Possible to be take leadership in an unfamiliar industry

My friend criticized industry minister Chan for trying to teach businessmen how to expand their business overseas, when he did not have any experience in running a company.

He also criticized the appointment of two army generals to run the SMRT and NOL without any industry experience. They did a poor job.

I told him that Louis Gertsner took over IBM in 1993 without any prior experience in the computer industry. He did a good job in transforming IBM successfully.

So, it is not a matter of prior experience but in the leadership style.

I wish to share my personal experience.

When I took over NTUC Income in 1977, I did not have the essential qualifications for that job, namely:

a) I was not familiar with the trade union movement which owned the cooperative
b) I had not managed a large company before
c) I have not managed a sales force before.

Although I have knowledge of the life insurance business, it does not sufficiently equip me to run a big cooperative.

I adopted the following strategy to meet the challenges:

a) I listened to the colleagues who have experience with the trade union movement and in managing a sales force. We worked together to agree on the management decisions.

b) I adopted a strategy to be lean, efficient and low cost. This helped us to meet and win in the competitive market.

c) I am hands-on and in touch with the workers and the customers.

In other words, I did not run the cooperative in an arrogant manner and did not make decision on my own and from the ivory tower.

That strategy worked. I was able to build up the business and grew it tremendously.

It is possible for a leader to take charge of a large business in an unfamiliar industry, but they have to adopt the right approach.

Ministers and army generals – I hope you are listening.


Tan Kin Lian




23 Responses to “Possible to be take leadership in an unfamiliar industry”

  • UniQ:

    That is why NTUC screwed up so badly, and that is a fact.

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  • One example:

    Dangerous to go from one example to saying every time can.

    Insurance is a relatively simple industry, compared to, e.g., train operation or aircraft manufacturing company. You just have HR and simple money.

    Ok. You have done a good job. But please don’t say anything also possible.

    Singapore example.
    In the recent pass, PAP recruited some old experienced industry CEOs to be ministers. How many notable ones?
    Either they did not transition well from industry leader to ministry leader or they refused to be yes-men.

    And of course, go ask Phillip Ang for more examples.

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  • Dear Mr Tan:

    I would suggest you talk to your ex colleagues about your management style in NTUC Income.
    Your ex management team, that are still friends with you, not counted please.
    Maybe you should set up a webpage like the referendum idea you put forth recently, to get feedback and what your ex insurance agents and staff think about you.
    I am not from NTUC Income, or your ex staff, I do not know you.

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  • cut and paste is plagiarism:

    in 1977 practically 90% of the folks uneducated. so anything coming out of lky pap is truth and is accepted blindly.

    many such as tan kin lian were lucky to be existing at that time since by the star dust of pap master liar lky, they got through without much fiack.

    but like all lies, the truth comes back to haunt one day, finally.

    now offsprings of the 1977 generation, whose papa and mama blindly hoodwinked by pap master liar lky and his underperforming underlings such as tan kin lian, starts to realize HDB is over priced rental, no car is bus mrt squeeze.

    99.99% of the 1977 lky folks all quietly enjoying themselves. quietly so as not to raise ire of 1977 folks’ offsprings. only that one stupidest tan kin lian opens his Cb mouth to broadcast how easily no experience works in 1977.

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  • TruBlu:

    Still, a medical doctor shud be slightly better off in the MOH than in Foreign Affairs???

    But, it is true ARROGANCE is FOOLISHNESS ultimately.
    Foolishness will only point to FAILURES.
    OUR $cholars are a good example.

    Look at past leaders like HON SUI SEN.
    Need we say more?

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  • Went to Japan:

    The PAPPY installed numerous generals into civil service and even sports because they believe their loyalty and obedience would be injected into these ministries.

    Do they care if they win or lose? Look at Ng, the fatty general who sank NOL and now running SPH, isn’t it sinking too? Look at SMRT, isn’t it the same? If results dont show, they will just get delay in promotions and still rake in millions.

    Singapore is becoming a police state or rather already police state, they don’t care about meritocracy. The sons and daughters of ex ministers all thrown into politics for what reason? They can lead?

    Parliament is now a joke with no debate… and rubber stamp for this white party.

    Things can only change….. when you vote them out.

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  • TruBlu:

    Lets not talk about business.
    FOOTways with PMD-USERS thinking they have the RIGHT of way ON FOOTways?!

    Which STOOPID SCHOLAR/S / MINISTER started this CRAP?


    If we are not ready infra-structure-wise, we shud be wise n honest enough to REVERSE THE POLICY instead of allowing for MORE HARM?!



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  • TruBlu:

    And, BTW, LTA says it will monitor closely but has LTA been DOING so???
    Fark LTA!

    ACTUALLY, VICTIMS SHUD BE ABLE TO SEEK RECOURSE FROM LTA for allowing all this to happen but whoch common sg can do so if OUR LAW SOC does nothing?

    Sgs are bearing the brunt of so many LOUSY POLICIES !

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  • Lee How Lian:

    What else but arrogance. Arrogance is in the MIW’s DNA! “We know best.”

    Ming ming ignorant but still dare to act arrogant. Wait for sg’s doomsday, singaporeans!

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  • TruBlu:

    Lets picture this scenario.
    What if DPM HENG goes for a WALK-ABOUT N sway sway ONE STOOPID PMD-USER knocks into him n he suffers another stroke?

    Will KEE CHIU then be cheering secretly?

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  • The Cultural Problematique:

    A big general noticed one of his soldiers behaving oddly. The soldier would pick up any piece of paper he found, frown and say: “That’s not it” and put it down again. This went on for some time, until the general arranged to have the soldier psychologically tested. The psychologist concluded that the little soldier was deranged, and recommended his discharge from the army.

    The soldier picked it up, smiled and said: “That’s it! No more pull rank like crazy ah….”

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  • TruBlu:

    Oh, where is the GRACIOUS N *KIND* SG PROF TOMMY KOH?
    Whats his VIEWS on this matter?
    Kindness is called for here???

    Crap ACADEMIA we have here.
    All diam diam n scared to lose rice-bowl$.
    Only good at singing the $AME TUNE$ as the errant gahmen?

    Stop the hypocritical criticisms on lesser educated sgs, pls!

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  • TruBlu:


    This is a serious matter for the gahmen to take note asap.

    Dont treat humble sgs’ lives like dirt,please!

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  • bo-tak chek go getters:

    //So, it is not a matter of prior experience but in the leadership style.//

    yar lor. like 4 = 5 and selected = elected ? too chao kar ? sure win leadership style lor ?

    //When I took over NTUC Income in 1977, I did not have the essential qualifications for that job, namely://

    aiyoh. last time hor in the 70s, anyone (could be the more daring bo-tak chek go getters) who knew how to fly over first (mostly) to another country in europe to meet up with principal suppliers could easily get distributorship for whole south east asia and make a lot of money lar ? last time also hor, you see a lot of bo-tak-chek go-getting entrepreneurs owning many properties lar ?

    last time 0 and A level, could proudly hold a teachers post or high managerial jobs lar ? now truckloads or country loads of university students lar and more to come from open-leg policy lar ?

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  • oxygen:

    @ TKL,

    WHY YOU BENT OVER in the public arena and invite “poking” of your behind again in this display of stupidity.
    Your time in NTUC Income is what organisational scientists call – placid, random environment – in which GOONDU “DO NOTHING” of action will survive and prosper.

    That is – just don’t do stupid things like rocking the boat and sink the ship – will prosper you.


    These words voluntarily comes out of your mouth

    “In other words, I did not run the cooperative in an arrogant manner and did not make decision on my own and from the ivory tower.”

    Today’s environment is far far different – we now live in a turbulent world.- in which survival depends on shared values and institutions.

    HK is in a rotten mess because Piggy Lam tore the country apart from young to old, across gender and economic stratification and impose authoritarian rule in a turbulent sea of extreme political and economic disparity divide.


    The end page is bloody for HKgers and economic disaster for China.

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  • MarBowling:

    Tan Golden Chain,

    Think Joker D Trump should listen to and FOLLOW your Great Advice!

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  • Ownself Say Ownself Good:

    You are good but don’t have to trumpet it. Like LKY said cannot do the job sack, no two ways about it to ensure 100 per cent efficiency.

    GD Star Rating

    I assume army generals run businesses like how they run the army. Shout orders and get their managers to go pumping position down.

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  • Hlo helo everywhere:

    Did you get the NTUC Income job because you were a PAP member then and/or you knew some PAP guys, like GCT?
    Did you leave NTUC Income on your own accord? Why? Your experience and great achievements over the decades as proclaimed had gone wasted, really wasted – you are not helping your ex company or is it the new CEO ignored you as I vaguely remember you attacked some Income policies or products or whatever after you left.

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  • Flabbergasted:

    As usual, blowing your own horn, what’s the difference between you and them?

    Oh, I forgot, you fell through the cracks and was sidelined!!!!!!!

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  • Bobby:

    Always In come.never out go!

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  • Rabble-rouser:

    Tan Kin Lian’s own example of himself in NTUC INCOME belies the fact that it (NTUC INCOME) is a GLC which can distort market rules to favour themselves in the market place! In such favourable Industry conditions, how can he failed?

    And nothing he did at NTUC INCOME spoke of neither creativity nor innovation with him as NTUC INCOME CEO. NTUC INCOME simply followed the Industry big boys eg. AIA, Prudential, etc & used their union roll call lists to sell to their members! How difficult can that be?

    Let’s be frank! Insurance selling in S’pore are still in the Dark Age! In Australia, Insurance are being sold either online or through call centres. No selling of insurance policies by commission sales force or selling life policies at Macca’s as a Meeting Place. Uniquely S’pore!

    There is a lack of “Creative Spark” in S’pore because the PAP micromanaged the S’pore Economy to death! Majority of S’poreans are reactive awaiting govt’s instructions, not proactive nor willing to go the distance! You need to challenge yourself to do whatever it takes, learn new things & make mistakes along the way!

    PAP’s own Meritocracy Policy had already failed because the receipents of such policy are afraid of making mistakes. Everyone follows the true & tested route. But in a disrupted Economy? You get found out in quick time!

    Where in the world were there successful people who didn’t make mistakes before becoming successful? And how many drop out of formal education (academic institutions) to pursue their dreams!

    S’poreans were being sold a lie!

    GD Star Rating
  • Harder Truths:

    Ignorant people who never take the time to learn skills and become good enough to do a job use exactly this excuse to do things they have no business doing.

    This the FT excuse. Now TKL. And the pappies.

    Who pays the price for their failures?

    GD Star Rating

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