How businesses can navigate uncertain environments to thrive during challenging times

“What’s your strategy to internationalise and tap into Asean for growth?” With these words, Dennis Lee, Partner, RSM, got the panel discussion off to a rousing start. Titled “Rethinking Strategies in Uncertain Times”, this seminar held on 25 Feb 2019, was jointly presented by RSM and DBS. This seminar brought together business thought leaders from RSM, DBS, startups and private equity to share nuggets of wisdom on how businesses can stay resilient to navigate uncertain and challenging environments. 

Establishing Win-win Partnership for Business Growth

Inspirational startup story, Hegen, taps on “think global and act global” to establish partnerships in various markets for rapid expansion. Yvonne Bock, Founder of Hegen, shared that “the most successful partnership are the ones that share the same vision and mission.” Hegen believes in going the extra mile for its products, services and processes to deliver quality products. Alibaba Group was so impressed with Hegen that a 15min speaking allocation turned into a 2-hour presentation. Alignment of vision and mission with Alibaba Group has helped Hegen sign a strategic partnership with the e-commerce giant. Since opening its first flagship store on Tmall, Hegen is on an exponential growth trajectory, with phenomenal 11.11 Singles Day sales figures.

Michele Ferrario, CEO of StashAway, believes there should be complete alignment of incentives in any partnership as that is what drives action from each party. Forming strategic partnerships with Grab and DBS, Bernard Tong, CEO of EdgeProp Singapore, views partnership as a critical opportunity in expanding EdgeProp’s market reach. Gabriel Ho, Managing Director, Dymon Asia Private Equity, commented that partnership is not only essential for capital and funding, but is especially important in helping businesses to scale and grow. Since knowing the reasons of entering into partnership is of utmost importance, he advised businesses to take time to understand the potential partner as “going into a partnership is like a marriage”.

Innovation and Storytelling for Brand Building

Sharing about the value of storytelling in building a brand, Gabriel sees a lot more innovation going forward, especially with businesses integrating both online and offline models. Paradigm shift would be helpful for SMEs in traditional businesses, especially in understanding Millennial employee mindset, building new marketing strategies for user and customer acquisition and adopting technology to stay competitive to scale the business. Against a backdrop of potential information overload, traditional SMEs can leverage on a compelling growth story to reinvent themselves and to create stronger brands.

As innovation tends to be slower in the property space, EdgeProp is going down the value chain to simplify the property search and buying process. Bernard observed that “it’s difficult to plan for innovation, but what we can do, is to have flexible structures in place to capitalise on great ideas”. Since content is hard to scale, he believes it is crucial to focus on scalable elements, such as data and algorithm, along with good understanding of the local property market. Bernard recommended, “Keep things simple and find good talents. If you identify an area that works, don’t be afraid to double down.”

Being Customer-Centric to Solve Customer Pain-Points

Banking on constant innovation to stay relevant despite any changes in market conditions, Hegen is diversifying to expand its product offerings for customers to perceive the brand beyond just baby products. Since anyone can make a product, Yvonne has observed that human-centric solution is what people are looking for. Hegen has reinvented the entire ecosystem for breastfeeding, along with redesign of traditional feeding bottles to solve pain-points for parents. Yvonne’s parting words of wisdom to the audience: “Stay positive and understand your purpose. Love what you do and you will do what you love.” Instead of focusing on competitors, Michele shared this tip on innovation for product improvement: Always place customers at the heart of what you do, to think about how you can solve their issues and problems. 

Building Employees’ Deep Capabilities

Discussing about deep capabilities during the second panel discussion, Ng Cher Pong, Chief Executive of SkillsFuture Singapore, shared that SkillsFuture is a national strategy to help enterprises transform. He urged businesses venturing overseas to first understand the local language and culture as a first step. Joyce Tee, Managing Director & Group Head of SME Banking, DBS, highlighted SME views on employee training based on results from a recent survey that DBS conducted with 150 SMEs.

Capitalising on E-commerce, Ageing and Millennial Investment Themes

Cautioning the audience to expect slower growth in 2019, Hou Wey Fook, Chief Investment Officer, DBS, does not see a recession looming on the horizon. Reassuring the audience that the current market is unlike the bear market of year 2000, he mentioned that e-commerce companies today are making real recurring profits. Wey Fook recommended investors to capture major e-commerce, ageing and Millennial trends to invest in the best of class companies on secular uptrend. He also introduced a barbell strategy to build portfolio resilience for maximisation of risk returns.