Inderjit Singh: Watchman son strikes big in Singapore enterprise, politics

Growing up in a Malay village, Inderjit became one the most successful Sikh entrepreneurs in Singapore and the country’s longest-serving Sikh parliamentarian

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| Singapore | 18 Jan 2017 | Asia Samachar |

He is the son of a watchman and lived in simple and sparsely decorated quarters in the factory where his father worked. However, his determination to succeed in life saw him overcome all odds to become one the most successful Sikh entrepreneurs in Singapore and the country’s longest-serving Sikh parliamentarian.

Mr Inderjit Singh grew up in a Malay village near Jalan Eunos. Like most families then, the choice of his primary school was determined by its proximity to home. Being a predominantly Malay school, it was no surprise that Inderjit was the only non-Malay in his class in Kaki Bukit Primary School. He had much fun then. He recounted: “Every time Hari Raya Puasa came, I spent the whole day visiting my friends’ homes and collecting ‘ang pows’ from each household. It was a very fun thing to do”. To him, the village was one big happy family.

Following his education in Broadrick Secondary School, Inderjit entered Temasek Junior College. He then went on to pursue his Bachelors in Electrical and Electronics Engineering at Nanyang Technological University (NTU). He graduated with honours from the university in 1985. After earning his bachelor’s degree, Inderjit enrolled in the University of Strathclyde in Scotland where he received his Master in Business Administration in 1991.

Inderjit started his career as an Engineer with Texas Instruments in 1985. He climbed the corporate ladder to become the Director of Operations of the Singapore plant from 1996 to 1998. After 13 years, he left the company and began a career of entrepreneurship. He founded the United Test and Assembly Center (UTAC), a semi-conductor firm, in 1998, with his Taiwanese friends. UTAC was a S$2 billion company with more than 1,000 employees when he left in 2001.

In 1997, together with his brothers, Inderjit started Tri-Star, a consumer electronics distribution and services company, by pouring in much of their family’s savings. Today, the company can be counted as one of the largest distributors of electronic products in Africa, with presence in more than 39 countries. It has its own offices in 12 countries and continues to grow its local presence in Africa. In 2001, Inderjit started his second high-technology company, Infiniti Solutions, based in the Silicon Valley, which he still currently runs.

Inderjit and his brothers attribute their entrepreneurial spirit to their mother, who was the first entrepreneur in the house when she ran her own small business to supplement their family income.

Former MP Inderjit Singh (right) honoured with a sirapao at the Naam Ras 2016 – PHOTO / PHOTO KRAFTY
COMMUNITY SERVICE

The desire to be involved in community service started early for Inderjit. While in NTU, he founded the Electrical and Electronics Engineering Club and was the first chair of the Students Union Council. Today, Inderjit is a member of NTU’s Board of Trustees. He also chairs the university’s Enterprise Committee, which is tasked to oversee entrepreneurship education and enterprise development in the university.

In 1984, Inderjit became an active grassroots leader at the age of 24 years. Less than three years later, he was appointed the Residents’ Community Chairman. In the mid-1990s, Mr Abdullah Tarmugi, Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, and a Member of Parliament (MP) for Bedok Group Representation Constituency (GRC), persuaded Inderjit to take his service to the next level by considering politics and becoming an MP.

POLITICS

Adopting the belief that politics is national service at a different level, Inderjit decided to enter politics in 1996 under the banner of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) at Ang Mo Kio GRC, which is helmed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Inderjit served four terms in Parliament and stepped down in 2015.

During his term in parliament, Inderjit was known to be a frank and vocal MP. He questioned and challenged policy proposals in the strong belief that only through rigorous discussions and debate can the best policies be developed. He was also not afraid to make suggestions that were not always in tandem with the general consensus among his fellow parliamentarians. He stated that: “I had to present my arguments to our Ministers and that was not always an easy thing to do. At times, their unhappiness with me was quite visible”.

While the welfare and well-being of his constituents was foremost on his mind, he also spoke passionately on issues that had broader implications for the Singapore society. The two debates that he will probably be most remembered for in Parliament are on the ‘Population White Paper’ during which he argued against the target population size and contended that the government’s approach towards it needed to change, and his opposition to ‘Early Streaming’ in schools where he also proposed removing it altogether from primary school. For the former, Inderjit won many admirers for speaking openly and passionately on a highly sensitive issue. In the case of the latter, he faced many hurdles, including battling several Ministers. Despite the slow progress initially, Inderjit noted proudly that things have since changed significantly.

Inderjit also actively pursued policy changes to create a more conducive business environment for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and entrepreneurship in Singapore. He felt that many of the pro-business policies focused on the multinationals and government-linked companies. There was a strong need to nurture home grown enterprises for long-term economic sustainability. He took the lead in driving the transformation of the entrepreneurship landscape in Singapore to better support SMEs and start-ups. His efforts bore fruits with the creation of numerous financing schemes by government agencies such as SPRING Singapore. He, in fact, chaired the Investment Committee of SPRING Startup Enterprise Development Scheme, a government fund which invests in early-stage start-ups. He was the Deputy Chairman of the Action Community for Entrepreneurship, a national movement responsible for spearheading entrepreneurship development, for seven years. He also served as President of the Singapore Chapter of The Indus Entrepreneurs, a network of entrepreneurs and professionals founded in 1992 in Silicon Valley, California. At the moment, he is the co-President of the World Entrepreneurship Forum, a world organisation dedicated to the development of entrepreneurship around the world. Inderjit is also an inventor with three patents to his name.

SIKH COMMUNITY

Staying true to his passion of helping the community, Inderjit has contributed significantly to the Sikh community in a myriad of ways. Unknown to many, behind closed doors, he debated with then-Singapore’s Education Minister on providing recognition to the five non-Tamil languages, namely, Hindi, Punjabi, Gujarati, Bengali and Urdu, and extending financial support to each of these languages. His attempts were met such replies as “How do you expect us to recognise the languages when uncles and aunties are teaching nieces and nephews?”

As such, there was a need to raise standards and ensure conformity of the five languages. This led to the tough process of communicating with community leaders from each of these language groups. Eventually, a group comprising members of the five communities was formed and it paved the way for the establishment of the Board for the Teaching and Testing of South Asian Languages. It was made responsible for standardising the curriculum and examination model for all five languages. The next step was to secure full government funding for these languages. Inderjit wrote to Prime Minister Lee on the plight of the Board, arguing the case for government recognition and funding. This led to the government announcing in 2007 that it will fully recognise and fund the five languages. It was an important victory for the five communities.

Apart from Punjabi language education, Inderjit has also been active in various Sikh institutions. He provides guidance and support to the leaders of the institutions and acts as an important link between the Sikh community and the Singapore government. He is also currently an Advisor to Young Sikh Association (Singapore). In addition, his family and he have contributed financially to various community causes over the years.

Inderjit has been extremely successful because he wears his heart on his sleeve. He is honest, committed and dedicated to his work. He always has the welfare of his constituents in particular and Singaporeans in general in his mind. The ready stream of people during the meet-the-people sessions, many more meetings in the office with persons and groups and greetings from people on the street is a strong endorsement of the people’s tremendous respect and trust in him to make life better.
– Mr Tan Tau Chang Long-term working colleague

While juggling his entrepreneurial ventures, parliamentary duties and community engagements, Inderjit has still managed to find time to write which is one of his passions. He is the author of The Art and Science of Entrepreneurship , a popular book capturing his entrepreneurial experiences. It was sold out when it was published and has become an important read for budding and experienced entrepreneurs alike.

Born in India and raised a village boy in Singapore when he was only 10 months old, Inderjit’s success story is nothing short of phenomenal. He had the desire to want to excel and contribute to society. This resulted in him making significant contributions in the areas of national discourse, business and entrepreneurial promotion, and community development. He has, indeed, made a lasting impression on Singapore’s socio-economic and political landscapes.

final-sg50-book[This article is courtesy of SINGAPORE AT 50: 50 SIKHS AND THEIR CONTRIBUTIONS, a book published in 2015 by the Young Sikh Association, Singapore (YSA) in conjunction with Singapore’s 50th birthday]

ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs in Southeast Asia and surrounding countries. We have a Facebook page, do give it a LIKE! Follow us on Twitter. Visit our website: www.asiasamachar.com

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