SPEAKING FROM THE HEART AND WITH PASSION: MP Inderjit Singh and his family welcome the new 'baby' in the house - his book, The Art And Science Of Entrepreneurship. With him are (from left) son Gurshant, nine; daughter Rashvinpal, 13; wife Manjit Kaur, 44; and daughter Trishpal, 15. Photo/ EDWIN KOO
MR INDERJIT Singh is a risk-taker. Not only is the Member of Parliament for Ang Mo Kio GRC known for his provocative speeches in the House, but he is also a successful entrepreneur who founded six businesses.
Now, his journey has been documented in his first book, The Art And Science Of Entrepreneurship, which he put together from his motivational speeches to corporations, including government-linked companies, in the last six years.
'The book was ready two years ago but I was not in the right mood then to publish it. I was deeply involved in Infiniti Solutions, trying to turn it around,' said the 46-year-old, who holds an engineering degree.
Infiniti Solutions, a semiconductor company which he set up in 2001, still preoccupies him.'It's on the verge of taking off so I am spending a lot of time on it.'
Structuring the book, which he self-published, also took a year, with help from hired editors.
Mr Singh's other start-ups are United Test and Assembly Centre (Utac), Tri Star Electronics and Buyittogether, as well as an e-learning business and another software company.
He declined to name the latter two, describing them as small and viable, although they are 'struggling'. He sold Buyittogether, an e-commerce company, in February 2000, just before the dot.com bubble burst in April that year.
Last year, the combined annual sales of all his companies came up to more than $800 million.
But delaying the book had an upside. It allowed Mr Singh to add two 'important' chapters, he said - one on passion and the other on thinking with your heart, not your head.
While many things make an entrepreneur, it is clear that Mr Singh is a strong advocate of the 'fuzzy process of decision-making'.
In his book, he writes: 'As an engineer, I was taught that firing from the hip was wrong and that any decision needed to be preceded by a very thorough analysis of the data and facts, including a structured decision-making process before any decision could be made.'
But, he adds: 'An entrepreneur starts to fail and become ineffective when he is required to use a structured process to make decisions.'
Thinking with the heart
AS A prime example of defying conventional logic, he cites Tri Star, his second company, which he started in 1997.
To get it off the ground, he not only pumped in his life savings, but he also got his parents, two brothers and one of his two sisters to chip in.
He also took a mortgage on his Siglap semi-detached house even though his wife, Manjit, was then pregnant with their third child. To make matters worse, the Asian financial crisis had just begun.
'I depend a lot on intuition and thinking with the heart. I visualise things. Although there are risks I try to mitigate, I am willing to take a leap, like putting my house on mortgage. But something inside tells me I can do it. I believe there is no problem that cannot be solved.'
In his book, he writes: 'There are all types of risks that may exist, and some people will want all these risks to be mitigated before they explore the opportunity. Such people are rarely entrepreneurs.'
Today, Tri Star, a trading and service company, boasts revenue of close to $200 million.
But the riskiest thing he has done has nothing to do with business or politics, he said, even though it is yet another example of how he operates from the gut, not the head.
'I ran my first marathon two years ago without being fully trained. I managed to finish it but at the last 5 km point, my heart was palpitating,' he said with a laugh.
The run was part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of Nanyang Technological University. 'Out of pure faith, I ran on. I told myself, to give up is very easy but to complete it is something very special. So I finished it, even though it took me close to seven hours.'
This dogged determination and self-confidence have also kept Mr Singh going in politics - where he is a vocal champion of Singapore's small businesses - even when the odds seemed stacked against him.
Many times, he stepped on the toes of ministers with his probing questions on sensitive topics.
Last year, he questioned the process which led to the government investment arm Temasek Holdings' acquisition of Shin Corp, and what he saw as government interference in government-linked companies like Singapore Airlines (SIA).
In December 2005, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew had suggested that SIA sell its stakes in SIA Engineering Company and Singapore Airport Terminal Services to concentrate on its core business in an increasingly competitive environment.
This prompted Mr Singh to point out in the Budget debate last year: 'Sometimes I wonder why we have such higher-level board members appointed to such companies when they - the board members and management - still have to be guided by visionaries like MM Lee who has many other things to do.'
In January last year, a consortium led by Temasek bought a controlling stake in telecom giant Shin Corp from the family of former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Tensions ran high after the purchase and the deal aggravated street protests and deepened a political crisis that culminated in Mr Thaksin's ouster in a coup in September.
Indeed, Mr Singh was already firing from the hip in his first year as an MP in 1997. His was the lone voice querying the $575 million net loss of Singapore Technologies after it acquired but failed to turn around American disk-drive-maker Micropolis.
Ironically, he would later acquire the Micropolis building here for Utac.
He also questioned Singapore's US$5 billion loan offer to Indonesia just before the fall of president Suharto, as well as what he saw as the Cabinet's decision not to support the late Ong Teng Cheong's bid for a second presidential term.
Over the years, he has grown accustomed to predictions about the impending demise of his political career.
'After my first term, people said to me: 'We heard you're not going to continue to a second term. How can they keep you? You are so negative, always speaking against government policies.'
'The day before Nomination Day last year, some grassroots leaders came to me to say they heard I was out of the running. I said, it did not matter. I will be here to help whoever is next to win the election.
'Then a few weeks before the last election, a journalist came up to me and said that, among the press, the consensus was that I would be out.
'I told him: 'I think you are right','' he said, laughing heartily.
But, he maintained, his guiding principles remain the same - to speak from the heart and with passion.
'I have been sincere and constructive and spoken without malice. I may speak against a policy but I also offer suggestions on what can be done.'
While he has stoked debate on many issues, his most passionate speeches in Parliament have centred on the need to promote small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs).
In particular, he has been very critical in the past about the Government's lack of support for local industries and the civil service's inflexibility in implementing rules and regulations which hinder, rather than foster, private enterprise.
'Civil servants should not think of the private sector as outside the system. When the private sector succeeds, jobs are created and the country becomes wealthy. The top part of the civil service is changing but I don't think it has trickled down all the way to the organisation yet. But I'm confident that this will change soon.'
The Action Community for Entrepreneurship (Ace), a private-public sector initiative to foster a healthy environment for start-ups, of which he is deputy chairman, is a positive step in the right direction, he said.
The chairman, who is Minister-in-charge of Entrepreneurship, is Mr Lee Yi Shyan, also Minister of State for Trade and Industry.
Changes for the better
MR SINGH said overseas businessmen sometimes laugh when they find out Singapore has a minister for entrepreneurship.
'Only in Singapore, they say! So I tell them we are a country where the Government has a lot of influence in everything, including the running of companies. So, in the initial stages, the Government needs to be involved in transforming the environment.
'But the Government initiates with a view to letting go when the momentum picks up. Ace is a mix of private and public sector people. So if we can keep on operating in this mode until we don't need a minister any more, the private sector can take over,' he said.
'Six years ago when I started writing the book, I was a lot more critical about Singapore as an entrepreneurial environment. Now, I've seen the changes so I've modified some chapters.'
One big, albeit less obvious, change in fostering entrepreneurship is in the area of education, he said.
'In the past, with streaming, you had one chance and if you missed it, you missed it forever. We now give students the choice to take different routes. That alone gives you the feeling that you can have many chances. And that is what entrepreneurship is all about.'
The changes augur well for his three children, Trishpal, 15; Rashvinpal, 13; and Gurshant, nine.
'I gave them each a copy of my book, personally signed,' he said, with another laugh.
'I explain to them some of my concepts because a lot of them apply to life, too, especially about having a winning spirit. But I'm not forcing them. Not everyone can be and will be an entrepreneur.'
His family has always been the bedrock of his success, he said, especially when few people believed in him.
'My wife must have seen the passion and believed in me because she was never an obstacle,' he said.
'People in business thought I was a dreamer. Maybe even now, some ministers think I am dreaming,' he said.
But, he said, he pays little attention to such doubts.
'I do not fear anyone. I only fear God.'
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