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Opening address at HCS-WSG Masterclass on “Leading Organisation through Visionary Leadership”

Mr Kenny Tan, Deputy Secretary (Workforce), Ministry of Manpower, Lifelong Learning Institute

Mdm Ho Geok Choo, Founder & CEO of Human Capital Singapore,


Distinguished guests,


Ladies and gentlemen,


1. Good afternoon. The subject for today's masterclass is “Leading Organisations through Visionary Leadership.” Since taking on the appointment as a fairly new Deputy Secretary last year, this is something that I have been trying to figure out every day. Thank you for inviting me here. Although you have invited me as guest, I really am here as a student to learn from all of you on how we can navigate this uncertain future. I'm here for your pearls of wisdom. But I thought what is useful in my opening remarks, is to share with you the Ministry of Manpower’s perspective on what we think is one of the pressing leadership challenges for us as a country.

2. I think that one of the key challenges facing the leaders of Singapore today is building the next generation of leaders. There are many Singaporeans who have risen to the top of their organisations. Mr Chew Shou Zi is, by now, practically a household name as the Singaporean CEO of the social media giant, Tik Tok. Many of you in the audience are also owning senior leadership positions in your respective organisations. But the national picture is less encouraging – we simply do not have enough Singaporeans rising up to C-suite positions in Singapore.

3. We are a small global economy, a global hub that attracts MNCs to set up base in Singapore to build their headquarters. The competition for top jobs in Singapore is very intense, and rightly so. It is a global competition, and that is the way it should be. The best men or women for the job should get the job. That is our recipe for success in Singapore.

4. In fact, that is why MOM launched the new Overseas Networks & Expertise (ONE) Pass. It is our new, premier, top-tier pass to attract global talent to Singapore. On the one hand, it is understandable that the competition is very intense, and therefore, we do not really see enough Singaporeans rising to corporate leadership positions. But on the other hand, I think we really can do better for a number of reasons. One, of course, is that Singaporeans who are able to take on corporate leadership positions are a competitive advantage for us. Second, they enter the value creation and value capture in Singapore. Third, there are intangible benefits, networks and resources for fellow Singaporeans. Hence, I think it is important that we grow the pipeline and core of Singaporean leaders.

5. I think many of you would agree with me if I say that leadership ability is important and necessary, but insufficient. For those of us who are fortunate to be in leadership positions, many of us would say that we worked very hard to get to where we are today, but very few of us will say that we are here entirely because of our own abilities or efforts. Instead, when we look back, we will recognise that there were the mentors who guided us, gave us the confidence, and gave us the preparation so that we would be ready to seize opportunities. We would recognise bosses, supporters, and patrons who opened doors for us that created the opportunities for us. That is what I am talking about today. It is about leaders building leaders. That is what we need more of.

6. How can we do this? I would like to offer three suggestions. Earlier, I mentioned the ONE Pass for global talent. The ONE Pass stands for Overseas, Networks & Expertise. These are the three dimensions for how to evaluate the global talent that we want to attract to Singapore. In thinking about developing Singapore’s talent, we can also think about how to develop our aspiring Singaporean talent in these three areas.

7. First, overseas. We speak to many companies, and the consistent feedback from them is that overseas exposure is critical for many leadership positions. Whether it is about market knowledge, managing cross-cultural teams, or just taking a risk of going to the other road. These are all very important leadership work. Let us send more of our aspiring Singaporean talents overseas.

8. The Government will support this. Workforce Singapore, co-organiser for today’s masterclass, announced recently that we are launching a new programme, the Overseas Markets Immersion Programme (OMIP). What this will do is to give employers financial support and defray some of the costs of sending young Singaporeans overseas to acquire overseas experience. The financial support is there, but the onus is still on employers to convince your young Singaporean talents that it is essential for their career advancement goals and value proposition to go overseas. The new OMIP is for your consideration when it comes out, make the fullest use of it.

9. My second point is networks. We all know that the know-how is important, but the know-who is equally important as well. Let us connect our young Singaporean talent to a wider network of leaders so that they have a wider range of contact and can find new mentors to help them on their journey. Sometimes, we may even be jealous about our talent – better not to show too many people, what if they get poached or leave us? But I think we will really do them as well as Singapore a disservice if we do not proactively connect them to a wider network. This is also why EDB has launched a Singapore Leaders Network (SGLN). It is run by the Human Capital Leadership Institute (HCLI).

10. What is the SGLN? It was set up in 2022 and is a community of Singaporean leaders who will support one another on their professional leadership journeys. This year, HCLI launched the SGLN Fellowship. It's a structured nine-month leadership development programme to develop global-ready business leaders. Again, this is open to all of you and your companies. You can sign up as a strategic corporate partner and enrol your young talent in the next cohort of SGLN fellows.

11. My third point is about expertise. At the end of the day, the know-how is still important. Let us continue to invest in upskilling our young Singaporean talent, not just through training, but also through challenging job rotations and assignments.

12. One element of this is strong HR. I know that we have HR and HR leaders amongst our delegates today. Is HR ready to do this well? It is about talent management and career development. Just like everybody else, HR has to continuously upskill and upgrade our capabilities. How can we do this? I would say that attending today’s masterclass is one way that we can do this. Human Capital Singapore (HCS), as I understand, also offers many good and accredited programmes to acquire new skills and capabilities.

13. Another suggestion that I have for you is certification with the Institute for Human Resource Professionals (IHRP). Join a growing community of over 7,000 certified HR professionals, and hack into a growing body of evidence-based, practice-based HR strategies and playbooks. In fact, just this morning, IHRP launched a new Jobs-Skills Insights Report about building a skills-first organisation. I encourage all to build expertise and tap into IHRP and the resources that it offers.

14. In summary, there is an urgent task for today’s leaders to build the next generation of Singaporean leaders. There are three concrete ways that we can do it – make them go Overseas, widen their Networks, and continue to build in them deep Expertise. With this ONE approach for developing local talent, and the ONE Pass for global talent, together, will be more than two for team Singapore. Thank you.