Dr Austin Tay


Singapore and Hong Kong have always been at loggerheads at who is better economically and who is the leading financial hub in Asia. Both countries excel in their own ways with Hong Kong, now, being closer to China, which in some ways has benefitted Hong Kong economically and Singapore has learned to diversify its strategy to focus on pharmaceutical and biochemical research.


At a time when pharmaceutical and biotechnology businesses around the world are grappling with declining R&D productivity, Singapore’s integrated research ecosystem enables companies to access multidisciplinary capabilities in a single location, which improves R&D decision making and accelerates drug discovery and development. More than 30 of the world’s leading biomedical sciences companies (including GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis and Takeda) are leveraging Singapore as a key home base to drive innovation, growing the nation’s biopharmaceutical industry by more than 30 per cent in 2011.


The multi-ethnic city-state which is the leading logistics hub globally and has world-class intellectual property protection, is now Asia’s fastest growing bio cluster, presenting strategic partnership opportunities with research institutes, corporate labs and public hospitals to develop new medicines and future therapies that can be customized for regional and global markets.

*An excerpt is taken from The Economic Development Board Singapore website


Hong Kong, on the other hand, under the auspices of Invest HK, established in 2000, part of the HKSAR government, seeks to strengthen Hong Kong’s status as the leading international business location in Asia. Its mission is to attract and retain foreign direct investment, which is crucial to the economic development of Hong Kong. The focus of Invest HK is primarily helping businesses in different sectors to set up or expand in Hong Kong.


Hong Kong has always been a country that encourages entrepreneurship; this could be because of its location, low tax regime, availability of talents and infrastructure. Not wanting to lag behind, Singapore is also encouraging its people to start up businesses with the promise of grants and funding. A Singapore agency, SPRING, under the Ministry of Trade and Industry, helps Singapore enterprises grow and builds trust in Singapore products and services. SPRING works with partners to help enterprises in financing, capability and management development, technology and innovation, and access to markets. To do so, SPRING offers the Capability Development Grant, a financial assistance program aimed at helping Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) defray up to 70% of qualifying project costs, relating to consultancy, manpower, training, certification, upgrading productivity and developing business capabilities for process improvement, product development and market access. In Hong Kong, such financial assistance does not exist.


The governmental assistance to SME in Singapore means that if SMEs felt a need to upscale their employees in terms of training, assessment and development purposes, they are able to do so. This also means that HR consultancy firms in Singapore, usually of boutique sizes, can in one hand also benefit from such assistance and on the other hand, is guaranteed payment when they work with SMEs.


Speaking to Darryl Parrant, MD of Align HR Group, a consultancy firm that offers leadership development programs, talent management services and executive coaching, he confirmed that it is because of such grant offered to SMEs, most of his projects are with SMEs. However, he did stress that one of the criteria stipulated for SMEs to receive such grant is that they need to be working with Practicing Management Consultants (PMC) approved by SPRING.


Darryl, a native from New Zealand, who was an academic and has held various consulting roles believes, that as a practitioner, it is important to hear what the clients need and develop the relevant program. He has seen many pseudo-practitioners in the market who are in the business for a quick buck and often provide sub-standard services. To differentiate himself from the others, he likes to substantiate his offerings with scientific research (Harvard Business Review case studies) and devise programs relevant to the issues.


What Darryl highlighted is something quite similar to what we face here in Hong Kong where more and more independent consultants are emerging from the market offering services to organisations, even when they might not have the expertise to do so. One thing Hong Kong, thankfully, has is the Division of Industrial Organisational Psychology, while it is not overarching to govern pseudo practitioners in the market, it is still working towards to be the point of reference and expert advice for the public on issues about assessment, development, training and executive coaching. Singapore, unfortunately, does not have such a luxury.


Speaking also to Mr Michael Grissom, partner of CM Organisational Resources Asia, it is interesting to see how he viewed Hong Kong and Singapore differently. According to Michael, who has lived in Hong Kong previously and now based in Singapore, Hong Kong is tactical in her approach where Singapore thrives in the learning and development space. He is seeing more and more organisations in Singapore looking at ways to ensure their employees are equipped with the best learning and are developed to be able to lead or take up positions regionally. Organisations in Hong Kong tend to be looking at how to ensure their employees have the capacity to sustain and lead in one region only.


I tend to agree with him here, being someone who has been in Hong Kong for almost 18 years. I do see the shift in the way organisations are looking to retain, train and develop here in Hong Kong. There seems to be a quick fix mentality and I suspect this is in line of how the social and economic environment is in Hong Kong. Many organisations in Hong Kong have moved their regional operations to countries like Singapore where rent is lower and coverage to nearby Southeast Asian countries is more immediate. With a country like Myanmar opening up, it will make more sense for multi-national companies to have a presence in nearby countries than to be based in Hong Kong.


Singapore and Hong Kong will continue to develop according to its economic needs and we will see a greater chasm in the way they attract, retain and develop talents. This I believe will also impact the way consultancy offers their services – with a focus on assessment and development work in Singapore and executive coaching work in Hong Kong.

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