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Face to Face with Ian Macdonald

Posted By Administration, Thursday, 20 February 2014

In this new series, AustCham President Guy Scott invites a prominent Australian or Singaporean to share their story.

First to be interviewed in this new series is Ian Macdonald, the Australian President of Hong Leong Finance. Guy sat down with Ian to find out more about his business success, his role as Honorary Treasurer at the Singapore Turf Club and his recent receipt of The Public Service medal from the Singapore Government.

Guy:Thanks for your time today Ian and congratulations on being awarded The Public Service medal, it is something you should be very proud of. Let’s come back to that later because I want to talk a little about who Ian Macdonald is and what he does in Singapore.

Let’s start with what was the catalyst that brought you to Singapore?

Ian: Totally unforgettable. I was invited up here for an interview in September 2001 and when I flew back to Australia I was told about the 9-11 disaster. It was a very momentous day for me.

Not long after, I was offered the job and I remember arriving at the start of the week expecting to start the following Monday. I soon got my first dose of Chinese culture. The company rang me and said it would be bad luck to start on the Monday so could I start on the Friday instead? I was keen to get going so I said "of course” and ended my first day attending a gala reception for a client and singing karaoke. At the end of the night, I said to my colleagues, "See you on Monday”. They said "No you won’t, you’ll see us tomorrow” because of course back then we worked on Saturdays too but I was not aware of this at the time.

Guy: You have a big role as President of Hong Leong Finance. For someone with a high profile, you also seem to have flown under the radar as well. Is there a reason for this?

Ian: If you look at our Chairman Mr Kwek Leng Beng, he’s one of the most successful businessmen in Singapore and he’s well-known for putting great focus on his work and his business. I prefer to take a similar stance when it comes to my profile, and let my work speak for me. My relationships have centred on this ethos, with the Singapore business community receiving much of my attention. I haven’t had much interaction with the Australian community because my business involves dealing mainly with Singaporeans. Although that being said, I have close ties with the Australians in the banking community. My son also attended Avondale Grammar and it was through this association that I first got to know other Australian families and Australian business people.

Guy:What makes you call Singapore home?

Ian: The job and the people I work with. Hong Leong Finance really is like a family. There is an incredible sense of loyalty and I can honestly say it is a joy to come to work. I’ve done some really interesting things. One event that stands out for me would be going to Kuala Lumpur with the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce for the World Chinese Entrepreneur Convention. Around 3,000 participants turned up for the event and I was the only one who wasn’t Chinese. I also went to the 40th anniversary of the People’s Action Party and I think I was the only non-Singaporean at that event.

When I arrived in Singapore 12 years ago, I did not know anyone and I am fortunate to have made many friends since then - with colleagues and with clients. Hong Leong Finance is really focused on the SME community in Singapore and as a lender, we have to understand the psyche of the leaders of the companies we support. This has enabled me to cross paths with many interesting people and I’ve subsequently developed friendships with them.

Guy: How do you stay connected with Australia?

Ian: I start every day by reading the Sydney Morning Herald online. I like to keep up with the news so that I can converse with friends back home and know what they are talking about. You can’t expect them to keep in touch – it’s up to you. I was the one who moved away so I see it as my responsibility to make the effort to maintain the relationships with them.

Ian Macdonald (Left) at the presentation of the Victoria Racing Club Trophy with the Australian High Commissioner Philip Green (second from left), Australian trainer, Cliff Brown (third from left) and Australian jockey, Danny Beasley (third from right)

Guy:Tell us a little about your role on the committee of the Singapore Turf Club and as a steward.

Ian:Racing is a passion for me and I spend a lot of time at the Club. My role there is a weekend thing, hosting events and acting as a race day steward. I got lots of feedback that the AustCham event recently was very successful. It’s what I think we need to be promoting more of at the club. It’s an exciting sport and they are magnificent animals, it’s a great night out and there’s so much more to it than gambling.

Guy: We certainly hope we can make it an annual event. I didn’t realise there were so many linkages between the Australian and Singaporean horse racing fraternities until that evening.

Ian:Yes it goes back some 20 or 30 years. Australia is a source for many of the horses, the trainers, the jockeys and the owners too. Many great characters.

Guy:It was recently announced that you had been awarded a Public Service medal for your work as a Board member and Chairman of the Finance Committee of the Media Development Authority. How did you react when you learned you would be the award recipient?

Ian:Actually I was shocked. I didn’t realise a non-Singaporean could even be awarded one. My involvement with the Media Development Authority was extremely interesting. Serangoon Road, the joint Australian-Singaporean production, is one example of the collaboration between Australia and Singapore and it will soon be shown here.

Guy:Do you think there is anything Australian business could be doing differently?

Ian: I’d like to see them borrow more from Hong Leong Finance! I think what is not emphasised is the connection between Australian and Singaporean businesses, and the links they share with their counterparts within the region. The number of Australian businesses here and in the region is huge. If Australian business could organise themselves together to make inroads into the region, in a similar way that International Enterprise Singapore has helped Singaporean business, with the view to hunt in packs, share insights, share resources in setting up in other countries then I think that would help.

Guy: What do you think makes Singapore stand out as a place to do business?

Ian: Singapore is unique in how it is governed. With a long-term viewpoint the Government can plan for infrastructure and programs years down the track. It’s the planning and realisations of those plans that sets Singapore apart. It really is a great place to live.

Guy:Ian, thanks for your time today, but more importantly for being a wonderful ambassador for both Australia and Singapore

For more stories about 'The Singapore Story', click here 

To learn about the benefits of membership to AustCham, click here

To check out our coming events, click here


Tags:  Face to Face with Ian Macdonald  Guy Scott  Hong Leong Finance  Ian Macdonald  The Singapore Story 

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Face to Face with Patrick Imbardelli

Posted By Administration, Thursday, 20 February 2014

Patrick Imbardelli led the strategic management and expansion of the Pan Pacific hotels and businesses, including both Pan Pacific and PARKROYAL brands in key markets such as China, Japan, Australia and North America. AustCham President Guy Scott caught up with Patrick to hear his reflections on doing business in Asia.

Guy:What are your memories of your first day in Singapore?

Patrick: On my first day I had wall to wall meetings and signed more forms in the one day than I have ever done or ever did after that. It was a day of high energy – a great feeling. Everyone I met, internally and externally, said to me, "you’re going to love it”. It was a long day that finished with several people insisting I go out to Boat Quay for a bite to eat…a typical first day in Singapore really.

Guy:Being successful working for a local company in Asia is a great accomplishment as there can be more challenges with an unfamiliar culture. Can you tell us more about your story – the achievements and the challenges?

Patrick: Through my work with the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) I developed the reputation of being the bridge between an Anglo-Saxon company to an Asian environment. I formed relationships with many high-net-worth individuals in Asia and I remember one associate said to me, "You look European but you are Asian in the way you think.” When I was approached to assist with the Pan Pacific Group acquisition I had my reservations. This was a Singapore-listed company and a Singaporean high-net-worth family however it was a good match. I respected them on all matters local and provided my expertise when it came to offshore investments. I was able to bring the globalism to them.

The advantage of working for a Singapore family is that decisions can be made quickly. When it came to bidding for the Melbourne Hilton at the airport we had our paperwork finalised while other companies were still thinking about it. In terms of challenges, public governance of a Singaporean company is demanding. It’s realistic but tough. Going through the privatisation period in Singapore was challenging and sometimes frustrating. You need to be able tick all the boxes and in the right order.

In the last five years the Pan Pacific Hotels Group has doubled in size and share price however I have actually got the most satisfaction from developing a single culture. There was this part Singaporean, part Australian and part Japanese company and bringing them together to form a single culture has been a true highlight.

Guy:Where is the next tourism hot spot in Asia?

Patrick: Lombok is now changing. It’s been at the starting line for twenty years and now it’s got its own airport I predict it will be the next hot spot. I think Asian beaches on the whole will continue to do well. In terms of tourism the other aspect to consider is where are the tourists coming from? The answer is increasingly China. China tomorrow is the Japan of yesterday.

Guy:That leads me to my next question – in an article by Korn/Ferry – you discussed the transition from Asia 1.0 to Asia 2.0, where do you now see Asia?

Patrick: Asia moving towards 2.0 was really about Asia for Asia and not Asia for someone else and now we see Asia taking on the rest of the world. From Asia 1.0 to Asia 2.0 we saw a lot of foreign companies arriving and operating in Asia. Asian companies looked outside of Asia for connectivity, technology and expertise. Now we see more Asian companies employing foreign knowledge and not only investing in other parts of the world but taking control of the operations. Asian leadership is far more confident.

Guy:Being in hotels you must have some great stories…

I’d love to write a book one day – without mentioning names of course. Many stories are not appropriate here but I can tell you at a hotel in Melbourne in the early hours of Boxing Day I had one cricketer, who had had a few too many drinks, riding the lifts in a wheelchair while another one ran up and down the stairs trying to meet the lift and catch up with his wayward teammate. A few hours later the cricketers strolled out onto the MCG looking perfectly okay – and they won.

Guy:You have been a strong supporter of AustCham. How have you benefitted from membership?

Patrick:AustCham is filled with down-to-earth people and such a diverse range of industries and professions. It is run by true leaders who know business in Asia and who willingly give up their time with a genuine desire to help others. I have made many great friendships. I often picked up the phone and contacted other AustCham members with a question such as have you done this before? or do you know someone who could help with this? AustCham events have been about three things for me - information, networking and fun. As Australians, coming from our multicultural background, I think we are genuinely comfortable in Singapore with a desire to mix, help and assist others.

Guy:So you are planning to leave Singapore – is this goodbye for now or goodbye for good?

Patrick:This is definitely goodbye for just now. We have been in Singapore nearly 15 years and Michelle and I married during this time, our children were born here and living in Singapore is all our children have ever known. We wanted them to have an Australian experience. Now that the Pan Pacific Hotels Group has been privatised and sold off it gives us the opportunity to spend a year in Sydney helping the children settle into an Australian lifestyle before boarding school. Professionally I am looking forward to being based in Australia for the short term as a lot of things have moved on and I am interested in experiencing that. I have a board position in Boston and an opportunity in Europe therefore I will still have a global outlook. However I love Asia, so as Arnold Schwarzenegger would say - I’ll be back!

Guy: What’s your advice for Australians doing business in Asia?

Patrick:Ask and listen. Don’t think you know it. Just because a trend happened in Australia, doesn’t mean it will occur here. Not everything is written down or openly stated - so ask. Be patient. Time is ok. 

Guy: Thanks for your time today and I wish you all the best for the future.

Tags:  Face to Face with Patrick Imbardelli  Guy Scott  Pan Pacific  PARKROYAL  Patrick Imbardelli  The Singapore Story 

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Helping business set up every day

Posted By Administration, Thursday, 20 February 2014

Servcorp is something of an expert in opening new offices – its serviced and virtual office facilities help businesses open every day, and it has recently celebrated 25 years in Singapore with the opening of its newest facility, in the PSA Building.







Servcorp's newest location of PSA Building on Alexandra Road

Servcorp provides serviced and virtual office facilities for small to medium sized businesses as well as multinational corporations, enabling businesses to have the presence, support and facilities of a major multinational without the high costs or long-term commitments of "do-it-yourself” office space. Servcorp’s network of locations now includes premises in Australia, Belgium, China, France, India, Japan, the Middle East, New Zealand and Singapore and throughout South East Asia. In 1999, Servcorp was publicly listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (SRV).

Having opened its first overseas office in Singapore 25 years ago, Servcorp has seen considerable changes in the way new businesses are set up here. Things were different in 1987 – infrastructure was a challenge and so was the red tape, says Servcorp's General Manager for South East Asia, Susie Martin.

"Back then, financial and banking restrictions made it more difficult to move money from Australia to support the business as it grew and became cash-positive,” adds Susie. "Even opening a corporate bank account proved a challenge, as we didn’t have a local referee.”

Staffing was also a major obstacle. Servcorp had to attract a team of quality personnel in a city where very few people understood its unique business. Singapore was the first location for Servcorp outside of Australia and, according to Susie, its performance in Singapore was a litmus test for further locations around the world.

"The results speak for themselves: 25 years on Servcorp operates nearly 140 locations in 50 cities around the world.” 

A quarter of a century is a long track record in any business. According to Susie, one of the major changes Servcorp has witnessed and experienced in this market has been escalating rental costs.

"Singapore currently has the 13th most expensive commercial real estate, based on occupancy costs, worldwide – a very different story to 25 years ago when we first opened here. This has come hand-in-hand with the rapid development of entirely new commercial areas that didn’t exist in 1987, including Marina Bay and the booming business complex around our newest location at PSA Building on Alexandra Road.

"We’ve seen the changes in foreign labour laws – companies found it increasingly easy to bring in ‘foreign talent’ over the past two decades as the government relaxed immigration rules, helping to set the country up as a world financial and services hub, until regulations were tightened recently in the face of public pressure,” says Susie.

 "The infrastructure improvements here have been a massive boost to businesses, with the expansion of the airport, road network and public transportation. The entrance of new players into the telecommunications market has also improved service levels through increased competition, allowing Singapore-based companies to increase their productivity and gain a commercial edge over competitors in Asia.”

According to Susie, Servcorp’s workplace solutions can help businesses save up to 65% on their monthly operating costs.

"Running your own office in the CBD can cost approximately S$15,000 every month when you include rent, staff and other costs – using a Servcorp serviced office brings that cost down to just S$5800 while maintaining the services and the image of a major multinational, says Susie.

"Setting up a new office is more than just hard work – it’s expensive and can distract you from the crucial early stages of your business,” says Susie. "A fully furnished serviced office gives you a head-start in a new market, while a virtual office means you can get up and running while you’re still working on the move. What’s more, it’s lighter on the balance sheet.”

Tags:  Helping business set up every day  Servcorp  Susie Martin  The Singapore Story 

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Servcorp Business Excellence Award

Posted By Administration, Thursday, 20 February 2014

Awarded to the organisation that, in the opinion of the judging panel and the president of AustCham, has demonstrated the most outstanding performance in its field

Recipient: James Cook University Australia

The recipient of this year’s AustCham Business Excellence Award, sponsored by Servcorp, will need a large trophy cabinet. James Cook University has been awarded a number of Singapore awards, including two community engagement awards presented by Singapore’s Prime Minister Mr Lee Hsien Loong earlier this year.

JCU’s Vice Chancellor and President Professor Sandra Harding says the AustCham award affirms JCU Singapore’s position as an institution of higher education in Singapore.

"Since we started our operations in Singapore in 2003, we have committed ourselves to deliver quality education and ensure that our business processes are consistent with the demands of the Singapore education sector,” says Professor Harding.

JCU Australia established its Singapore campus nine years ago with only 50 students. The move was part of its expressed intent in ‘Creating a brighter future for life in the tropics world-wide through graduates and discoveries that make a difference’.

Today, JCU Singapore has two campuses with close to 3000 students and it offers:

  • undergraduate programs in accounting, business, environmental science, information technology, marketing, psychology and tourism
  • postgraduate programs in accounting, business education, guidance and counseling, information technology and psychology
  • doctorate programs in psychology.

JCU students in Singapore study the same curriculum as their fellow JCU students based in Australia, but enjoy course content contextualised to the Asian region. According to Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the Singapore Campus, Dr Dale Anderson, this approach "ensures high quality, while at the same time maintaining a local relevance”.

The university is ranked in the top 4%* of universities in the world and is the leading tropical research university in Australia. It is also the first Australian university to be awarded Singapore Quality Class for Private Education Organisations (SQC-PEO) certification, in 2008, and again in 2012.

For more stories about 'The Singapore Story', click here 

To learn about the benefits of membership to AustCham, click here

To check out our coming events, click here

Tags:  James Cook University Australia  Servcorp Business Excellence Award  The Singapore Story 

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Know the rules: Employing/training foreign students in Singapore

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Students of foreign nationality are not permitted to work in Singapore unless they are granted Work Pass exemption under an Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Pass Exemptions) Notification. This includes work during school/university terms and during holiday periods.

Foreign students and trainees coming to Singapore under training attachment programs can be eligible for the Training Employment Pass, Training Work Permit or Work Holiday Programme. The Singapore Government warns that foreign students will be prosecuted under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (EFMA) if they are found working in Singapore without a valid work pass.

Training Employment Pass

Foreigners undergoing practical training attachments for professional, managerial, executive or specialist jobs in Singapore should apply for a Training Employment Pass (TEP).

The following foreigners may be eligible for the TEP: students whose training attachment in Singapore is part of an undergraduate degree from an acceptable institution, or who are earning a fixed monthly salary of at least S$3000; and trainees from foreign offices or subsidiaries who are earning a fixed monthly salary of at least S$3000.

Applicants must not have previously held a TEP for similar training. The Training Employment Pass is valid for up to three months and is non-renewable.

Training Work Permit

The Training Work Permit (TWP) allows unskilled or semi-skilled foreign trainees undergoing practical training in Singapore to work for up to six months.

An employer can apply for a TWP for semi- skilled or unskilled employees from related overseas companies to undergo training in Singapore, or for foreign students studying in educational institutions in Singapore.

Employers are permitted to hire TWP holders at 5% of their total workforce or 15 trainees, whichever is lower. Their total workforce includes locals, S Pass holders and Work Permit holders only. This means that 5% of your total workforce can be TWP holders. This is an additional 5% over and above your company’s Dependency Ratio Ceiling for foreign workers.

The TWP is valid for up to six months.

Work Holiday Programme

The Work Holiday Programme (WHP) allows foreign university students and recent graduates, aged between 18 and 25 years, to come to Singapore to live and work for up to six months.

The WHP applies to university undergraduates and graduates of all nationalities studying in selected universities in eight countries/territories: Australia, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. In addition, the universities must be ranked among the top 200 in any of the following international rankings within the past five years: Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings, Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s Academic Ranking of World Universities or Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

Undergraduates must be resident and full-time students of the university for at least three months prior to the submission of the WHP application; graduates must be former resident and full-time students of the university.

The WHP has a capacity for 2000 applicants at any one point in time. Applicants must not hold a WHP within 12 months from the submission of the application. Successful applicants who have obtained the WHP are allowed to live and work in Singapore for up to six months and are not restricted to only specific types of work. However, existing licensing, registration or accreditation requirements (e.g. medicine or law) will apply.

For further information on eligibility, conditions and the application process for work or training passes for foreign students and trainees contact the Ministry of Manpower or visit its website at

For more stories about 'The Singapore Story', click here 

To learn about the benefits of membership to AustCham, click here

To check out our coming events, click here

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Tags:  Education  Employment of Foreign Manpower 

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