Let the best man have the top job

Let the best man have the top job

MEMBER of Parliament Low Thia Khiang has called for Singaporeans to be given a chance to take on leadership roles in large local companies, in order to develop local talent who can replace foreigners in key positions ("Singaporeans should lead"; last Friday).

Mr Low told the House that ensuring Singaporeans play key roles, and not just supporting roles, in the workplace is a major challenge for the country ("Low Thia Khiang welcomes direction of Budget"; last Friday).

While this nationalistic overture may seem alluringly sound, I suggest we tread with caution.

South Korean electronics brands, such as Samsung and LG, are proving to be keen competition for their Japanese counterparts, such as giants Sony and Panasonic.

The once seemingly invincible Japanese electronics giants have lost billions of dollars and laid off many of their staff.

The leaders of the South Korean and Japanese brands are of their respective nationalities.

But the South Korean companies aggressively pursued emerging technologies and opportunities while the Japanese that initially enjoyed the dominant market share failed to capitalise on them.

The defining difference in corporate leadership of the companies is, thus, not the nationality of the top management, but the foresight and competence of their leaders to lead their companies in pursuit of the emerging opportunities to ensure growth.

The overriding concern of a firm is not whether the top management is local or foreign, but whether it can lead and take the firm to new heights.

A firm that grows in business potentially grows as an employer that provides more employment opportunities for Singaporeans.

The Government's role is, thus, not to encumber local firms with the undue pressure of localising their top management, but to ensure that the business climate is conducive to business growth and that our Singaporean workforce has the necessary talents and skills to support such growth, whether it is in the top management or otherwise.

As a Singaporean, I would like to see Singaporeans taking up more top management posts, too.

Yet, in the spirit of meritocracy and in the interest of our local enterprises, let us not hinder companies in their quest to find the best people for the top jobs, be they foreign or local.

Steve Chiu Shih Tung

This article was first published on March 12, 2015.
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