Singapore, Singapore

The past month has been very busy. The past two weeks were particularly busy. I haven’t written much, but our family took a trip to southeast Asia, so now I have some interesting stuff to share. The main event was the YPO-WPO Global Leadership Summit in Singapore, Singapore. YPO is an organization that I volunteer time to. I do a lot of work with the YPO-WPO Networks infrastructure and also with the YPO-WPO Family Business Network. We preceded our trip to Singapore with a visit to the island of Bali, Indonesia. This was an adventurous trip with two young children, but they are experienced travelers and we are passionate about showing them the world.

We flew Singapore Airlines new Airbus A380 from New York to Frankfurt, and then to Singapore. It is an amazing aircraft, which I will write more about later. I’m excited to say that our family business has parts on A380’s. The whole Singapore Airlines experience was a treat. I recall doing a Harvard Business School case study on the company 10 years ago. I need to revisit that case, and I always wanted to experience the customer service in person. One amazing fact: the oldest aircraft in the fleet is six years old.

After five days in Bali, we returned to Singapore. While Debbie did some sightseeing with our kids, I visited a major Horst Engineering customer and a couple of peer precision machining (engineering) companies. I wanted to learn about their industry. Singapore is a manufacturing powerhouse and is a global aerospace hub. I was thrilled to see machining at a high level. Singapore doesn’t offer the low-cost of China or India, and the country has even lost some manufacturing to other Asian competitors, but they make effective use of their Malay, Chinese, and Indian labor pool to produce very high precision products. These shops could have been in Connecticut. They were modern with the highest quality machine tools, gauges, and equipment. My visits highlight the global nature of our industry. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make the Singapore Air Show. I missed it by a few days, but I followed the news online and in the newspapers. Many major orders were announced. The show is one of the largest in the world. Aerospace is huge in Singapore.

All of the shops had ISO9000 and AS9100 quality management systems. Many Singaporean entrepreneurs also operate plants in Malaysia, Thailand, or China. Some have partners in these lower cost regions. They do the high mix/low volume work in Singapore and the higher volume/lower quality products elsewhere. The model is similar to the United States and Mexico. Singapore is also a financial powerhouse and it was a fitting city to host the YPO-WPO conference. It is one of the four “Asian tigers.” Everywhere you looked, the major multi-national brands were present.

The city-state of Singapore is an amazingly efficient place. The government is strong handed, but has created an environment that is great for business. With more than five million residents on a tiny island, the nation is a real powerhouse with modern infrastructure. 37% of the residents are foreign workers brought in to power the economy with lower cost labor. 63% are permanent residents. Changi Airport is the best in the world. The mass transit train and bus system gleam. The city streets are spotless. There was no litter. Rules apply and people mostly follow them. The port is the largest in Asia and one of the largest in the world. The buildings are amazing. The museums are full of interesting artifacts. The educational system has challenges like all systems, but it is still top rate. English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil are the four official languages. I could go on and on. The place is really amazing and one short blog post doesn’t do it justice.

After my customer and company visits, the YPO conference dominated my time, but I still had the opportunity to do a few things with our family on the weekend. One highlight was the Night Safari. On a Friday night, we took mass transit to the safari location in the north central part of the island. It was fun to experience the craziness of Singapore during the evening commute. The streets were buzzing with people. Like Indonesia, the weather in Singapore is always summer-like. It was warm and muggy all of the time. We rode several trains and buses, and loved the experience. The safari was really cool. We saw all kinds of animals. The place was jam-packed, which didn’t surprise us, but it was even busier than we expected.

On a Saturday morning, we visited Chinatown, which bustled with activity. We snacked at the famous hawker stalls and did a little bit of shopping for fresh vegetables. While I was working at the conference, Debbie and the kids visited the Titanic exhibit at the ArtScience Museum. Last Sunday, Debbie did the 10 kilometer URUN with nearly 5,000 other runners. It was a crazy race and we never figured out if there was any organization to it. In many ways, it was backwards. I still haven’t found good results. All they list is place and bib number. I’ll say more about the URUN in a future post, but she was third woman in the 10K competitive run and ran just over 45 minutes with a few bathroom breaks included. The food in Singapore wasn’t as good as Bali! There was also a 10K Plus Vertical Climb (stair climb up a skyscraper) and a 5K fun run. She earned back her entry fee and then some. Plus she got a trophy. I haven’t run since December, so I was stuck with swimming in pools. Debbie got out running every day, and she says it was a great way to see the city, which is big on sports.

Shopping seems to also be a professional sport in Singapore. There are massive hotels, large casinos, and lots of stores; which attract boatloads and planeloads of tourists! The center city is an expensive place. Many Singaporeans have a high standard of living, and the government plays an important role in the lives of the people. One of the machine shops I visited is being forced to move because the land beneath their building is slated for redevelopment. This is a common theme in Singapore, which is known as one of the most planned cities in the world. Economic development is ongoing and the hundreds of cranes that dot the skyline prove the point.

Seeing Singapore up close, and through the eyes of Asian businesspeople, was a real treat. I’ll post about the YPO-WPO conference later. I met people from all industries and from nearly 80 countries. I have lots to share about the state of the global economy. We returned to the United States via Frankfurt and on the A380 again. It was a long trip, but our kids did great. Thanks to this trip, 2012 has kicked off with a bang.

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