Strike while the iron is hot

Business leaders should look out for new opportunities for sustained growth

Strike while the iron is hot

As any business leader worth his salt would know, running a company is not just about managing people and ensuring a healthy bottom line.

One key role that people in positions of power in an organisation must also perform is to continually look out for new opportunities that can be seized to ensure sustained growth for the future.

In Asia, scores of companies are investing heavily in reskilling their employees and relooking their entire business models to position themselves for expansion in the coming years.

Take Mr Adrian Sim, chief executive officer of 6 Drunk Men, which is the sole distributor for well-known alcoholic beverages such as Newcastle Brown Ale, Foster’s Lager, Sub Zero (a vodka-based pre mix) and Crown Lager.

He took a big leap of faith last year when he chose to develop his own brand of beer, after some encouragement from his course mates when he attended the Singapore Institute of Management’s The Job of the Chief Executive (Joce) programme.

“We knew all along that to build longevity for this business, we needed to move back into the supply chain,” says Mr Sim, who completed the five-day flagship programme run by SIM Professional Development.

“But I never initiated anything before I attended the course. The company started from nothing, so there was a lot of hesitation when it came to taking the next step and making the investment.”

Today, the company is busy creating its own brand of beer and now plans to begin quality control before launching the beer to the market within the next year.

The Joce programme is one of the longest-running executive development programmes in Singapore, and this year marks its 30th year. Aimed at top management, the programme has attracted over 1,000 top executives from 40 different countries to date.

Participants get an in-depth look at the challenges of their role in today’s globalised world and enables them to share best practices and lets them discover how best to approach their role as a CEO in a rapidly changing environment.

Catlin Asia Pacific’s CEO, Mr Mark Newman, wanted to re-examine his company’s operations in China and discover how best to build on its presence in the world’s most populous country.

“While I was attending the programme, it made me realise that we could further refine and improve our strategic planning for China, which is clearly a market that everyone wants to be successful in over the long term,” he says.

He adds that his team would be conducting an in-depth analysis with the view of taking steps that would better position Catlin — an international specialist property and casualty insurer and re-insurer — in China over the next 10 years.

Mr Newman says that he learned to “take a step back from your company and look at it as an outsider”. 

Professor J. B. M. Kassarjian, Joce’s programme director, says the global financial crisis has opened up doors for companies to “trim fat in all areas”. He urged bosses to use this valuable time window to learn new ways to tighten their belts where possible.

“As has been noted by some rather smart people, a crisis is too precious a situation to waste. It is often amazing how many parts of a company can do more with less, and faster,” says the professor of strategy and organisation at IMD International in Lausanne, Switzerland.

He says that, in reality, Asian companies have a tremendous advantage in times of serious turmoil, because their greatest strength is the ability to “act opportunistically”.

“You don’t need long planning and review cycles,” he says. “Start as many new products, modifications and features as you can, but without investing heavily. The game is to start small, pilot operations or experiments, try it out, throw out the losers, learn and move on. But do it fast!”

Professor Kassarjian warns that those who are unwilling to move out of their comfort zone risk losing out in the long run.

“Any CEO who is not prepared to be challenged by new ideas, or is reluctant to explore new territory or to change their point or view, will be left behind. Learning may be one of the very few human activities that is not toxic in excess,” he adds.

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