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Business Advice

Opportunities there for SMEs to seize

While some worry that the pre-sent generation of Singaporeans will not be able to replicate their parents and grandparents' success, Mr Chan is more optimistic.
The Straits Times - August 25, 2012
By: Andrea Chong
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Opportunities there for SMEs to seize Mr Chan Chong Beng hopes Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong can convince Singaporeans of the importance of foreign workers. -- ST PHOTO: RAJ NADARAJAN

Mr Chan Chong Beng, 58

President of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises

WHILE some worry that the pre-sent generation of Singaporeans will not be able to replicate their parents and grandparents' success, Mr Chan is more optimistic.

"If you start to compare, last time, I can start a company with $55, buy a car with $5,000 to $10,000, but then the cost of living and infrastructure were all very different. The question is whether people can see and seize the opportunities in the current situation," says Mr Chan, a kampung boy who made good.

He is now chairman of interior furnishings company Goodrich Global, which he started in 1983. It has branches in eight countries.

SMEs operating today can leverage on Singapore's reputation for reliability, says Mr Chan.

He hopes this year's National Day Rally can help open the eyes of Singaporeans to the job opportunities in local SMEs.

During the Asian financial crisis, he says, multi-national corporations were the first to cut their losses and leave. But the SMEs held on and were the last to retrench their workers.

He acknowledges that SMEs also need to change."When you talk to SMEs, the first thing they ask is, is there any government help? Or they complain about banks not lending money to them," he says. Instead of blaming others, he hopes they can look inwards and improve themselves.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong can set the tone for this shift by talking about the spirit of enterprise, survival and self-reliance, he adds.

Mr Chan, who did not complete university and whose parents had no money, said his background forced him to struggle against the odds. This is why he is not worried about the future of his three sons, aged 17 to 28.

He and his wife gave them the best education they could afford and raised them with proper moral values, he says. "Whether they can make money or lead a better life, it is really up to them to take the challenge."

He also hopes Mr Lee can convince Singaporeans of the importance of foreign workers to the business community here. Eighteen per cent of Goodrich Global's 130 staff at its headquarters here are foreigners doing jobs that locals do not want to do, like driving delivery trucks.

Their salaries account for only 6.5 per cent of the total wage bill, and they make it possible for him to retain Singapore as the company's regional headquarters.

While Singaporeans are understandably unhappy at the "drastic" foreigner influx, he hopes they will look at the flip side of the issue. "Help us create a pool of SMEs which are loyal and keep employment and the economy moving."

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