HR & EDUCATION | Contributed Content, Singapore
Chris Reed

Developing the next generation of leaders in Singapore


As the Global CEO of a start-up, I understand that I'm not just hiring employees to work for me. It's in my best interest to also ensure that if and when employees leave, they:

Maintain a good impression of the company even long after they have left – word-of-mouth is still a powerful form of advertising especially in such an interconnected place like Singapore.

Have gained something from their work experience here – that they've learnt something that they can take on and add to their list of skills and next job experience.

Implementing the above is simply a matter of perspective – view whoever comes through your door as a (potential) leader and develop them as such. It's a win-win situation for everyone. Having people with leadership skills can only be good for a business, given that leadership qualities are always sought after, and those who lack some skills can hopefully gain them in their time with you.

5 key leadership traits

So what skills are required in today's current market? In a recent survey done by the Human Capital Leadership Institute (HCLI), it's found that there are 5 qualities required to succeed as a leader in Asia. Although the study was conducted based on the HR landscape, I believe that they are still applicable to my own (and several other) business(es). These key attributes are:

Influence: Employees are your company's brand. Whether they are front-facing and dealing directly with clients, or administrative and dealing with vendors, the ability to give sound advice, negotiate terms, and influence decisions is key.

Collaboration: Having the people skills to be able to be a team player – both internally and externally – is yet another oft-sought quality. Collaborative efforts are always required in order to meet objectives on projects.

Business acumen: Given the disruptions we face and the ever evolving business landscape, employees should have some degree of business acumen to understand the industry and the direction of growth in order to help the organisation develop. Simply being experienced in one aspect of the job is not enough.

Intercultural agility: As companies develop, it is natural to branch out to a more global audience. This is particularly so in Singapore, where we have a thriving multi-cultural and entrepreneurial society. I myself practice diversity when hiring. Being able to understand different markets and cultures certainly helps get a better handle on things.

Resilience: As mentioned earlier, businesses are ever evolving. Those that don’t change with the times are likely to get left behind and fail. Resilient and fast learners who are able to adapt are required to stay relevant.

What do roast meat and electronics have in common?

Nothing, really, other than you place your meat in an oven to roast. But as a case study of how businesses with the right people and the qualities of leadership stated above, plenty. When Michael Mun, Group Chairman of Aztech, decided to buy Kay Lee Roast Meat last year, it was a spectacular move on the sides of both the sellers and buyers. The owners of the roast meat joint, for their belief in their value and refusing to budge on their asking price; and the Aztech Group, for recognising that value and going above. It's a great example of foresight, collaboration, and business acumen in play.

Betty Kong and her husband, Ha Wai Kay, owners of Kay Lee, knew they had to plan an exit strategy when their children indicated that they did not want to continue the family business. The fact that Mr Mun was one of their most loyal fans didn't hurt either. Said Mr Mun, "People asked why we paid so much. But I don't like to bargain."

"When I pay what they ask for, it is beneficial to both sides. If I just pay $100,000 but the handover is not smooth, then there's no point. The property is valued at $2.1 million and the rest goes to the whole business and the customer base. It is worth it. I believe we can make the money back in two to three years," he added.

Tips for the next generation of leaders

As highlighted in the same HCLI study, there are tips to help improve leadership skills, beyond the usual areas of communication, time management, and the like. To me, having good communication and organisational skills are a given to join my company. For employees seeking tips on self-improvement, I have to say that HCLI brings up relevant points again, and this is how I have put it into practice myself:

Remain open to possibilities

It's important to keep an open mind. Being closed off means you lose out on opportunities and new possibilities. If I had jumped on the social media bandwagon of Facebook etc., I'd never have carved out BM for myself.

Go global

It's why I came to Singapore and never looked back. It's why I have opened offices from the UK to Shanghai and Sydney. It's why the office HQ in Singapore is diverse.

Exposure and diversity

Get cross-functional experience – I emphasise on multi-tasking at the office because I think it's important that people don't put themselves into a niche. From blog-writing (editorial) to client account servicing, reporting, and more, there are several functions that my team can be exposed to and learn from.


Develop deep relationships – given that we are in a client-facing environment, it helps to foster deep, meaningful relationships with clients. As I've said many times, it is about who you know.

Don't be afraid to lose face

This is particularly relevant in Asia, where the value of "saving face" can be quite the roadblock to self-development and improvement. Making mistakes is normal. What's crucial is learning from them and not to be afraid to try again and hopefully, do much better. In a recent mUmBRELLA post, I had several anonymous "attackers" based on comments I made in the article.

Could I have handled it better? Possibly. Do I regret it? Not one bit, because at the end of day, it shows that what I said mattered, even if many disagree with my opinion, many agreed with me even if they didn't wish to say so publicly for fear of trolls targeting them.

That's life, it would have been worse if no one had cared either way! Life is for living, don't be afraid to put yourself out there. Leaders lead from the front.

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed has 25 years of senior marketing experience on both the client and agency side in the UK and now in Asia Pacific. He is the CEO and founder of Black Marketing.

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