As soon as we got breather from Term II exams on 16th August, the focus shifted to the 2 weeks international immersion program in Singapore, one of the top ten financial centers of the world. A trip to East Asian was a first to me like to many of us and probably first trip outside the country for few of us. As soon as we reached Singapore, we rushed to duty free shops take care of essentials for next 2 weeks. Just as I stepped out of airport, the hot weather reminded me of Delhi and a far cry from what I have been experiencing in Bangalore for last 5 months.
Next morning, we started our first day at sprawling green and splendid NUS campus. We started our journey with a welcome note by NUS professor and with understanding of ASEAN economies.While in India, we keep on hearing about China and its fast paced growth, and it was no exception here. China is a major player in ASEAN economy. After that we had discussion on how India fits into the scheme of things. The drivers for growth in both regions were elaborated as India is a supply driven economy while ASEAN is demand driven economy.
Later we got superb business insights by Mr. Sameer Arora, founder and Fund Manager, Helios Capital Fund and he kept us occupied with numerous interesting stories from his experiences. One of the best talks we had on this trip. Post Lunch we had meeting with Prof Sekhar for the project on Smart Cities. This is part of our international group project being driven by ITU for United Nations.
Next day we focused our discussion on Singapore and how it achieved growth despite having minimal resources and its development as a major hub for transport. We were surprised with the story of turning itself into a major financial center since its Independence. Probably the single party system played a big role in this. In the words of first PM of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, “there was no secret; we had no choice but to take a chance and sail into rough waters”. There are many lessons to be learnt from Singapore development by other countries like political stability, quality of governance, high salaries to ministers, openness, high cost of rebellion, single party system. We might not agree with all, but this model is effectively working for them.
It also came out during the discussions that India seem to be left out from ASEAN scheme of things because its foreign policy is not focused on East Asia. Like we are not utilizing our historical ties with Myanmar for increasing trade with mineral rich Myanmar while China is making significant inroads. Post lunch, we had a lecture on the Aviation industry by Prof Anthony Chin, Academic Director for EPGP immersion. He described how aviation industry is fueling economic growth and what are the new models developing. One interesting model is adopted by Tiger Airlines where every single feature is charged.
I must admit so far there has not been a single day when this small country has failed to amaze me. It is not even half the size of Delhi. Here people pay almost ten times more than what I pay in India for owning a car. Imagine paying 50 lakhs for a Swift or 90 lakhs for Toyota Corolla!!! The weather is not at all pleasant, cost of living is high, single party system, caning is still prevalent etal, but still it is a favorite destination amongst businesses as well as tourists. Unfortunately, even though Indians contribute a lot to the Singaporean economy, corporates or policy makers are hardly betting on India which can be interpreted from the discussions we had or presentations that were shown.
Next day started with peep into the Chinese culture and post that we did some experiment of using chopsticks to eat Chinese food. The way they eat food in a way proves that these folks are really hard working. Slowly the sessions at NUS are slowly getting serious with talks by Industry experts, business houses and government agencies in Singapore. We got deep understanding on how Singapore is controlling its exchange rate against basket of currencies despite being a surplus economy. Also learnt about the efficient cargo clearing capability of Singapore where 80% of cargo is cleared in 8 minutes while 100% is done in 15 minutes!!! The talk by Zafar Momin who is on board of MapleTree Trust was quite interactive and he mentioned on interesting quote: “If the going is too easy, may be you are scratching the surface”. Later we got opportunity to visit Jurong Port and Ikea factory.
IIMB Alumni meet has been organized over the weekend so as to explore the business environment and opportunities and learn from their experiences. The alums first mentioned important takeaways from their career journey and there was 45 minutes of Q&A session. An important part of this meet was that we were divided into groups of 4-5 to have informal chat for 1 hour. I was particularly impressed with the humility and frankness of alums.
In the evening, we went to marina bay Sands to try our luck at Casino and I was surprised to learn that locals actually have to pay fees of S$ 100 for getting entry, and entry was free for the tourists. We have heard a lot about Sentosa Island and one of the must visit places in Singapore. It is an artificial man-made beach and fun park and is frequented by everyone who comes to Singapore. No wonder a small country like Singapore is having so many tourists. It has worked very well within the constraints it had and developed its economy.
Second week@Singapore started with lengthy discussion on Smart Cities and that is also the theme for our international project. Key industry speakers from IBM, Cisco, Siemens presented their views and how the world of future would be. Prof Sekhar discussed why there is need for Smart Cities. I was wondering that this concept actually presents new wave of business opportunity as it is an elite market and cities and countries are making huge investments in such projects.
Any talk on marketing has to be interesting. That’s what we found when David Shaw talked about the challenges in marketing communications, how things can go wrong and how simple mistakes can lead to major implications. He revealed interesting marketing campaigns which went wrong and what should be done to prevent it. For example, an advertisement on Van for ‘STARBUCKS’ is displayed as ‘SUCKS’ when the van door is open 🙂 or a Turkish Airlines advertisement on escalator looked like a plane falling down or how taking the customer for granted lead to loss of millions of dollars when that customer released a music album highlighting the incident on YOUTUBE.
Day 12 started with a pep talk by Anshuman Gupta, CEO, Strontium on his journey, the challenges he faced in setting up a company, and how he created a space for himself in a market dominated by big players. Key takeaway, lesson for any start-up is to find fortune at bottom of pyramid. Next we had interaction with Prof Nitin Pangarkar who talked about strategies of Asian companies. How Kodak failed to capitalize on its competency with the introduction of digital cameras or how FAVNE has captured more than 60% of market in Robotics. In the evening we had meeting with Prof Sekhar for delivery of Smart City Project and he was very impressed with the work done by us. He also put forward the opportunity to continue working on this project after the immersion program and we gladly accepted the proposal.
Last day of our exciting international immersion trip began with a photo shoot (required for brochure ;)) for the whole batch at NUS campus. Had speakers from Ocean Health, Deutche bank talking to us. Journey at NUS culminated with certificate presentations and a small gift by NUS. Afterwards, we went to Siemens building to see the advancement and research they have made in smart cities. We also had some fun with a working model towards building Smart sustainable city.
With this our journey to this interesting land of opportunities came to an end. It is really a wonderful country with so many opportunities and which has become a financial center without any natural resources or good weather. They do face challenges but those are anticipated and are dealt well. During the night went for shopping for some toys at Mustafa center, which is only place in Singapore which run 24*7. Its journey towards becoming shopping hub for locals is one of the many success stories hidden in streets of Singapore.