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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This country profile has been produced to give a short overview of some of the key concepts to bear in mind when doing business with contacts in Singapore. It is intended to be an aid to business people who have commercial dealings with counterparties in the country but should not be seen as an exhaustive guide to this topic or as a substitute for more substantial research should there be a need.

With this in mind, we have covered the areas which are key to a better understanding of the cultural mindset underpinning business dealings in Singapore and which are, quite often, extremely different from the approach and thought processes associated with business in other parts of the world.

Therefore this briefing note is broken into short, bite-sized sections on the following topics:

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