“I should have gotten a doctoral degree. That is a regret that I have in my life. I feel if I had university education, my thinking and perspectives would have been different.”
These words would evoke some degree of regret and a feeling of lost hope for any other person but, in this case, the person is none other than Mr Karan Singh Thakral – successful entrepreneur, respected diplomat and a well-regarded member of the Sikh community in Singapore. It may come as a surprise to many that someone like Karan has regrets. Well, that just goes to show the man’s desire to aim as high as possible in life and be the complete man.
Born in Singapore and raised in Thailand, Karan joined the business started by his grandfather that was eventually transformed by his father into the massive enterprise of the Thakral Group today. It used to deal mainly in the export and import of textiles and electronic appliances. Now, it has grown into a diversiﬁed business conglomerate with numerous business activities, including life-style products, information technology products and services, manufacturing and export of yarn and branded ready made garments, luxury watches, hospitality, real estate development and management and infrastructure services, among others.
Karan represents Thakral Group as an Executive Director. Recollecting the massive strides Singapore has made over the last ﬁve decades, Karan said: “Singapore has changed from a small village to a global city. Business wise, it is one of the most attractive places for people to do business and invest. As a business concept, Singapore has done very well. We did not have malls then; we had small shops. High Street was one of the main places to shop at. Now, 50 years later, there are no more such shops left on High Street. It is more of a tourist attraction. The Thakral Group has been able to remain viable because we evolved with the changing times and adapted accordingly.”
While the activities of the Thakral Group occupy a considerable amount of Karan’s time, he has still managed to ﬁnd time to contribute to various national and community initiatives. One of his key contributions is the revival of the Singapore chapter of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE).
Karan took over the leadership of TiE Singapore in 2008 and totally revamped the once exclusive organisation. He opened its membership to individuals of non-Indian origin based in Singapore. He strongly believed that this would allow the organisation and its members to gain from the wider and more diverse networking possibilities.
Karan is a dynamic, eclectic, energetic and astute leader who is well known for being successful in both the private business sector and for his invaluable contributions to public service.
He has played key roles in the Thakral Group, the South Asian Business Group of the Singapore Business Federation and TiE Singapore. He currently serves as Singapore’s NRA to Denmark, and previously as the NRA to Sri Lanka. He has served with distinction in all his posts and we owe him a debt of gratitude.
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Foreign Affairs Singapore
Under Karan’s tenure, TiE Singapore also became more prominent worldwide. The parent chapter in the Silicon Valley was quick to acknowledge the tremendous progress made by TiE Singapore under Karan’s leadership. The fact that Karan is an internationally known businessman and that he had strong business ties with many global personalities at a personal level certainly provided the ﬁllip in transforming TiE Singapore into an entity far greater than its size and status could justify.
Also, apart from reaching out and serving the needs of local businesses, Karan also worked with academic institutions such as the National University of Singapore (NUS) and SP Jain School of Management to promote entrepreneurship among students. “When I took over as Chairman, we decided to have a booth at the annual meet of TiE in the Silicon Valley and NUS participated in the booth. It showed the level of interest and trust our local university had in TiE Singapore.”
The ambitious overhaul of TiE Singapore, with its diverse membership base and global emphasis spearheaded by Karan made the organisation an important partner of the Singapore government in its efforts to promote entrepreneurship here. At the same time, it provided far greater avenues for TiE Singapore members to explore business opportunities through regular networking sessions, events, business trips and meetings with international business personalities.
Karan stated: “I wanted to develop TiE Singapore into a grouping that was more representational and heavily focused on entrepreneurship education. The key goal was to nurture a whole new generation of potential entrepreneurs and grant them access to business opportunities previously unavailable.” Today, Karan is Chairman Emeritus of TiE Singapore and Member Emeritus of TiE’s Global Board of Trustees.
In his efforts to further promote entrepreneurship locally and regionally, Karan served as one of the judges on the reality TV series Angel’s Gate, which began broadcasting on Channel NewsAsia in February 2012. The show provided the opportunity for budding entrepreneurs in Asia to pitch business ideas to investors. Karan’s desire to share his entrepreneurial acumen led him to mentor young entrepreneurs. He soon established Singapore Angels Network Pte Ltd to invest in start-up enterprises. Karan’s son works full time with him on this venture. To-date, the company has invested in about 80 start-up enterprises.
When Karan took over the helm of the South Asian Business Group (SABG), a unit under the Singapore Business Federation (SBF), in 2010, he was involved in ensuring the organisation, which already boasted of a ﬁrm and solid foundation, continued its growth. Particularly, he helped to boost the SABG’s ties with the South Asian nations through business trips and missions that opened business possibilities for SBF members. His understanding and knowledge of the South Asian and Singaporean markets, and socio-economic and politics landscapes have been extremely relevant to the SABG.
However, the national role that gives Karan most pride is that of being Singapore’s Non-Resident Ambassador (NRA), ﬁrst to Sri Lanka during a period when the country hosted the Commonwealth Games and currently to Denmark. He said proudly: “It is indeed a great honour.
In my life, I could not imagine taking this on. When the Singapore government asked me to become Singapore’s Ambassador to Sri Lanka, I could not say no. I felt it is my duty to serve the country. The government now has appointed me Ambassador to Denmark. It has been an enriching experience for me.”
Karan is a ﬁrm believer in God and his philosophy of life, as well as that of his family, is to extend assistance to the needy and less fortunate in society.
He said: “I grew up in a ‘giving’ family so this was my natural path. Giving back is a part of my family’s tradition. My grandfather, father and brothers – all of us have served or are serving in different roles in different countries.”
Among his many community roles is serving in the committees of Tanjong Katong Girls School and St Hilda’s Primary School. In addition, Karan has served or is serving as Chairman and/or Trustee of a number of charitable/not-for-proﬁt organisations in India.
Whether it is focusing on the wider national economic landscapes, serving the country, fostering a conducive business environment to nurture entrepreneurial minds or just helping his community, Karan has proven that the lack of educational qualiﬁcations is no impediment at all. At the end of the day, one must have the desire to want to serve. One must be determined and most importantly, one must want to give back to society and do one’s best.
In Karan’s words: “The person who knows how to give is a happy person when compared to a person who takes.” Looking at his accomplishments, Karan is certainly a happy and contented man.
 Interview with Mr Karan Singh Thakral, June 15, 2015.
 TiE was founded in 1992 in Silicon Valley by a group of successful entrepreneurs, corporate executives, and senior professionals with roots in the Indus region. There are currently 13,000 members, including over 2,500 charter members in 61 chapters across 18 countries. TiE’s mission is to foster entrepreneurship globally through mentoring, networking, education, incubating, and funding. Dedicated to the virtuous cycle of wealth creation and giving back to the community, TiE’s focus is on generating and nurturing the next generation of entrepreneurs. See http://tie.org/about-us/ for details. 3 Interview with Mr Karan Singh Thakral, op cit.
 Interview with Mr Karan Singh Thakral, op cit.
 he SABG is part of the Global Business Groups at SBF. It is a platform for the Singapore business community and their counterparts in South Asia to share business-related information. See http://www.sbf.org.sg/ about-us/business-groups-committees for details.
 SBF is the apex business chamber championing the interests of the Singapore business community in the areas of trade, investment and industrial relations. It represents 21,500 companies, as well as key local and foreign business chambers. See http://www.sbf.org.sg/about-us/ overview-about-us for details.
 Interview with Mr Karan Singh Thakral, op cit.
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