Singapore the gateway to Asia
One of the truly great features of AIMS International is the diversity and professionalism you find when engaging with our partners around the world. In our three regions – Americas, EMEA and APAC – we have appointed Executive Vice Presidents as Regional Heads to ensure a high level of collaboration.
In Asia, AIMS International has offices in all of the important markets such as Singapore, Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and Thailand. We are working on a strengthened presence with the establishment of new offices in these major markets. Another office is opening in China in the near future. This time in Shenzhen to support our customers in Southern China.
In this interview with the Regional Head for APAC, Jonathan Khoo from AIMS International Singapore. You will learn more about the business environment in Singapore as well as other parts of the APAC region.
What can you tell us about your professional background?
I have a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Technical University here in Singapore (Nanyang). After graduating, I started working in various regional business development and sales roles. I have always had a strong desire to learn something new and to move myself further in business. Over the years, I have been blessed with many opportunities to work for various international conglomerates across Asia.
When did you start working with Executive Search?
In 2011, I was approached by a company in the Executive Search industry and it came to change my life. Without any experience, I started at one of Asia’s most renowned Executive Search companies being responsible for engineering, technology and MedTech. Step by step I built a strong track record by performing projects all over Asia and in the rest of the world
What is unique about Singapore?
Singapore is the gateway to Asia and serves as the regional headquarters in Asia for more than 4,000 global companies. It is a first choice for many companies and start-ups who want to invest in the region. Singapore is at the same time an island, a city and a state. The economy is highly developed, and the workforce well educated, which makes Singapore a very competitive choice for many companies.
Unemployment is only around 2 – 2.5% and this creates a wage situation that is much higher than in most Asian countries. The cost of living is also much higher. To compensate, the tax on wages and VAT is low. Tensions in China-US trade as well as the unrest in Hong Kong have prompted many companies to move from China to neutral and more open countries such as Singapore.
What are the most important tips for foreign companies wishing to establish or expand their presence in Singapore?
Singapore, for the third year in a row, retained its second place in the World Bank Ranking of the easiest nation to do business in (New Zealand is number one) and ranks number three on the indicators easiness of starting a business and also to run a business in.
It is important to understand why you choose to be here. Singapore is still the city with the highest cost of living in the world, followed by Hong Kong and Zurich, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit. Everyone is trying to take advantage of Singapore’s strong relations in Asia in general and with the ASEAN countries in particular. The competition comes not only from local companies here but also from global brands with the same intention as you, when you want to do business here. You are competing for the same resources and it is mainly about skills and talents. It is therefore important to have a clear strategy if you wish to establish the organisation or increase your presence in Singapore.
What do you see as your main mission in the role of Executive Vice President of the Asia & Pacific (APAC) region? As such, you are also a member of the board of AIMS International.
I was honoured and surprised when I was nominated and elected. There are many more experienced partners at AIMS International, so I have taken on this role with humility. At the top of my agenda is to develop our APAC team. As well as to pay tribute to Asia for being so diverse with its numerous languages and cultures, I want to develop what brings us together into a common platform.
What kind of customers do you mainly work with?
Prior to 2017, just over 70% of our customers were high-tech American companies who wanted to expand in Asia. In recent years, we have also worked increasingly with European and local companies in many different industries. We work for large companies in recruiting all over Southeast Asia as far away as Maldives and Papua New Guinea. As consultants, we therefore have many years of experience working in Southeast Asia, from different industries and functions and all consultants speak at least two languages fluently – English and Chinese.
What is it like working with global customers in Singapore?
Today, about 80% of our customers are global, which is fantastic! What normally begins as a project has often led to long-term cooperation. Most of the customers know that Singapore is one of the few Asian countries that “really” works by international standards. The fact that we are so international is partly due to our history. We were a British colony from the beginning of the 19th century until 1963 and then part of independent Malaysia for a period of 1965 to become an independent republic. As a small nation forced to support itself, we must quickly become “global” and establish relationships with economies such as the EU, the UK and the US. This, together with strengthening our historically strong ties with the economically growing China. Remember that over 75% of Singaporeans are of Chinese origin.
One must think globally but act locally. Most companies here use Singapore as their base in Asia. Many of the company’s CEOs and managers come from abroad. They are bringing with them a global experience and it creates a very international business environment. Understanding corporate intentions and values is important. Foreign companies not only engage us as Executive Search consultants, but often also as business consultants. Very often, international companies have limited knowledge of Southeast Asia and therefore need guidance and advice.
How do you work in concrete terms to solve an assignment that comes through a partner within AIMS International?
Personally, I know many of my colleagues around the world. We meet regularly and with some I collaborate more or less regularly in various assignments. I am contacted by my colleagues at AIMS International from anywhere in the world. Often, colleagues have worked to solve the client’s recruitment needs in their home country and perhaps in other countries as well. Therefore, they usually have an established relationship with the customer. My colleagues in the company’s home country usually act as the Key Account Manager to the client for the assignment to be solved and turn to us in Singapore to get the recruitment done in practice. They have the knowledge of the customer and we have the knowledge of the local market. Together we form a team where we, here in Singapore, fulfil the projects just as we do with our local projects.
Written by Börje Hammarling, Senior Consultant AIMS International Sweden