Completed a successful visit in Singapore. It was one of those all too rare occasions where I was actually parked in a city for more than two nights and so over the course of six days was able to get a real sense of the city and our office.
I first visited Singapore in 1996. Incredible the amount of change on what was already a very interesting city. In the intervening years however the country has gone from success to success. I overheard much discussion about the economy possibly entering a “technical” recession. Hard to fathom though given the sense of overall prosperity, the proliferation of high-end shops and a buzz of business and tourism. From previous observation, Singapore generally feels the pinch early as it is a very open economy, yet equally bounces back earlier and at a greater pace than anywhere else too. While election fever in South Korea, Venezuela and the U.S. will influence the direction of those nations, I get the sense of an extremely well-managed economy here that knows where it is going.
Edelman Singapore is in great shape and at 80 people strong has become the largest PR firm in the market, serving as a regional hub to many of our clients. I had two separate conversations that particularly stood out: one with senior managers where we discussed how we ensure everyone has a grounding in the “business of our business”; the other was with senior client executives and managers, who expressed a great deal of interest in the firm’s culture conversation as well as thoughts about Asia’s role in the firm’s and the world’s future.
On Friday, and again on Saturday, I had the pleasure of visiting the Marina Bay Sands (client), the integrated resort designed by Moshe Safdie that has become an iconic symbol of modern Singapore. To walk along the length of the SkyPark (at 12,400 square meters it stretches longer than the Eiffel tower laid down or four and a half A380 Jumbo Jets) and to see the world’s 3rd most populous port on one side and the expanse of Singapore on the other was to have a sense of the possible.
Friday lunch took place at db Bistro (prompting me to recall my dinner with Tim & Nina Zagat at NYC’s db Boulud the night after 9/11 as our small effort at that moment to support the city) with our Marina Bay Sands client to hear the extraordinary story of this complex and all it is contributing back to Singapore.
Over the course of visits with clients, and conversations with staff (including a Friday night meal over Chili Crab), I came to learn that Singapore is feeling the burden of its success. There are more foreign workers than at any previous time. In addition there is tremendous pressure on housing (more than 80% of the population lives in some form of government housing) and concern about education. Nothing unique to Singapore in this regard of course.
The government recently launched a national conversation so that collectively they might explore what the Singapore of 2022 might look like. While there have been “conversations” twice before in their history, this is the first to take place since the dawn of the social media age and the government is assessing how to manage accordingly. Connecting the people of Singapore with the bigger picture will be an interesting challenge.
Singaporeans benefit from a great deal of good in their country, from Changi Airport efficiency to a very strong and subsidized education system. At the same time there is an enormous expectation for performance and the vocal minority is quick to judge (for example when the MRT, their underground transit system is late by a few minutes there is a great deal of hue and cry – I told Singaporeans that in Manhattan we’re just happy when a subway car comes at any time!).
I suspect that Singapore’s national conversation will be successful as my sense is that it is a country with a great deal of pride that is deeply concerned about its future. And with Prime Minister Lee being among the 2 million Singaporeans with Facebook pages (with 59% of the population on the site, Singapore is the most facebooked nation in the world per capita) I suspect there will be numerous ways to ensure views and voices are heard. I look forward to checking in from time to time to hear how it is going.
In the meantime on to the next stop – Kuala Lumpur…
Matthew Harrington is the global chief operating officer.