FEF.com in 1998 as Executive Director of Far East Flora Holdings Pte Ltd.

Always a firm advocator for technology, Ryan identified the direction for e-commerce development and saw a business opportunity to offer FEF.com’s extensive range of flowers and gifts online in 2001. Ryan blended his IT savviness and prudent business sense to steer the company’s website to become the leading portal for flowers and gifts. Ryan also brought the company to another level by spearheading the development of a CRM and ERP business solution, integrating the front-end and back-end operations so that there would be easier identification of customer base.

AWARD JUDGE

NEO SING HWEE

Head, Operations System & Control

MAPLETREE INVESTMENTS

Sing Hwee is the Head, Operations System & Control of Mapletree Investments Pte Ltd. He is responsible for the business processes and control functions, information systems and technology as well as Internal Audit and Risk Management.  He also takes ownership of the Group’s Delegation of Authority and Procurement Policy. 

Sing Hwee has more than 20 years of experience in providing risk management, performance improvement, internal controls and business advisory services to clients in various industries, including the real estate sector.  Being a thought leader and a recognised expert in this field, he used to sit in the Ernst & Young (EY) ASEAN Partner Governance Council and led the Advisory (Risk) Internal Audit Practice in Asia Pacific, ASEAN and Singapore covering 17 countries, 30 partners and 700 professionals.  Before joining EY, he had spent many years in risk consulting with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and Andersen.

AWARD JUDGE

DR LIM WEE KIAK, PBM

Member of Parliament
CEO

Eagle Eye Centre

Dr Lim Wee Kiak, is an elected Member of Parliament for Sembawang GRC since 2015 and serves as chairman of Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Ministry of Community, Culture and Youth. An Ophthalmologist, Dr Lim is currently the Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Eagle Eye Centre.

Dr Lim joined the Singapore Armed Forces as a medical officer in 1994 and completed subspecialty training in Ophthalmology in 1998, with a Master’s degree in Medicine and two post-graduate specialist qualifications in Ophthalmology. During his service in SAF, he led numerous humanitarian missions to neighbouring countries. He joined Singapore National Eye Centre and was awarded the MOH HMDP fellowship in 2003, doing one year of clinical and research Fellowship at the National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health.

Dr Lim had been an active grassroots leader since 1998 before joining politics in 2006. For his active community involvement, he was awarded the Young Executive of the Year in 2000 and Public Service Medal (PBM) in 2003.

AWARD JUDGE

Chew Mok Lee

Assistant Chief Executive
ICM & Digitalisation
Enterprise Services & New Industries

Enterprise Singapore

Ms Chew Mok Lee is the Assistant Chief Executive in charge of ICM & Digitalisation, Enterprise Services & New Industries in Enterprise Singapore, a government agency spearheading enterprise and industry development, reporting to the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Singapore. Enterprise Singapore is also the national Standards body in Singapore.

Prior to Enterprise Singapore, Mok Lee was with National Productivity Board (NPB), PSB and SPRING Singapore. She graduated from National University of Singapore, majoring in Economics and Statistics. She has a double Masters and is well versed in the area of enterprise promotion, industry development and partnership building, having been involved in various aspects of capability development, support for local enterprises, enabling a viable enterprise eco-system and entrepreneurship for 29 years. She also served as Secretariat to the Action Community for Entrepreneurship and was responsible for working with the Minister in Charge of Entrepreneurship and private sector members to foster entrepreneurship and support start-ups in Singapore.

AWARD JUDGE

CHIA KIM HUAT

Regional Head
Corporate and Transactional Practice

Rajah & Tann Singapore

Mr Chia Kim Huat has extensive experience in capital market, public and private mergers and acquisitions, cross-border joint ventures and private equity investments, both in Singapore and the region. He travels regularly in the Asia-Pacific region advising clients on a wide range of matters, including direct investments and infrastructure projects in China, major acquisitions in Korea, joint ventures in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan and cross-border mergers and acquisitions transactions. Kim Huat also advises foreign investors on their investments in Singapore, including listings on the Singapore Exchange, privatisations, secondary and dual listings.

He has been recognised as a leading lawyer in his field by International Financial Law Review 1000, Chambers Global “Leaders in their Field”, Asia Pacific Legal 500, “Eminent Practitioner” in Chambers Asia Pacific, Who’s Who Legal: Corporate – Merger & Acquisition/Capital Markets – Debt and Equity and Merger & Acquisition, ‘Leading Lawyer’ in Asialaw Profiles and Best Lawyers, 2017 Edition.

AWARD JUDGE

TAN WEE BENG

Deputy Chief Executive (Operations)
SkillsFuture Singapore

Wee Beng is the Deputy Chief Executive (Operations) of SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG). He leads the Business Technology Group (Operations Planning Division, Capability Development Division, Operations & Support Division, Security & Infrastructure Division), the Training, Manpower & Infrastructure Group (Manpower & Infrastructure Planning Division, Office of Lifelong Learning, and Institute of Adult Learning which comprises Learning and Professional Development Division, Research and Innovation Division, Learning Services and Support Division ) as well as the Business Services Group (Shared Services Management, Integrated Business Services Division &, Corporate Services Division).

Prior to joining SSG, Wee Beng was an officer with the Singapore Armed Forces, leading both large and small teams. His last appointment was Chief-of-Staff, Republic of Singapore Navy, overseeing a range of staff departments and ground commands. Other key appointments held were Head Naval Operations, Commander of Maritime Security Task Force and Commander, Naval Diving Unit. Wee Beng holds a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts in Physics from Oxford University, UK, and a Master of Science in Management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA.