Singapore’s growing talent integral to success


By Kirat Kaur

In the next 25 years, the chief executive of Singapore’s DBS Bank could well come from a newly-emerging pool of entrepreneurial minded Institute of Technical Education (ITE) and polytechnic graduates, according to Piyush Gupta, CEO of SGX-listed DBS Group Holdings and DBS Bank.

With the changing nature of work that is resulting largely from great strides in technology, talent is no longer simply tied to knowledge and academic qualifications. A focus on experience, exposure and continuous lifelong education will drive the search for talent in the coming years.

Piyush was speaking to a 120-odd strong crowd at the Singapore Management University on Nov 29 (Sat) on the issue of talent and integration – global competition, local challenges, as the guest speaker at the Young Sikh Association’s Seventh Khwaish Lecture.

DBS is the largest financial institution by asset size in Southeast Asia.

DBS’s Piyush Gupta speaking at a Singapore’s Young Sikh Association event — PHOTO: Hargobind Singh
DBS’s Piyush Gupta speaking at a Singapore’s Young Sikh Association event — PHOTO: Hargobind Singh

In his speech, he noted that computers can now do not just blue collar work, but also white collar work, starting with the shifting of many IT services to India.

He provided the example of how DBS is currently working with IBM on an artificial intelligence computer called Watson, originally designed to have the capability to diagnose every sort of cancer, and modified to do the job of a bank relationship manager to come up with a customised recommendation for each client.

Piyush outlined his ‘Four I Framework’ for spotting good talent. He values talent that demonstrates individual accountability – a willingness to go outside the normal bounds of one’s work and take on more responsibility; initiative – going beyond simply responding to that inbox full of emails and creating one’s own outbox, or agenda, to make a positive impact; innovation – being a change agent and demonstrating creative problem-solving skills; and inspiration – painting a vision and getting not just one’s juniors but (perhaps more challenging) also one’s competitors, to engage with your agenda and ally with a broader community and social agenda.

He believes aspiration – khwaish – is what makes us progress as societies, even quoting the Ghalib verse ‘Hazaaron khwaishen aisi’ to drive his point home.

Bhagwan Singh & Co partner Jeispreit Kaur saw this as one of the highlights of Piyush’s presentation.

Jeispreit said: “We learnt so much, especially the need for talent, and the Four Is. How the world is shifting from being knowledge-based to continuous learning and developing skill sets that you learnt outside of school.”

Piyush emphasised the role of both short- and long-term overseas work stints in developing talent, and that it was important to create an environment where people can be immersed in gaining experience.

For instance, DBS practices a ‘2 plus 2’ policy, where employees who have worked at a job for two years have the opportunity to move somewhere else within the company, and whose bosses must release them after two months.

A lively discussion followed the presentation, in which participants engaged critically with Piyush’s ideas. When asked what needs to be done to ensure local talent can remain competitive, he said that critics have often unduly decried Singapore’s presumably rigour- and rote-based education system.

He believes young Singaporeans coming out of the local universities and colleges these days are bigger risk-takers and display greater entrepreneurship. His advice was to treat college as an opportunity to experiment, innovate and do things, not just go to class!

Seminar participant and Singapore Armed Forces military expert Hargobind Singh reflected that, “This was a great opportunity to meet a high calibre CEO in an intimate setting. I thought there was a lot of depth and structure to his presentation. It’s just a shame there weren’t more young adults in the room. I think we really need to engage more with young professionals in the Sikh community.”

The afternoon concluded with a spread of delicious food, around which attendees socialised and networked.

YSA president Malminderjit Singh said the speaker was able to handle well sensitive topics like immigration. “It was refreshing to see him engaging young people after the event and even handing out his name card,” he said.

Photos: Hargobind Singh