Joshua Wong demonstrates leadership qualities in Hong Kong’s political struggles

August 5, 2015

Umbrella MovementThis week [August 2nd, 2015] Western media reported further rumbles of protest from Hong Kong against the proposed electoral system being introduced from mainland China. Hong Kong’s student activist Joshua Wong examines the impact of The Umbrella Movement, and shows characteristics associated with other political revolutionaries

Last year [September-December 2014] a series of protests broke out against proposed reforms to the Hong Kong electoral system. The fundamental objection was to what was seen as Government control over acceptance of candidates for Hong Kong elections. Earlier student activist groups coalesced into a wider group which became known as The Umbrella Movement. The protests against a governing power is reminiscent of those in Singapore as it negotiated its liberation from Malaysia fifty years ago.

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Lee Kuan Yew (1923-2015): Singapore’s State maker remembered

March 23, 2015

Lee Kuan Yew was one of the influential State makers of the 20th Century. A case could be made that he conceived and brought about a prosperous and peaceful future for Singapore.

I became interested in the culture of Singapore some years ago, after taking part in the celebrations of its national day. After three decades in power, Lee Kuan Yew had handed over control of the State he had helped create. In the process he was showing dynastic aspirations.

Dynastic aspirations

It was being rumoured at the time, correctly as it turned out, that Prime Minister Goh, who succeeded him, was a transition figure who was to be replaced by Lee’s son. Informally we were also given to believe that Lee would remain the power behind his son’s actions.

Tickets for a celebration

It had been hard to get tickets for the celebrations at the old National Stadium in Kalang Leisure Park, close the Changi airport close to where the new and impressive modern sports stadium was later built.

Our tickets had came from a Singaporean friend who had seen enough ceremonies to make them less valued for him. Well worth seeing it all for the first few times, he reassured us.

We reached the stadium by subway, another of Singapore’s marvels. Allegedly, it was maintained in those days in pristine condition through President Lee’s regime of corporal punishment handed out to any litter-making individual. Westerners tended to admire the results, if not the means of achieving them.


I had preconceived beliefs that we were going to observe a demonstration of State orchestrated loyalty. What happened was enough to unsettle such assumptions. To be sure there was the orchestration. Everyone was issued with a goodie bag, complete with a national flag to wave, an a small torch with coloured tissue paper over the business end,

There were the obligatory displays of military music, and marching discipline. Jet fighters roared low over the stadium, trailing slipstreams in the national colours. We tried to join in the passionate singing of the national anthem. Later, as night fell, the torches helped produce an equally impressive light-show in the national colours.

Unexpected experiences

What was unexpected was a warmth and mood of enjoyment throughout the lengthy event which seemed spontaneous and genuine. This was not evidence of a State operating under dictatorial edict.

At the time, the charismatic President had already become a mythic figure, a State-maker in the mold of Nelson Mandela. Much later, Lee attributed the role of ‘China’s Mandela’ to Xi Jinping, a judgement not shared by Time magazine.

Today, the appreciation of Lee’s period as all-powerful State maker is more balanced internally. His contribution towards the creation of the modern hi-tech, highly educated little country is recognized. But opposing views can be expressed publicly.

Facebook IPO helps define the American dream

May 19, 2012

The initial public offering for Facebook shares reveals much about the American dream

The valuation

When the dust settled after the first day of trading [18th May 2012], Facebook’s valuation, of just over $100 billion placed it roughly on a par with Amazon.

The dream of wealth creation

The wealth accruing to Mark Zuckerman and the other young co-founders has been widely noted. In America, much has also been made about what is seem as tax-dodging by Eduardo Saverin, who has taken up residency in Singapore and renounced his American citizenship, although his actions are seen differently in Singapore


On the date of the public offering [18th May 2012], The Verge attempted to answer the question of why the stock appeared to be trading at a figure based so much on expectations.

Why would so many smart, rich people put such a premium on the stock? IPOs are an insider’s game. Buying the stock today at $38 means paying a premium to the founders, early investors, bankers, and even the bankers’ best clients, all of who have passed the stock down the food chain and taken their bite along the way.

Can Google and Facebook be compared easily?

The success of Google and its continued growth after its own share launch is now being used to justify the excitement. Google’s revenues are roughly three times those of Facebook ($9 billion to $3.5). But the prospects for the two companies seem difficult to assess (although the graph offered in The Verge article is worth studying).

The Initial Public Offering [IPO] was considered less than a success. The Los Angeles Times put it this way

“There was all this pressure and hype and attention with all eyes on Facebook — and the starlet tripped on the red carpet,” said Max Wolff, an analyst at GreenCrest Capital Management in New York. What went wrong? Analysts point to a variety of factors that might have given investors pause. Its valuation at about 100 times earnings likely struck some as too high. Its growth in new users is slowing. And Facebook has not yet found a way to cash in on mobile devices, where social media is gravitating.

This week’s decision by General Motors Co. to stop advertising on Facebook because it wasn’t getting results heightened concerns about how Facebook can profit from its 900 million users.

But perhaps the biggest blunders came in recent days as the company and its largest shareholders moved to maximize their profits at the expense of new investors.

Friendship and economics: The dilemma for Facebook

Other commentators have gone beyond the financials, suggesting a flaw in the proposed growth model of Facebook. The massive popular reach of the corporation comes with a belief that ultimately it was a social phenomenon primarily about achieving social goals. In particular it has redefined personal identity and the concept of friendship. There was always something apart from economics in that set of beliefs.

The dilemma for Facebook becomes more visible now that the corporation is legally obligated to conform to economic principles and governance. Considerations of ethics, stock price and social vision increasingly will interplay. Even its efforts to promote the American Dream may be scrutinized more coolly and globally.

Singapore’s growth presents a leadership challenge

February 19, 2011

Singapore is rightly proud of its economic gains as one of the original Asian ‘little tigers’. Now it turns to the social problem of the minority of its people left behind through decades of successful growth

The growing wealth of Singapore has produced social inequalities that are worrying the Government. Inflation also is threatening to compound the political challenge. Political stability, even with its one-party dominance has become a concern.

Mariko Oi in Asia Business Report for BBC World News explored the story [Feb 2011] using a few well-chosen statistics

Singapore’s economic success and role as a regional financial centre have amplified the problem. Wealth has been created so quickly that it is easy for people to get left behind. The economy almost doubled in size in the 10 years to the end of 2008, Department of Statistics figures show. The average monthly income increased by 40% over the same period. However, the average monthly income for the bottom 20% of Singaporean households fell by 2.7% over the same decade.

Singapore’s inflation rate hit a two-year high of 4.6% in December [2010], and the central bank has warned that prices may rise at a faster pace in coming months

The government has been looking at ways of narrowing the country’s income gap and in 2007 introduced the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) scheme. As a result, some 400,000 Singaporeans now receive financial support from the government. Top government adviser and former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said last month that economic growth must benefit all members of Singapore’s community. “Otherwise,” he warned, “our community may be divided by differences in income levels within it.”

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is scheduled to call a general election within a year. His People’s Action Party has ruled the city-state since independence in 1965 and it is widely expected to win most of the seats. But with many of Singapore’s poorer citizens facing tougher times, the government will be watching to see if they bring any of their worries to the ballot box.

Locally-based analyst Chris Howells believes that the Government is taking a prudent approach to the issue and that the budget will not overheat.

While dishing out more than S$13 billion to households and businesses, this year’s Budget is unlikely to lead to an overheating of the economy. That is because the Government is adopting a cautious fiscal stance, forecasting a slight overall Budget surplus of S$100 million for this year, after a much smaller-than-expected Budget deficit of S$300 million last year, compared with an originally anticipated S$3 billion shortfall.

Singapore’s economic growth is expected to be between 4 and 6 per cent this year, slower than last year’s record expansion but above the country’s estimated trend growth of 3 to 5 per cent for the next 10 years [reporting Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam in his Budget speech].

So for this year, the Budget has been positioned to avoid stoking the flames of inflation. “I would say that this indicates a very cautious Budget in the sense that there are no bold and drastic measures being introduced by the minister and the focus is very much on improving productivity over the next 10 years,” said Mr Tay Hong Beng, head of tax at KPMG in Singapore.

To go more deeply:

Government statistics
Workfare programme
Singapore’s shopping experience

Leadership Singapore Style

April 14, 2010

A visit to Singapore prompted reflections on the culture of this dynamic state, and the stories to be found in and behind the media headlines

Singapore owes much to the efforts in the 1960s of Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew, founder and first secretary-general of the People’s Action Party (PAP), who oversaw the separation of Singapore from the Federation of Malaysia, and its transformation into a dynamic economic powerhouse. Fifty years later, there is talk of a Lee dynasty. His son, Lee Hsien Loong, has been Prime Minister since 2004.

Change but not too radical change

I had heard that in the ten years since my last visit, Singapore had changed enormously. It has, although in many ways the changes are incremenatal rather than radical shifts. The newer condos are higher and more space-age in design, but fit in with the older ones (i.e. those venerable skyscrapers built in the 1980s). Traffic still negotiates its regulated way through the crowded central-city area. Business, despite the global recession, seems pretty much as usual. (The Government put plans in place to buy-up unemployment in 2008-9).

Preoccupations remain familiar. Educational opportunities, regional political alliances, invasion of Western pop culture still find their way in to the news, as do shopping and lifestyle stories. This year’s Food and Hotel Asia exhibition will bigger and better including Cypriot mineral water and Argentinian popcorn. Has the 150 year-old Lau Pa Sat become nothing more than a glorified food court?

High-class media coverage

International affairs are still well-covered in TV and press. The Straits Times stands comparison with its better-known Murdoch-owned namesake. Business is well covered in The Business Times. During my visit, the unfolding events in Thailand was receiving extensive and impressive attention.

Local Interest Stories

Local stories capture local interests. Last week[April 10th 2010] a rugby match between St Andrews and Anglo-Chinese (Independent) School ended in an unsightly brawl after “ACS player Leonard Wee was injured in the mouth and taken to hospital”. The next day, his aggressor was suspended after making an apology in front of the entire School at St Andrews.

Like other readers, I was shocked at the growth of “up-skirt photography” carried out by individuals using strategically-positioned mobiles, who then share their work on U-tube.

A less disturbing trend is that of business executives using coffee-shops to finalize business deals. This is, of course, a reminder of the origins of business struck in London’s coffee parlours centuries earlier.

I can’t finish without mentioning those letters to the editor, which reveal the flash points of local interest. Those noisy young people shouting on Clarke’s Quay until long after midnight; the importance of retaining good bus services; comments on indiscrete remarks made by pubic figures. And a favourite of mine: Someone discussing the environmental aspects of golf courses had written “The old myth that golf-courses must be built close the reservoirs no longer holds water”.

A Unique Culture

Singapore remains a vibrant and unique culture, perhaps a little too hasty to aspire to norms of its economic rival Hong Kong. But does Singapore really want to develop an even more frantic life-style? I hope not. If that happens, I won’t recognize the place on my next visit.

Singapore’s new Shopping-La Experience

August 12, 2009

Orchard Turn

Singaporeans love shopping. Orchard Road remains one of the world’s top retail centres. This makes Singapore an interesting case for creative marketing

Soon Su Lin, Chief executive of Orchard Turn Development has one of the most interesting jobs in the world. He has a wonderful asset, possessing the three core strengths of a marketing proposition, location, location, location. He also faces tough global conditions which impact on plans in a multitude of ways.

One of my fondest memories is walking down Orchard Road in Singapore for the first time, quite a few years ago. It is one of the great shopping experiences globally (even to a shoppaphobic like me). I still have a great pair of sunglasses from the trip, and the next-day suit acquired was only recently pensioned off.

But the global credit crunch continues to penetrate into marketplace activities around the world, even to the best-known of retail locations such as Singapore.

Economic Tigers

To understand what’s happening, global generalities have to be connected with local and specific evidence. Singapore for example, might be expected to share some features in common with ‘little tigers’ in other regions.

The term, was originally applied admiringly to the dynamic growth of Singapore and the other Asian economic growth regions.

Four of the Pacific Rim territories have been called “Economic Tigers” due to their aggressive economies.

They have included South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Since Hong Kong has been absorbed as the Chinese territory of Xianggang, it is likely that its status as a tiger will change. The four Economic Tigers have even challenged Japan’s dominance of the Asian economy.

More recently, other regions have been identified as economic tigers. No longer, however, is the term associated with unfettered economic success. Ireland (the Celtic Tiger), and Iceland (the Nordic Tiger) have had particularly severe economic setbacks after a period of growth.
Dubai, the Gulf tiger, also has had to cope with the wider global issues influencing its economy.

The Singapore situation

Reports from around the world confirm shared experiences.
One prosperous professional in Singapore [Johann, a public relations consultant] typified the pressures on the economy in 2009, telling the BBC.

“I am looking for on sale or clearance items. I am not even contemplating any big ticket items, he said.” Retail sales in Singapore have continued to drop, but shops are reacting by continuing to offer huge discounts. During the renowned June sales period price cuts of 90% were common. It is a risky tactic that reduces inventories, but can undermine revenues. Food in Singapore is relatively cheap. But alcoholic drinks are not. Recession has not stopped people going out, but bar owners note that drinking habits have changed.

“You see a different trend now,” said JR Wong of BQ Bar in the city’s Boat Quay area, “People who used to drink a lot of wine or spirits are now going for beer.”

India’s Tigerish growth

From India a similar story can be heard. One professional in North Delhi noted:

We used to visit only exclusive stores ..and spend [thousands of rupees] on branded clothes. I don’t like wearing anything locally made, I want international brands. I work in a place where all my clients and colleagues wear smart clothes and it would hurt my confidence levels if I’m not dressed like them. But it is a huge burden on my pocket. So now I look for discount offers where I can buy two or three items of clothing for the price of one”.

In Dubai

Dubai, the Gulf Tiger, has also had to adjust to a period in which growth by earlier standards had suffered.

Tigerish responses

Tigers when threatened fight back. Dubai, Ireland, Iceland, are finding their own ways of recovering from the global squeeze on their economies. That will be some comfort to regional economic leaders.

Singapore and its location

Singapore’s economic strategy has always been linked to its location, and will continue to be so. The term Location location location is widely attributed to the British property tycoon Lord Samuel although it may have been in use earlier in American business argot. Recently there has been a popular TV show of the same name and implying the same link between property value and location.

New marketing thinking

Changed conditions call for new thinking. What insights, for example, might be taken from books such as Herd, which seek to rethink contemporary marketing? According to the author of Herd,

[Mostly] things don’t start with special individuals – it is the rest of us and our willingness to adopt something that we see around us that really matters in the spread of behaviours and ideas through populations. Cultural Change is co-created. Individuals including project directors and their marketing strategists have their parts to play in that process.

Social media have helped generate new products and new markets. The up-market resort of Punta del Este in Uruguay has strengthened its business through parties of young rich Europeans and Americans organized on Facebook, and flying in on privately commissioned jets.

Many social commentators have been reaching the conclusion that leadership has also changed, and that again it is changing to deal with complex projects involving a range of leadership responsibilities.

What Tigerish responses might be expected in Orchard Road as Soon Su Lin’s new project unfolds?