Buddy Capitalism Continues

A few nights ago, the Young Pork Guzzling Muslim Politician sent me a photo of several Linkedin profiles of people working at Standard Chartered Bank. The only thing that that connected them, other than the fact that they were working for Standard Chartered Bank was the fact that everyone was from India. I told him that I didn’t know why he was sending me the photo; a copy of which can be seen below:

He called and explained that people in one of his WhatsApp chats were getting agitated by the fact that Singaporeans were getting upset that plum jobs were going to Indian Nationals and not to Singaporeans. It was, as they say, the same story about the Indian Nationals stealing jobs from locals and only helping themselves and so on and so on. As far as most Singaporeans (or at least the ones on the net are concerned) the Indian Expats are a group of unqualified louts stealing from the hard working honest, Singaporeans graduate.

Unfortunately, this isn’t quite true. While it’s easy to take a snap shot of someone’s Linkedin profile, it’s another thing to actually read that person’s profile and assess whether he or she has gotten to where they have been through fair or foul means. If you look at the 15 profiles, you’ll note that one of them was from the National University of Singapore and another one was from INSEAD. If you look at those who were from Indian Universities, one was from Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA – the place that gave you Ajjay Bangha, CEO of Mastercard) and another was from Indian Institutes of Management Calcutta (IIMC, – the place that gave you Indra Nooyi, former CEO of Pepsico). If you were to delve deeper into these profiles, you’d notice that the majority of them had at least a decade of experience working with the bank and more often than not, they had experience in the big market of India and within the Southeast Asian region.

So, while I don’t doubt that there are Indian Expatriates who are not qualified to be where they are (which is the same that can be said for any other group), Singapore as a collective, needs to get rid of the idea that the only talented people in the world are Westerners and Singaporeans as the loyal servants of the West.

The reality is that “developing” Asia is producing people that are qualified to do great things and are doing great things. If you look at the world’s game changing companies, there is Sundar Pichai of Alphabet, who from Indian Institutes of Management Kharagpur (IIMK) and there’s Microsoft CEO Staya Nadella from Manipur Institute of Technology. It may be hard for the average Singaporean to swallow, but the fact is Mr. Nadella is credited for making Microsoft sexy again after years of being dull when it was being run by Steve Balmer.

By contrast, I can’t think of a Singaporean, trained in Singapore who has gone onto run a company outside the Singapore and the Singapore government. OK, Ogilvy hired Tham Khai Meng to be its world-wide creative head, but Khai was trained in the UK. There was apparently a vice-president on the board of 3M who was from Singapore.

However, nobody talks about this because it’s politically inconvenient. For the “opposition” camps in Singapore it’s easier to talk about how our government has sold us out to India and China. It’s easy to talk about how unfair life is for the ordinary Singaporean who will be overwhelmed by unqualified Indians stealing their jobs.

If the “opposition” camp is guilty of playing on native resentments against dark skinned people, the government is playing an equally insidious but far more subtle game. The government is currently playing a rather confused game. On one hand, it is claiming that welcoming foreigners is good for Singaporeans and on another it is calling Singaporeans racist and xenophobic when they complain that they are being discriminated against in their own land. What is going on here?

I believe there’s an element of distraction here. If Singaporeans were to look at the “real” cause of their job losses, they’d realise that they’ve been screwed by what I’ve called “Buddy Capitalism,” rather than by evil geniuses from India and China. This came out very clearly in a blog piece by Emanuel Daniel, on Piyush Gupta, the CEO of DBS. Mr. Daniel’s blog entry can be found here.

Mr. Daniel, who runs the Asian Banker, is a well-connected figure in the Asian Financial Industry and he’s spent decades studying trends in the industry. He takes Mr. Gupta to task for not doing enough to prepare his bank for the future (He’s accused Mr. Gupta of believing his own hype and enforcing a system rather than preparing for a changing world), but at the same time he argues that Mr. Gupta has done more for DBS and Singapore than his four immediate predecessors (all foreigners) and when compared to the CEOs of the other Government Linked Companies. Mr. Daniel points out that under Mr. Gupta, DBS has continued to see a growth in revenue and profits (LINK) unlike a good portion of the GLCs who have lost money despite having a near monopoly on their respective markets.

A few people were offended by Mr. Daniel’s article, arguing that he was ignoring the fact that the other GLC’s like Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) and the Singapore Mass Rapid Transport (SMRT) were run by military men who had been parachuted in with no commercial experience and thus screwed it up. It wasn’t Singaporeans per se.

However, I think their missing the point. Mr. Daniel has very clearly articulated that the key issue in Singapore is the fact that “talent” is inevitably about creating compliance rather than competence. Brilliant people are taken over by the government and made so comfortable that they have no need to excel at anything in particular. One only has to think of the number of military scholars who have been promoted effortlessly to very cushy positions. In the SAF, competence can be a handicap. You will inevitably be replaced by a scholar with no experience. I think of 21 SA in my day. There was a CO called Tan Chong Boon, who was what we call a farmer (A-levels, worked his way up). The then, Major Tan turned a sleepy unit into a fit fighting force by sheer guts. Then, 21SA was awarded the best artillery unit, they posted him out so that a scholar could replace him and get the glory.

The second point that Mr. Daniel makes is that the big GLC’s have a habit of knee caping small enterprises with the blessing of the regulators. In another blog piece, Mr. Daniel argues in another blog piece that the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has made it such that all Fintech Systems must have an actual bank account with an established bank, unlike say China or the USA. This ensures that the Fintechs will never be able to take away from the banks and in turn serve as convenient contractors rather than competitors. (LINK)

Why would the government do that? I believe that as much as the government talks about wanting to be “future ready,” it is in fact unwilling to prepare for the future and thus moves to protect its established companies from anything resembling competition. As such, you get companies that think of monopoly profits as a right rather than something that has to be earned.

Let’s look back at the attempt to introduce competition into the media in the early 2000s. That experiment ended within four years when both MediaCorp and SPH found they were losing money. They then spent the next few years arguing over whether readership or viewership figures were more meaningful without realizing that people found more relevant news sources online than they did in print or TV. Unfortunately for both media houses, the advertisers noticed too and before you knew it, SPH was trying to reinvent itself as a real estate company and has shed Singaporean jobs.

Why does the government mollycoddle companies like that? Well, it’s a case of buddy capitalism. Where can you put your buddies if you don’t have profitable sectors?

Our system has worked to make the Singaporean incapable of shinning in their own land and the need to hire foreigners to run the show is the inevitable result. If you listen to government communications, you’ll notice that its always the same theme – Singapore has a limited talent pool and therefore you need to rotate buddies from the government and private sector and supplement them with people from elsewhere.

In 2016, this was proven untrue at the Rio Olympics. We had Joseph Schooling, who beat the world’s greatest swimmer to win our first ever gold medal. What should be very telling is the fact that had Mr. Schooling stayed behind, he probably would never have won anything. His good fortune was to have parents who were willing to leave Singapore so that their son could develop his talent and in the end, bring glory to Singapore.

You’re not going to make life better for Singaporeans by mollycoddling them on this island and telling them everything is OK when it isn’t. You’re not going to help by banning foreigners. You will only get a solution when you break up the buddy system and ensure that Singaporeans have to develop their talents.

 

Tang Li

*Although I’ve been based mainly in Singapore for nearly two decades, I’ve had the privilege of being able meet people who have crossed borders and cultures. I’ve befriended ministers and ambassadors and worked on projects involving a former head of state. Yet, at the same time, I’ve had the privilege of befriending migrant labourers and former convicts. All of them have a story to tell. All of them add to the fabric of life. I hope to express the stories that inspire us to create life as it should be.

 

 

 

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21 Responses to “Buddy Capitalism Continues”

  • DeLorean:

    Singaporeans do not think big. Even LKY was always telling us about how small and vulnerable we are.

    Well we are small. Maybe we are vulnerable. But even the USA had 9/11. It is the job of those in government to stay up nights worrying about it. They signed up for it at not insignificant compensation. They needn’t pass their insecurities on to us. Singaporeans give the government enormous leeway to do their jobs. They should get on with it and not behave like needy girlfriends.

    Singaporeans should think enough of themselves to dream big. Like Joseph Schooling and his parents. But the Singapore mind is provincial and the global city image is just a veneer. That’s why foreigners with big ideas can come in and push us aside. We still haven’t learnt. Singaporeans will happily pull each other down. In the office scrambling for peanuts. GLCs squeezing small companies. Government bodies penny pinching small contractors while handing millions to the likes of Accenture and NCS without batting an eyelid.

    This government is said to be competent. Maybe they are competent at running an entity like a big city or a middling state in the USA. They are quite incompetent at managing a first tier country. They fail at leadership. The one place where we need global talent we cannot inject it. Look at the gallery of ministers one by one. Our hearts sink.

    Singaporeans do not realise the dire straits they are in.

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  • Insightful:

    Insightful.
    We need really talented FT and should welcome them. They bring much benefits to Singapore and help our economy to be more competitive globally.
    What we are against is to let FT take over meaningful well paying jobs that Singaporean can do.
    Many of our experienced local PMETs are underemployed now.

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  • Tremendous:

    Actually the chiefs mollycoddle themselves till they are shiok, then they mollycoddle the buddies! LOL.

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  • Tracey Ching:

    Singapore do not need Ah Nehs’ talents. A real talented Ah Neh would never come to Singapore because 1.3 billion India need their talents to resolve substantive political, economic, social, cultural and a large segment of poverty. They need to build more toilets than religious places of worship as was promised by their president Modi.

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  • Tracey Ching:

    Ah Nehs’ are highly overrated!

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  • TumasikPatriot:

    Well, the Bastard once said that India’s Upper Caste Brahmin is a MATCH to the best in the USA…

    So just keep the LEEgacy going leh!!!

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  • uselesstankl:

    Please buy as many shares as you can,if you believe Stanchart will be around next 10 years.

    The think we humans,plenty around, they cannot think far.

    Stanchart will not be around ,very soon.

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  • oxygen:

    THIS ARTICLE WRITING is misplaced of perspective. You need GOOD PASTURES for healthy seeds to germinate and grow seedlings to full rich harvest.

    So I can’t understand why @ Tang Li spoke of these

    Tang Li :If you were to delve deeper into these profiles, you’d notice that the majority of them had at least a decade of experience working with the bank and more often than not, they had experience in the big market of India and within the Southeast Asian region.

    The world of knowledge and learning is an ever-expanding circle, the more you learnt, the more you discover you don’t know. So it is not a (mistaken) wonder of Tang Li to leave an impression that those India-originated FT had such big experiential accumulated to come here to CONTRIBUTE thereafter. They are groping in the dark too.

    I worked across multi-skilled sectors professionals in different fields – from law, accounting to finance to geology, and believe me there is DIFFERENT GRADIENTS OF TALENTS in the market place. I hardly met any India-originated talent there. How come these “talent” flocked to LEE-jiapore?

    Ten years of banking experience is nothing.

    In a big country like India, it is just a muddle lot of “muddling through” problems-solving.

    Look at this weblink below for practical reality. We don’t need this kind of “big country” experience here.

    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3185040/Danger-8ft-high-voltage-Lethal-power-cables-dangle-perilously-close-men-women-Old-Delhi-s-no-wonder-poor-electricians-blow-fuse.html

    If Tang Li thinks this is talent achievements, I strongly disagree!

    I met lots of expatriates too in Shanghai when I was there. They may be talents too but not in Tang Li’s mind apparently.

    Tang Li: Singapore as a collective, needs to get rid of the idea that the only talented people in the world are Westerners and Singaporeans as the loyal servants of the West.

    They, in my opinion, are second-graders too. I get the impression that the China assignment is hardship assignment – TAKE IT OR YOU GET THE SACK.

    Why? Because their accompanying wife is jobless and kid’s education disrupted. Food adjustment and changed social environment strange of cultural adaptation.

    But many done well and eager to leave after they done “company service”.

    I got the impression that locals (Sinkieland/Chinaland) views foreigners as “talents”. They are just foreign transplants/grafting on temporary assignment or experiential learning.

    USA got a lot of Indians CEO because they made themselves available – they venture out to both LEE-jiapore and USA. Australia has far far far fewer.

    SO IT IS OPPORTUNITY THAT MADE “talent” out of foreigners – not the other way around.

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  • oxygen:

    ADDING ON THE PRECEDING post a moment ago, I wouldn’t be able to reap the harvest of opportunity Down Under if I stayed back in LEE-jiapore.

    So I agree with this comment of @ Delorean

    DeLorean: Singaporeans should think enough of themselves to dream big. Like Joseph Schooling and his parents. But the Singapore mind is provincial and the global city image is just a veneer. That’s why foreigners with big ideas can come in and push us aside

    Those who ventured out expand their opportunity space. BUT THAT HAS TO FIRST DISCOVER WHERE THAT OPPORTUNITY IT AVAILABLE.

    LEE-jiapore CECA opened the door to foreigners to dominate in enclave. Sydney is UNITED NATION of microcosm – no nationality predominates and competition throws up the real stuff from the “bluff” – I encountered both in my work life.

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  • SojoüRner:

    Let’s agree that capitalism, cronyistic or otherwise like democracy, is the least-bad system our species has yet developed, that business is extremely useful to us, and so on. But anyone using the rhetoric of free market capitalism in a way that suggests free market capitalism actually exists, ignores the systematic character of capitalism and prefers a fantasy in which everyone is an independent, unsponsored agent freely pursuing his own interest

    I have had occasion to see up close how the self interest that is capitalism’s primary driver leads business executives and owners to trash capitalist principles when a handout is available. That goes for pretty much everyone, not just a handful of bad actors. It’s human nature.

    Well, the government is picking and choosing who will be stinking rich. That was certainly a fair crony capitalist argument which actually outlines why so many people hate the practice. But in the end, it has a nonchalance about that role, and a strange ideological imbalance, which, upon reflection, pretty much sums up the forces which have worked to keep neoliberalism in the saddle for the past 30 years or so.

    Our GLCs have been eating ‘free lunches’ by the government for a long time. How many corporations are taking advantage of government free lunches. And yet, most of the people in the management level or investors/owners are against ‘welfarism’ to those disadvantaged. This is the double standard.

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  • the program:

    //DeLorean: Singaporeans should think enough of themselves to dream big. Like Joseph Schooling and his parents.//

    aiyoh. must understand hor ? both his parents have not been conditioned by the sinkie land system during their growing-up age lar ?? so the program in their heads is not so hardwired yet ?

    the reason why generally when FTs look at daft sinkies (the middle or lower working class), they might be laughing away and think the way daft sinkies behave sure bao jiak one ???

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  • SojoüRner:

    DeLorean: It is the job of those in government to stay up nights worrying about it. They signed up for it at not insignificant compensation. They needn’t pass their insecurities on to us. Singaporeans give the government enormous leeway to do their jobs. They should get on with it and not behave like needy girlfriends.

    Well said!

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  • You Are Right Tang Li:

    The Indians that went to the US are top talents. But the useless ones who come to Singapore are either not wanted in the US or are not able to get a job in the US. That why the whole lot of them ended here.

    Emmanuel Daniel I suspect is another Indian (European with black backside) praises Gupta like he is a magician.

    We recruited Gupta I guess to penetrate the big Indian market. However DBS India have reported that they lost hundred of million of dollars in India for the past few years and only last year managed to make a profit of 2 million Dollars.

    Definitely a Magician can do better. WTF

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  • Graduate pioneer univ of spore:

    I can say spore has never produced a nobel prize winner and will never,our education system is such,at the univ of spore they forced feed us with info to regurgitate at exams morefor impressing ext examiners fr UK in those days,they followed the UK system without the holistic and discussivefeature of British unis,one English professor told me their exam questions are inverted n requires thorough understanding of subject matter,in the 60s somedepts did not even have tutorials in univ spore,the teachers here did not think out of box,

    An old school friend did part semester training in UK for medical course in london,he was amazed,there they discuss subject thoroughly,no raising of voice and making a student feel small,mutual respect order of day,when he returned back altho syllabus here same as London but no discussive thoroughness,
    When I finished my final yr exams ithrew all my books to one corner and dev such a distaste for it,the medical course here they cram the students and visiting professors were surprised at subject matter,in UK they don’t cover it ,alot of things can be discovered thru Internet,
    Toomuch learning leads to info overload n kills inquisitivenexx

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  • Once an Indian alien at top:

    Working Singaporeans regardless whether they r public or private company or institution know that in a dpartment or company or institution, once an IndiaN alien, thru their inherent bootlicking skill , reaches the top position, in no time the depatment or company becomes the black hole of Calauttacor from top to bottom, Singaporeans will be replaced by the indian aliens n if there is any Singaporeans left they wouldalso be indian. So it is no surprise that Chartered Bank, a Bank known to be most customrelated to the whites in the colonial days n early PAP regime. THis has been so until today esp PAP open its door wide to Indian professkionals. Most seniors opined that even Singaporeans who r second n later generation of Singaporeans found it intolerably so just as Singaporean Chinese find Chinese aliens intolerable.

    Singaporeans have this cliche. It is good to have an indian alien as subordinate but more often their skillful bootliking technique usually satisfied the superior well n get them promoted n that is the end of multiracial n indian racism steps
    In. With the other sliens only it isnot ss prevalent except with scumbags, then they will have the whole place white if it is a white scumbag ….

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  • India - Not A Financial Center:

    How come suddenly there are so many Indians who are supposed to be experts in Banking ?

    India was never a Financial Center.

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  • xoxo:

    *Remember that advert: MEMBERSHIP HAS ITS PRIVILGE$*?

    Guess the closer you are to the CENTRE OF POWER HIM$elf or HER$elf, the more the privilege$$$?

    Buddie$ for money?

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  • lies:

    The deception is in”talent”. This old guy looked at talent like all government people would or did but has no insight nor understand that has created all social and economic ills were caused by “talents” or placing high value, in the form of monetary/status rewards, in talent.

    Talents build but the end result is what they build can’t withstand the storm.

    There is no way talents will ever save you. The fire now rages and tens of millions of talented jobs went up in smoke and the old guy is waxing lyrical about talents who created the all the problems.

    Why even let such a “talent” shit all over the place with his BS?

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  • spend time nurturing it:

    //I can say spore has never produced a nobel prize winner and will never,our education system is such,at the univ of spore they forced feed us with info to regurgitate at exams morefor impressing ext examiners fr UK in those days,they followed the UK system without the holistic and discussivefeature of British unis,one English professor told me their exam questions are inverted n requires thorough understanding of subject matter,in the 60s somedepts did not even have tutorials in univ spore,the teachers here did not think out of box,//

    aiyoh. generally sinkie land where got the mental and big physical space to be real experimental in a good meaningful way to be nobel prize quality – e.g try tinkering with chemical experiment outside your home which may result in unexpected chemical reaction OR write a compositional piece (different perspective) criticizing the white monkey idiots lor AND see what will happen lor ?? try reading richard feynman (just one of many) and you know you need a lot of the right conditions (both internal self mindset and external supporting environment) to be there ??

    aiyoh. in a faster and fasterer way, sinkie land may prefer importing ‘nobel prize winners’ via open-leg policy rather than spend time nurturing it lar ??? why bother learning to climb ”mt everest” if you can hire many porters to carry you up there with $$$ hor ???

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  • What about the big guy?:

    The Pinnacle of Buddy Capitalism across the whole world is certainly that entity established in Singapore Incorporated by LKY as represented by the Sovereign Wealth Bedfellows.

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  • Jman:

    Agree with DeLorean.

    The one thing missing if leadership amongst the Ministers. What needs to be done, often isn’t. Being a Minister and senior mgt positions often requires one to take positions, take risks, and do what needs to be done. Once people get into this cruise control mindset, people avoid taking stand on issues, avoid risks, and so what needs to be done isn’t done. All for fear of blow back from bad outcomes.

    This avoidance of risk permeates to most layers below the Ministers.

    And unfortunately, DeLorean is very apt in saying that we are pulling each other down. Many of us are very small minded, and that we are fighting over peanuts while real talent from elsewhere shove us aside.

    If we want something, we have to reach out for it and do what it takes. And that is sorely lacking in so many of us. False and baseless accusations directed at foreigners is not going to improve our lot.

    The Author is partly right about there being genuine talent amongst Indian expats here, but at the same time many of us have also come across Indian expats who are half baked at what they do. It certainly isn’t right to say that all Indian expats are not welcome or worth their salt.

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