Singaporean Business Structures

As in all Asian countries, organisational structures tend toward the hierarchical.

Many Singaporean companies originated as family-run businesses and this adds weight to the push for respect for seniority. The CEO of a family business will tend to be the oldest male family member working at the organisation with other senior employees also being family members. (Obviously these family ties and influences are not a factor when dealing with MNCs working out of Singapore.)

Thus, within traditional Singaporean organisations, all key decisions will be made at the very senior levels with those decisions being delegated down the chain of command for implementation. It is not expected that the middle tier will openly disagree with senior management, as this would infer lack of respect. It is, therefore, important to ensure the right level of contact within an organisation if influence is to be brought to bear on the decision-making process. It is also important to ensure that senior people are dealt with by contacts of similar status. Do not insult by sending in more junior, younger staff than are introduced to you.

Outside the traditional, family-run Singaporean organisation, a whole host of structural approaches can be found – especially in the MNC world and Singaporeans have proved particularly adept at adapting to these differing models. It is often advisable to do some in-depth research prior to interfacing with a company in Singapore in order to find out exactly what type of beast you will be dealing with and thus be able to plan your approach accordingly.

A brief overview of some key concepts to consider when doing business in Singapore

Written and Produced by Keith Warburton

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Singapore is often seen as a stepping stone into Asia. Singapore is a successful Asian city state which has seemingly managed to marry the best of western influences whilst maintaining a thoroughly Asian feel. Is it any wonder that so many global organisations choose Singapore as their pan-Asia base, seeing it as a perfect blend of geography, economic prosperity and political stability?

The city certainly punches above its weight in terms of economic success, educational achievement and the high standards of living which are almost universally enjoyed. Singapore’s economic miracle has been much documented over the years. The foundations laid during the formative years of Lee Kwan Yew’s tenure as Prime Minister have served well over the decades and managed to keep Singapore right at the top of the global success tables.

If you are looking to do business in Asia, it is difficult to ignore the appeal of Singapore – not just as a base to explore the rest of the region but also as an attractive market. Singapore is a consumer paradise with millions of affluent consumers eager to purchase the best that the world has to offer.

Doing business in Singapore could be very good for you but it is important to take on board local cultural norms and expectations about how business should be conducted. Don’t be fooled by the veneer of westernisation you are likely to encounter when you arrive – the thought processes driving business decisions are decidedly Asian. Don’t assume that the highly cosmopolitan business contacts you meet will automatically understand your approach because such assumptions might well jeopardise an otherwise lucrative relationship.

This country profile provides an overview of some of the key aspects of Singapore business culture in a concise, easy to follow-format. The document includes information on:

  • Background to business
  • Business Structures
  • Management style
  • Meetings
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Women in business
  • Entertaining
  • Top tips