The ballroom at Hotel Intercontinental was abuzz with anticipation on 26 August 2009, as business owners and executives gathered for the Marketplace Luncheon with one of Singapore’s most prominent business figure, Ho Kwon Ping. With a multi-faceted portfolio ranging from media to education, from hotels and property development—Ho is the Executive Chairman of Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts—the speaker’s thoughts on entrepreneurship and business success proved invaluable.
Ho was a rebellious youth notorious for his vocal opinions in the university, and a journalist with the Straits Times. Since his “colorful” past, Ho has grown in stature and contributed much to society. Most recently, he was awarded the 2009 National Day Meritorious Service Medal for his work in revolutionalizing Singapore’s tertiary education as Chairman of Singapore Management University. Ho is also the chairman of Wah Chang International Corporation and has held directorship for Standard Chartered Bank, MediaCorp and Singapore Tourism Board.
To kick off the session, Ho started by answering the burning question on the minds of all present — what is his secret to success, and what can Singaporean entrepreneurs learn from him when it comes to creating a global name like Banyan Tree.
The success of Banyan Tree lies in the ability to leverage on competitive advantage. Ho shared two advantages in life: proprietary technology and branding. Since he was never a technologist, he learned through his early days of starting his business that there was a need to create his own brand instead of competing merely on pricing. This revelation was a turning point for his business, one that took Banyan Tree up to a whole new dimension. On the importance of brand ownership, Ho shared that this allowed for the business to develop a niche and differentiate itself from others in the market. How does one create a successful brand?
First, be a dominant player that is not just localized but globalized. He challenged the businessmen and executives present to view themselves as not just an Asian brand or icon but as a global brand. Beyond the corporate PR and glitz behind a brand, there needs to be a solid corporate identity and values that drive what the business is about. The entire management infrastructure is carried out based on these values and it filters through the organization, right down to the janitor. Ho is a firm believer of the triple bottom line: one, measuring business success; two, focusing on empowering people; and three, protecting the environment and producing sustainable profits.
|PHOTOS: Gabriel Seow|
His leadership mantra is a strong set of values which he feels is a necessary business imperative for the 21st century. Working in the hospitality line where “the customer is always right”, Ho explains that he wants to create an organization where his workers come to work each day feeling a sense of belonging and are proud of where they work. This, he feels, is the way to build a business that is both sustainable and competitive. Planting a unique concept in the minds of those present, he shared that sustainable businesses have to think bigger to fulfill the demands of not just shareholders, but all stakeholders. These stakeholders include employees, the community you are doing business in, partners, management, customers, interest groups and even the government.
The new generation of business leaders needs to think about not just impacting the bottom line monetarily, but also about maximizing stakeholder value, above and beyond shareholder value. As Ho encouraged the business owners in the audience and challenged them to start defining the key values that drive their company. On a more personal note, he said that for the upcoming ‘Y’ Generation to be successful, they have to always ask “Why?” It is only by understanding the purpose behind the process that one can identify ways to improve, change and grow.
He encouraged his audience to always be bold and to not be afraid to be inquisitive. Ho’s session left his audience ready to turn their businesses into global giants. “I was very inspired by everything Ho Kwon Ping said! There are few business leaders out there who are able to have such a broad and long-term perspective in viewing business sustainability,” says Sherie Ng, 30s, Vice President of Marketing for Asia Pacific, Invensys Process Systems. “His talk encapsulates what it means to see beyond short-term gain to have a more holistic view of business covering economic development, community impact and social responsibility.”