Background to Business in Singapore

Singapore is probably the most heavily Western influenced of all the Asian economies with regard to approach to business.

The legacy of its colonial past, combined with its status as the number one destination for US and European organisations to locate their Asian Head Offices has resulted in many Western attitudes and processes being adopted. This apparent willingness to assimilate some Western business practices does not, however, preclude Singapore from being a thoroughly Asian City State. Scratch the surface and many of the inherent beliefs and practices reflect the mainly Confucian ethics of the majority Chinese population.

Indeed the Singaporean government, which is known for its pragmatic approach to governing, places tremendous importance on the maintenance and promotion of what it views as being solidly Asian virtues. Thus, the excesses of western liberalism (including totally inclusive democracy) are expensive luxuries which should be resisted in order to further the corporate good of Singapore Inc. This autocratic style (redolent of Confucian thought) has resulted in tremendous economic benefits for the country as well as the social benefits of low rates of crime and lack of poverty.

It is this constant balancing act between benefiting from Western-style business practices, whilst at the same time holding on fervently to traditional Asian values, which is at the heart of the fascination of Singapore and which will be analysed further in the rest of this piece.

Do not be fooled by the veneer of Anglo-Saxon business ethics – relationships still come very firmly before business and, therefore, as in the whole of Asia it is imperative to understand the necessity of relationship-building and maintenance.

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