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Members of the Board of Governors,

Mr Tan Hang Cheong, Principal, Singapore Polytechnic,

Distinguished Guests,


Ladies and Gentlemen

Good Evening
It is my pleasure to be invited this evening to witness the graduation ceremony and to share my experience with you.  Before I proceed with my speech proper, I like to take this opportunity to extend my warmest congratulations to all the graduands in this hall.  I am sure your loved ones, lecturers and employers who have supported you in your learning journey share the pride and joy of your hard work and achievements.  Your achievement is greatly due to their support, understanding and sacrifices and I certainly urge you to extend your appreciation to them.

Learning Journey

  1. This is a moment of celebration and pride for you and your families. Your new qualification is a valuable asset, both to yourself and the workforce.
  2. Today we are living in an age where to maintain your cutting age you need to continually upgrade yourself to keep pace with the short shelf-life in advanced technology and information. I have no doubt Singapore Polytechnic offers some of the best training facilities and innovative teaching approaches. Several of my staff including my son were graduates of Singapore Polytechnic.  
  3. I can feel it is a real challenge to maintain the delicate balance between work, study and family. Graduands, I therefore applaud you for your great effort, perseverance and achievements!

About Competitiveness

  1. Singapore is an exceedingly competitive economic base according to several respected rating agencies. The Economist Intelligence Unit report for 2012 ranked Singapore as the most competitive city in Asia, and third in the world after New York and London, in terms of ability to attract capital, business talent and visitors. Similarly Singapore is ranked second in the Global Competitiveness Index for 2011-2012.
  2. However Singapore cannot be resting on its laurel. We are not only competiting with the more advanced countries and cities, but there is also an emerging band of mid-tier players which are fast moving up the ladder, like Abu Dhabi in the Middle East and Asean countries.

Be Future-ready

  1. I like to briefly share with the history of Makino Asia Pte Ltd to give you a better perspective how you should prepare for the next stage of your career. We started off with manufacturing conventional machine tools in seventies, but gradually shifted towards CNC machines with Singapore as our regional headquarters.
  2. However for us to grow, we cannot be stagnant and keep on doing the same thing perpetually. We constantly watch what our competitors and other strong players in the field are doing. We need to globalise. Our strategy requires us to be cost effective and stays in the technological forefront.
  3. Today we have business subsidiaries in Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, Indonesia, Philippines, Hong Kong, China and India. Besides Singapore, we also have manufacturing operations in India and China. And in 2010, we established an International Research and Development Centre in Singapore which exploys around 100 engineers.
  4. For any company in Singapore like ours, which needs to remain competitive in a robust economy, there is a recurring need to restructure our operations in Singapore. As Singapore moves towards a knowledge-based economy, low end jobs will be outsourced or relocated elsewhere, and what remain here are those high value-added ones. This means the workforce must be future-ready.
  5. Keeping up with the pace only keeps you instep.  BUT, if you are future-ready, you keep ahead a few steps. To be future-ready, you must view changes as opportunities, not threats….Opportunities to take your capabilities further  and to keep youself relevant.
  6. When you are future-ready, you no longer anticipate change – you are MAKING the change and you are part of it. The current strategy is to leapfrog.  The impact of a new idea or invention will not just keep you just one step ahead of your competitors.  It will leapfrog you in multiple steps.  A classical example is Kodak of USA, a century old company well known for its film and instant camera.  They have to file for bankruptcy protection under chapter 11 due to their failure to reinvent themselves in the digital technology.

Reinvent youself

  1. We need to keep reinventing ourselves so that we will be part of a workforce that will score well in innovativeness, entrepreneurship and risk-taking mindset. This is where lifelong education and training play a crucial and essential role.
  2. Learning does not necessarily come from the classroom alone. Institutions provide you with the vertical knowledge which can be learnt or transferred from your lecturers or experts.  Howver, horizontal knowledge can only be acquired through experience and experiment on-the-job that must be earned by yourself in the workplace and through a network of interactions with others.  So do value networking as well.
  3. Learning in the institutions provide you the basic steps in the chain of knowledge.  By constrast, learning to solve real world problems requires constant experimentation, and therefore failure as part of the learning process. Hence failure may not be a bad word.
  4. The ingrained attitude that all failures are bad implies that you do not learn from mistakes.  The key however is to make smart mistakes, rather than stupid ones.  Attending courses to some extent can help to minimise stupid mistakes. There is nothing wrong with failure as long as it is detected early and becomes an integral source of learning. To share Apple’s experience is that for every ten selected ideas, three get built and only one makes it to the market.  And who can doubt Apple’s phenomental success in recent years?! Thus dealing with failure positively should constitute part of the overall learning experience.
  5. To reinvent, you must have courage.  Firstly , you need courage to be different and dare to think out of the box.  Innovators are people whose minds are always looking for new ideas and creative ways of doing things. Innovators are more valuable than followers.
  6. Secondly, you must have the courage to risk failure. Noble failures are accepted as learning experiences, not necessarily career-jeopardising experiences.  By persistently thinking out of the box, it is even possible to turn failure into a success.
  7. And lastly, you must have the courage to self-initiate activities. People who initiate activities will generally cope well with change.  Such people do not let or wait for things to happen around them.  They make things happen, which is the hallmark for successful entrepreneurship. And such people view change as opportunities which brings us nicely back to my earlier point.    

The Challenges Ahead

  1. What are the challenges ahead for you? I suppose most of you are in your mid-career. Some of you may have witnessed sizeable parts of your company’s operations moving elsewhere. Others may be feeling their core skills gradually becoming redundant, thus being threatened with structural unemployment.
  2. Singapore’s economy is very vulnerable to external factors. The prevailing economic environment today is rather complex, volatile and unpredictable, highly susceptible to wars happening elsewhere, or political crisis, and escalating oil prices which are beyond our control. 
  3. You have witnessed the financial crisis in US which caused the economic downturn in September 2008. Fortunately there was a quick recovery in early 2010, but before stability had been restored, the European economies began to cast severe uncertainty in mid 2011 till today.
  4. External factors aside, we also need to contend with managing three generations of employees, namely baby boomers, Generations X and Y, working simultaneously under one roof.  Retirement age has been extended. How do we redeploy senior employees to meaningful roles without depriving opportunities to younger generations? It is also crucial to maintain a fine balance between meritocracy and longevity of service.

The Survival Kit – New Fit

  1. To overcome the challenges, we need a new fit in our survival kit. This requires us to first develop special attributes, such as the right attitude and the can-do spirit, which will enhance the value of our human capital. That will break down the resistance to change and encourage us to think and be innovative.
  2. To survive we also cannot ignore multi-tasking is essential for us to stay lean, flexible and versatile. It is therefore important that you must be able to imbibe multi-skill to keep pace with the fast changing economic environment in order to remain employable and relevant.
  3. Efficiency alone is insufficient for survival.  It simply means we are merely producing the same thing more efficiently. The consumers will be looking for something cheap and reliable, they also want it to be novel. What gives that extra edge are innovation and imagination.  Wealth today is generated by new ideas.
  4. Embracing new technology may be a necessity rather than choice to stay competitive. This may require extra effort to keep the workforce continuously updated on the development in technology and honing their skills.
  5. Staying industry-relevant is an important tool in your survival kit. You need both the knowledge of job and skills required for the job to ensure you continue to be employable as well as gain the respect of your employers and colleagues.  You must constantly update, upgrade and refresh yourself through life-long learning.   When Apple, HP and Motorola moved their operations out of Singapore to low cost regions, several Professionals, Managers and Executives became redundant due to the knowledge and skills acquired in these companies became obsoleted as a result of their complacency in not expanding their knowledge and skills thinking that these companies would remain in Singapore.
  6. Effective leadership is a key success factor to guide the organisation through any  turbulent situation. A good leader is able to strip things down to their simple essence so that people can grasp and act on.  The leader is also a great motivator. The biggest test of leadership is to sense when change is necessary, and then successfully convert resistance into active support for the change that is needed. In order for me to stay relevent and survive, it was never my intention to paper chase.  Over the years, I have to expand my knowledge from an accountant to marketer and finally as an entrepreneur in order to equip myself with the knowledge to stay relevant, survive and to compete in this challenging and competitive global markets.  As CEO which is commonly known as Chief Executive Officer,  I jokingly refer myself, CEO as Chief Entertainment Officer whose role involves entertaining and interacting with colleagues, customers, suppliers and the community.  Thus the knowledge and skills not only have to be vertical but a wide spectrum of horizontal skills necessary to meet the demand as an Chief Entertainer.


  1. In conclusion, I just like to reiterarate some of the salient points I have covered this evening. We are living in a very competitive environment. To sustain our existence, we need to be future-ready to face the challenges ahead of us. It is important to reinvent ourselves and have a survival kit equipped with measures which can be adopted to overcome the challenges.
  2. And I can’t help but emphasis again the importance of life-long learning. Let me congratulate all the graduates once again on your achievements.  I wish you every success in your future endeavour with lifelong learning. I am sure your alma matter Singapore Polytechnic will render you every possible support in your endeavour in this pursuit.
    Thank You and best wishes.