I was the first person ever to complain that Singapore and DBS should be cultivating its own CEOs, way back in 2006 or so. Read my blogs. I was probably the first person to bring this up with key people in the industry.
It was Lee Kuan Yew who hastily hired John Olds, a retired JP Morgan investment banker who had never run a bank to turn DBS into something that he had not figured out for himself. At the time, LKY was going through this angst of how to take Singapore to the “next level”, heard ideas at JP Morgan Advisory Board meetings, and was clearly impatient. He probably met Olds in the elevator. Ambitious men make mistakes like these.
Many Singaporeans were very proud then, to have their top bank run by a white man from America. It fit the whole edifice. Singapore Inc. was doing well, Singaporeans were properly hired in the Singapore Inc. companies. At that time, DBS’ rank and file was made up of mostly endearing, embarrassing, comfortable, conformist, non-competitive luddites who would qualify as country bumpkins if this were a larger country, the result of years of pampering and strong economic growth. The head of retail in those days was the nicest little old lady I remember vividly, pompously quoted in the local newspapers on the eve of her retirement saying, “my father taught me never a lender nor a borrower be.”
I saw in Olds a retired man who had never run a bank before. He sure knew how to keep his mouth shut when he had no clue what he was dealing with. Olds left before he could be found out, recommending the first white man he could find. Philippe Paillart, who replaced Olds, was not difficult to find – he actually lived in Singapore for most of his professional life with Standard Chartered Bank. His son studied at NUS. A Singaporean without being one.
He was, without exaggeration, responsible for the careers of almost every single senior retail banker I knew in Singapore and the region from his Citibank and Standard Chartered days. He is still the personal mentor of so many Singaporean bankers today who eventually took leadership positions, and mine. He was also one of the main reasons DBS was able to walk into Hong Kong and buy Dao Heng Bank because very simply, he knew the family that owned it, and that acquisition gave DBS the break to become just that bit more the international bank it wanted to be. DBS Hong Kong is an anchor business for DBS today, generating the profits it sorely needs.
Philippe Paillart was the kind of reason Singapore Inc. hires foreigners, to help them accomplish something they can’t on their own. But Philippe was ousted by a testosterone-charged bunch of investment bankers and a board that didn’t quite like his personal style.
Curiously, Philippe was very quickly replaced by Jackson Tai, John Olds’ trusted lieutenant. By this time, the JP Morgan mafia was crawling on every wall in DBS. Tai was competent, but quite a character, an accountant with an attitude. He was one of those foreigners who would have never become CEO in his home country, but Singapore was generous, giving him DBS as his bar mitzvah gift. His wife never moved to Singapore, he lived in a hotel room, suitcase half packed and ready. This was the kind of “foreign talent” deal that should have made Singaporeans really angry with themselves, but the elites were very pleased, out of touch with the ground by this time.
After the JP Morgan clowns left town, we still kept up the white man fiction. Richard Stanley was someone I knew personally from his days in China. A most decent man at heart, but by this time, the dream of making DBS an international force had lost steam. It really did not matter if it was Richard or an untalented Singaporean as CEO.
We need to remember the plot – Singapore’s ambition at that time was to be international – to enter other people’s countries. By the time Piyush Gupta arrived on the scene, DBS had been without a real CEO for nearly two years. It was a serious problem. So it needed someone with an international experience and Piyush had worked in every country in the region, including Singapore, with outstanding references. Also, all banks everywhere were suffering from low price-to-book value. The increased capital requirements. The country needed someone who had the technical skills and instincts as a banker.
Piyush may not have been Singaporean, but he was absolutely at the point in his career to be a perfect fit for the bank of any country that needed to get to the next level, and that was what DBS wanted to be. The only Singaporean I would trust for that role at that point in time was Peter Seah, out-of-job as CEO after OUB was sold to UOB. But Peter was getting old, losing that fire in his belly, and chairmanship suited him better. So, I was delighted when I saw the two men I trusted formed a bond that has worked for Singapore since. Piyush gave Peter the energy and Peter gave Piyush the structure.
The remarkable point about the rant that Leong Mun Wai, that unelected ex-banker, made on his maiden speech in parliament recently is that such chatter used to be found only in the disgruntled underbelly of society, in the internet underworld where the displaced whined endlessly, consoling each other with unsubstantiated assertions, never expecting to be taken seriously in the mainstream. Suddenly, they have a voice. Suddenly, they have to be taken seriously. To this man, Piyush will never be a Singaporean, even if he is one, and it does not cost him a cent to be this cruel.
The genius of racist people is that they are totally selective. He singled out Piyush, but remained silent on CEOs of other Singaporean institutions who are not Singaporean at all. But more importantly, he was silent on all the government-linked companies (GLCs) that do have his fellow Singaporeans as CEOs but that were seriously losing their way in a changing world. It is the elephant in the room, but no Singaporean I know has even started concpetualising how to discuss it.
A host of Singapore Inc. companies run by real, born-in-Singaporeans – Singtel, Keppel Corporation, Sembawang, SPH, Singapore Exchange etc. etc. are all floundering right now and yet nobody turns the story on its head and asks, “hey, what are our own people doing for us?” It is these companies that are shrinking right now. Go read the share price of each of these companies over the past two years – they have been on permanent decline long before the pandemic. Singapore is in serious trouble. They are broken, every single one of them and it’s a topic that requires urgent parliamentary debate.
There was a time when a Singaporean could join a Keppel Corporation or NTUC, speak Hokkien all day, compete on who has the stupidest domestic helper, have the kids walked to school, go to an airconditioned church on Sundays, eat chicken rice at the hawker centre and fly business class on company account just enough to qualify as PPS world traveler on Singapore Airlines every year. What a life. Well, that life has just come to an end because the Keppel Corporations of the world can’t hire everyone now. It is that Singapore has shrunk. DBS and CapitaLand are the only GLCs that have bucked the trend.
In the past, the Singaporean was content in letting armies of Indians and Australians work for the foreign banks and corporations at Changi Business Park because working for a foreign corporation was too troublesome. It involved moving the family, unable to get preferred schools for the kids and spending days in dingy hotels in lousy third world countries for weeks at a time. Singapore Inc. was humming along just fine, the salary was “fist world”, and “sorry, you want me to fly where?”
Every one of these Singapore Inc. corporations is broken, having lost the wind beneath their wings, clueless on where to pick up new wind from and it is truly frightening. Companies like SPH lost their core business, tried property for a while, lost that as well, and are floundering right now. This is where the loss of Singaporean jobs are coming from.
It’s a question that never made it to parliament because the people are still being told that everything is fine. Public officials falling over themselves to give report cards that everything is great. The entire system hardwired to be defensive. Yes, it is great that each of these companies had Singaporeans as CEOs, because now we can start by not blaming someone else for our predicament.
Nobody seems to be asking these Singapore Inc. corporations “what happened to our jobs?” because these are the companies quietly shedding real-life Singaporean jobs today. They also break the legs of Singaporean entrepreneurs by undercutting them on price. Nobody getting rich from the business they get from the GLCs.
For every Singapore Airlines you have an NOL, an unmitigated disaster for all the years it was run by the best Singaporean CEOs, you can name them one by one. Then it magically becomes profitable when a foreigner bought it. Nobody in Singapore would have known that it could be salvaged until it was, by a foreigner.
Still it is a good thing that this marginalised segment that Leong Mun Wai represents has a voice now that must be carried, no matter how gutter it is, because indeed they have been left out for too long. The entire conversation has to be re-stated but on inclusive terms, and it takes great leadership to do that. The only thing left for this tiny little country to do is to have an honest conversation. There is no need for the state to pretend it has all the answers to solve all problems. The disgruntled are not without the ability to be part of the solution.
It has been a long journey from the days when Lee Kuan Yew first raised the spectre of “foreign talent”, suggesting that Singaporeans are not good enough for their own country, and then parading pretenders like John Olds that the marginalised could only watch in despair. Not every leader gets it right the first time. The way to honour his intention is to do it again, but this time, carry the population along. This is a good opportunity to turn the topic on its head. It will give a very different tone to the idea of foreign talent and set it in perspective.
The world is changing so dramatically. Did Singapore even try to bring in the Teslas of the world? Do Singaporeans even know that the Thai stock exchange is now larger than SGX? A politically dysfunctional country mocking an otherwise socially cohesive Singapore which is supposed to be a regional financial centre. The SGX does not need to be defensive of the fact that it is now broken, having lost the MSCI Index business to Hong Kong. There are so many geo-political challenges today. The conversation alone can draw up ideas for the future.
Without a strong stock exchange it is impossible to give rise to the next generation of Singaporean billionaires – the current lot are mostly imported foreigners and old time property developers from a past era, not a single neighbourhood boy made good on technology, or a crazy new budget airline. The most prized businesses are all state-owned, and floundering. A Temasek rather invest in a Jetstar JV than allow a Singaporean aviation man become a billionaire. In the US and China, people don’t mind being hopelessly poor as long as they keep hearing stories of a neighbour’s kid making it big.
These can no longer be defensive decisions made in secret. These are now issues to be discussed in public to fire up the imagination of the ordinary Singaporean to be part of the solution, not part of the problem for a brand new world. When we don’t discuss these things in public, we end up leaving the average Singaporean with nothing to discuss except for what they see in front of them, foreigners taking their jobs away.
Singapore is a very small country. A leadership that speaks truthfully and plainly to its people can easily win the energy of the people against insurmountable odds. Generating public relations defensively just to justify doing their over-paid jobs delays the real conversations that need to be had. It is also selfish. The EDB would have done better if it had reported in May just how difficult finding new foreign MNCs has been instead of setting its own moving annual targets ($10b, no, $13b, no, $15b?) and reporting tentative investments of existing corporations as new just to keep up appearances. The MAS would have done better to point out that the so-called fintech investment deals this year are mostly distressed deals at a haircut instead of releasing numbers designed to protect its fintech staff. For what purpose?
People become confused when their experiences of joblessness is different from what they read in the newspapers. The majority of Singaporeans are now mature enough to want to be in on the conversation, of how the old formula of inviting MNCs to bring their capital has run its course. The Singaporean, brought up to believe that he is the best in all the rankings has no clue why the world has changed on him in this way. He has no idea that whatever he can do, others can do cheaper from anywhere else in the world, with or without a degree from the “best universities” in Asia (enough of these damn rankings).
Singapore does not have the option of a Japan, a country of 125 million, to go insular and circulate within its own economy for 20 years. Even that Japan has become desperate now, releasing the floodgates for Chinese nationals because it needs the inward migration to fund its anemic economy at great cost to its own people. Oh, but the Singaporean does not know all that yet, do they?
Singapore has the unenviable task of reinventing itself in the harshest possible way. The entire Singapore Inc. “wealth-property-SME-corporation-stock exchange-banking-reserves” nexus is straining for a brave and smart Singaporean to try a new paradigm, and to do it in such a way that even if it fails several times, he or she carries the whole society with him or her.
The US and China are currently pouring money they don’t have in propping up their respective domestic markets and changing the rules of finance while Singaporeans are being lectured top-down on the importance of preserving “reserves” that generate almost nothing investing in other people’s economies. A country where buying property is the only way left to become rich is a walking time-bomb, it is a society that feeds on itself, as valuations are inflated artificially to maintain the financial system.
Yes, of course Piyush has to eventually hand over the leadership of DBS to a Singaporean Chinese. But even there, I have stated very clearly in a previous blog why some personalities will not be a good choice for CEO, even if they are great people personally. The personalities I have mentioned in my previous blogs are all good people. Even great in their respective areas of specialties. I was scolded by two people that I might be demeaning some. It is not my intention to get personal or put any of them down. Leadership of a country or a complex organisation in a changing world is not a managerial role for which you can be trained.
I know this from my personal friendships, interacting with a wide variety of personalities in the finance industry, that there is an instinct that is required to manage a complex institution like a bank. I have seen at a very personal level with banks as mighty as Wells Fargo, RBS and Deutsche Bank, how when you get the nicest personality wrong, the bank can lose its way for years to come and damage even the entire country. I know the characters in some of these sad stories personally. For all their geniuses, they can be flawed people, just like Liew Mun Leong, you and me. This is why I make no apology to call out arrogance, hubris and stupidity in the industry, because I know that at the end of the day, I won’t be the fool. The share price of DBS can slide irreversibly, and cause the bank to shed more Singaporeans from their jobs and exacerbate the social wound the country already has.
The truth is also that as soon as Piyush steps down as CEO, the banking industry as a whole will be undergoing yet the next stage of its transformation. It is not going back to the days of John Olds. This is not a matter of taking over “where Piyush left off”. This is not a laundry shop. There is no “management training” for this role. It will be a different business tomorrow.
The entire construction of DBS right now is a reflection of Piyush’s personal mental energy. The businesses in India and Indonesia are not line items on the balance sheet. They are carried by the sheer will power of the CEO. The next CEO might see these businesses as huge costs that he does not want to carry. He or she may want to carry other risks, other priorities that suites their fancy, and justify them as “strategy”. You can train 1000 managers, but choosing a leader in a changing world is about making a bet on one man’s or woman’s instincts honed over a lifetime of experience, over another, and you live with those choices.
I know that Piyush always talks about “innovation” to everyone, but I argue that Piyush is one of the greatest old fashioned bankers of our times, whose instincts for the traditional business of banking is the best there is. I know nobody believes me when I say this. For all its rhetoric of technology and innovation, DBS still makes 60% of its money from the net interest margin that the MAS generously allows the local banks to keep, and that is where the bank will suffer when it does. All the fintech indulgences are no more, no less, than the bank next door. Please hate me for saying this, but I fight very hard to put huge egos in context here.
The new challenge has not even started yet. He has held his ship together very well for what it was in its time. Whoever takes over Piyush will have zero tuition for what is to come. I had warned in my blog in December last year that DBS will start looking very different when zero interest rate starts setting in. Guess what – it is here now, arriving earlier than even I would have thought, and nobody has had any training on how to chart a path forward. Only the MAS can protect DBS, as it has, and even then for a short while.
The question that the Chinese Singaporeans should be asking themselves is “where is the Piyush Gupta of Singapore” amongst us? Where is the Singaporean who uprooted his family, travelled to many different countries at great personal cost, had ambitions without a border, did not care what people thought about his accent or colour, was assessed on his task one day at a time, developed the vision and passion, made his fair share of valuable mistakes and is then at the right time in the right place in his career to take on the opportunity to lead DBS when the time comes? If we only we knew one Singaporean who was half of who Piyush is in banking.
But guess what. Singapore did have its “Piyush Guptas” in the 1980s. Peter Seah, Wong Nang Jang and a series of top-class Singaporeans I can recall all worked for the same international banks in the 1970s-1980s, just like Piyush. Peter Seah will tell you stories of how he had to retrench staff in an overseas branch at the tender age of 28 or so. They would have easily been the world-class CEOs that Singapore needs to have. But they had it easy. As Singapore became more comfortable, they came back to Singapore and took jobs in local banks, mostly so that they could put their own children through local schools and raised a family. There was no need for passion. I also told someone recently that I thought Lee Ah Boon would have made a good CEO, so blame Lee Ah Boon for being too comfortable, cherry-picking problem solving roles, instead of rising for his nation.
Ah, but then there was also my rascal friend, Edmund Koh, all that energy messing around with sedentary positions in Singapore for many years, until the big break came for him to enter the world of international CEOs – a three year stint in Taiwan, leaving family behind in Singapore. I have watched a few friends make that transition in their lifetime, from manager to boss. Today he is CEO of UBS Asia Pacific, and rightly deserved, because he shamelessly told his bosses he wanted that position and went out to make it happen.
No, he was not on any MAS international experience subsidy nonsense – a sinful waste of taxpayers money on an industry whose professionals get paid in one month what the average Singaporean gets paid in 1-2 years. No other country baby-sits their already highly paid people like Singapore does and with dismal returns. You’d think that it produces leaders, no only babies addicted to the state. The best negotiate their own destinies. I keep a tab on the current generation of Singaporeans I can see who have that same gumption, Jessica Tan, Tan Choon Hin, the rare exception, not even a competitive minority you can choose from. Sometimes, a country has to be totally dysfunctional to bring out the best in its people, get their arses kicked to sharpen their edge.
The smartest in China today also stay at home, because it is a hugely successful and comfortable country. That is why you don’t hear about too many Chinese leaders of US corporations, because the best are all in China. As the Chinese economy slows, they too will be looking abroad for solutions. Same with the Japanese. The smartest Indians don’t have that choice. The fact that they build such skills in a dysfunctional state makes them twice as valuable. So they travel around the world with all that energy.
Yes, there is a garden snail variety of expatriate Indians, a thoroughly annoying breed in the US as in Singapore, who form ghettos and leech on other societies and still claim their home country is better. Just like the garden snail variety of Australians, unable to get jobs back in their home country but everything about their host country is wrong, if you noticed. But the best ones from any large country, no matter how dysfunctional, India or China or Indonesia or Brazil, are world-class and we under-estimate them at our own expense.
The funny thing about this “Best Bank in the World” nonsense that Piyush pushes is that it distracts totally from the fact that DBS is actually a very good bank. The same so-called “Global Finance” marketing company that gave DBS its award also invented other fictitious titles like “The World’s Best Internet Bank for Malaysia” for Maybank at the same time. I had given my assessment on this nonsense in a previous post.
Our own research shows that Singapore has two other very good banks, UOB and OCBC to keep DBS honest, privately owned but doing just as well. If you notice, both UOB and DBS have had almost identical share prices track record in the past three years. Go check. In fact, this year, our own very thorough, transparent and published research found that UOB is the best retail bank in Singapore because of several clear reasons. Not DBS. Singaporeans know this – DBS does not even have simple innovations like cardless ATMs that UOB and OCBC do, and that is only the tip of the legacy issues it has. Click here to read our report.
We were also the first to publish a survey on COVID response of banks – on this one DBS did very well but only for Singapore, because they were deploying government guaranteed loans. DBS could not come close to matching that of Standard Chartered Bank, which set aside $1 billion of loans, not guaranteed by any government, for COVID-response lending worldwide.
This kind of hyperbole, the “world’s best bank in the country”, attracts beleaguered banks from third world countries, while European banks laugh at DBS being the only bank left in the world where customers have to go to the branch during the pandemic lockdowns to reset their password. Peter Ma, the chairman of Ping An Group, with over 100 million fully digital bank customers against DBS’ five million, congenially finds DBS tiny and Piyush amusing.
But that’s Piyush. He does not want to be the best CEO in Singapore. He wants to be the best CEO in the world, and we should not belittle that ambition. That’s how CEOs do, and carry their organisations with them. That’s how Singapore gets its international reputation built, by the ambition of individuals. It’s his calling card. Piyush has been infecting his Singaporean managers with a disease that is not easily found in Singapore, passion. There are things he has been teaching them that will start to make sense only later in their careers.
The fact that Singapore has such a great brand name in the US capital is because Lee Kuan Yew spent his personal time staying in the homes of and building relationships with people like Henry Kissinger and the Bushes. The reason Singapore’s CapitaLand does very well in China is because Liew Mun Leong loves every minute he is in China. The reason Singtel was able to acquire a string of telcos in Asia and Australia after it was listed was because Lee Hsien Yang was willing to take the plane out, flying economy if he had to, to close deals at a moment’s notice when he was CEO. I know that these are “loaded” names now, but I am not mentioning them for any reason other than why the best Singapore companies are what they are today. Maybe the fact that Liew Mun Leong’s story is flawed should alert us to the fact that nobody is beyond scrutiny.
The other funny thing about this “World’s Best Bank” nonsense that Piyush tries to push is that the one category of people he could not capture the imagination of was his own people – the Singaporean customers themselves. It’s actually the same mistake that Lee Kuan Yew made – make us “world class” and the people will thank you for it. No, they won’t. Not if they can’t see themselves in it. Not if you didn’t carry them along in the story. Our own Net Promoter Score (NPS) survey show that DBS already ranks much higher than UOB and OCBC, but that’s because of POSB and it’s heartland effect. Instead, Piyush sets himself up like a lightning rod to be roasted by a pretender in parliament. Every leader has to learn this lesson at least once in his life.
But it’s a fine line between being loved and being respected. There was a time when Sim Wong Hoo grew Creative Technology to be a global company, living out of a suitcase in America, giving no less than Steve Jobs a run for his money. But in Sim’s case, Singapore smothered him with love and massaged his passion until it became placid. The same politicians who spurned his initial effort to list Creative on the Singapore Exchange, made him a star and were taking selfies with him after he was successfully listed on NASDAQ, turning him into a philosopher and taming the beast in him. It was only a matter of time that his empire unraveled, because the competition in Silicon Valley was too vicious for someone who didn’t spend enough time in the battlefield.
I have plenty of issues with Piyush, all at the level where the best banks in the world struggle with – transitioning from legacy technology (I think DBS has a huge cost around its neck), that deal with Manulife (patently not right), what APIs are supposed to do (compared with Salesforce, please), the core net interest income business (shrinking) etc. I do think India and Indonesia are really serious problems for DBS, they will unravel after Piyush leaves. But those are my opinion, and I am happy to be proven wrong.
I do not need to cut Piyush any slack because he holds his own. It would be so very different if I were dealing with a lame duck Singaporean CEO who hides behind his entitled behaviour, as some do, and not having the same mettle to engage on the issues at a global level. This is where the intangibles that affect share price come from, the fiction of being seen as the best on the global stage.
You can’t teach a Singaporean president’s scholar why any of this is important. A leader needs to have this beast inside him and instinctively finds his journey. Piyush gave to Singapore the gift of his skills and his passion, honed over a lifetime, not paid for by even one cent of taxpayers money. If you want to put a figure on it, that’s S$20 billion, the premium that DBS’ capitalisation is over the next largest Singapore Inc. company on the stock exchange, all from one leader’s energy. There is no Singaporean run state-owned institution that comes close. That’s higher than the annual target EDB sets for itself for all the companies it brings in to give Singaporeans jobs . Also, operationally, it is a far more complex organisation. All the fiction needed for CEOs to do what they need to do.
Singaporeans let the CEOs of Singapore Telecom, Keppel, SembCorp, SPH and a whole string of other Singapore companies get away too lightly without scrutiny. There are many national banks in Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Philippines, Taiwan and even South Africa who would cry to have the price-to-book ratio that all three Singaporean banks have held, even now under stress during the pandemic. But DBS, being much larger, has held up more Singaporean jobs than several Singapore Inc companies put together (and here I protest, because banks should be leaner).
I kept saying “Singaporean Chinese” in this essay. I should have said “Singaporean Chinese male”. The diversity agenda has been on the table for more than 20 years now, but the boys did not miss anything until it is their jobs we are discussing. At no point has anyone asked why Singapore corporations are underrepresented by the best of all of its population, both male and female.
When you see that the world’s largest corporations in the United States are now increasingly represented by the best Indians, Singaporeans should be saying to themselves, “wait a minute, we have Indians here, what happened to our own Indians or Malays?”. There was a time when the best athletes in high school were the Tamil boys. They’ve disappeared. Having a world-class Singaporean Malay leading a corporation like Changi Airport would set an electric tone on leadership for the entire region. The Indonesian GDP is now US$1 trillion for goodness sake, as against Singapore’s US$380 billion and widening rapidly. It is just a matter of time before the richest Singaporean billionaire is Javanese. Get used to it.
Singapore has an amazing opportunity to demonstrate a world where the best people from the world’s three largest civilisations work harmoniously and bring out the best in each other. But the Singaporean Chinese is now the new “bumiputra”, grumbling, complaining and even demanding for a world that no longer looks like what he was promised in the brochures where only his children are the best at everything. Now they know what the Malays in Malaysia feel like, or the whites in the bible belt in the US, marginalised in their own countries.
But there was a time when the Singaporean Chinese was the most decent, generous, accommodating and hardworking people by any standards anywhere in the world. Lee Kuan Yew called them his “raw material” without whom this county would have turned out very differently. He was murmuring these thoughts to those around him on that boat trip around the harbour a few years before he died. Like a strict father, he had not treated the Singaporean Chinese as being good enough for their own country. He kept experimenting with the idea of “the best in America” who could take this little island to its next level. Only in his last days did he start publicly conceding the idea that a country is always only as good as its own people.
When a Singaporean Chinese talks about how his grandfather came to the country without a cent on his back, he doesn’t realise that he is no longer talking about himself. He doesn’t recognise his own grandfather in the new immigrants. Still, in any country, harmony and opportunities for minorities and foreigners come only when the majority population is strong, engaged with a sense of purpose and direction. So it is in everybody’s interest that the Singaporean Chinese finds his wind again.
The fact that all these issues are now on the table being discussed at different forums in Singapore is a very good thing. The fact that it is a very difficult conversation is only natural. LKY called it “primordial instincts” at play and that it can be very dangerous. But this is a really mature people now. This is not a lazy population. These are not a small minded people. It is a people with enough skill and gumption to make it anywhere in the world, if they have to, and some already do. No milk has been spilt.
It is still possible to rectify the mistakes and do it better this time, the people not the government carrying the ambition. Government does not need to be the solution to every problem, nor should they set themselves up to be. It just makes them defensive. The foreigners who do become CEOs of Singaporean corporations can be truly proud that it is the height of their own careers to have this challenge to make a difference to a world-class population. Of course, a Singaporean is not about to hand a Singapore Airlines over to a foreigner to run, but JY Pillay and Chen Choon Kong, who gave the company its DNA were both born in Malaysia, so if you want to strain at gnats, about half of Singaporeans still generate new families from Malaysia and elsewhere every single day today. Go figure.
The urgent task is to retool all of Singapore Inc. corporations, and if the challenge is communicated correctly, the Singaporean himself does see the value of having foreigners share the yoke and chart a course into the future. We can start by saying thank you to Piyush Gupta for choosing to become a proud Singaporean.