SBF’s former CEO: Ho Meng Kit

Ho Meng Kit recalls his decade at the helm as CEO of SBF

Having successfully led the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) as the Chief Executive Officer for a decade, Mr Ho Meng Kit moves on with renewed vision and vigour.

Prior to his time at SBF, Mr Ho had served various roles in the civil service, including Principal Private Secretary to then Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Managing Director of the Economic Development Board, and Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His wealth of experiences contributed to his success at SBF and took Singapore’s apex business chamber to greater heights.

BiZQ speaks to Mr Ho on his decade at SBF, plans after retirement, and his thoughts on the future of SBF.

What are your fondest memories of SBF?

I have many fond memories of my time as the CEO. One of those was in 2017, when we moved from Keppel Tower in Hoe Chiang Road to the current SBF Center at Robinson Road. We were thankful for this new permanent office, which was a generous gift by the family of Mr Philip Ng, CEO of Far East Organization. The new premises turned out to be popular by both our staff and SBF members.

With the support and excellent work of my colleagues, SBF membership has grown by nearly 50 per cent over the last ten years — from 18,400 in 2011 to over 27,200 members today. I am heartened to see such a growth in membership and our activities, as these bear testament to how much SBF has helped businesses throughout the decade. I am hopeful that more companies will join SBF as members and receive the assistance they need to expand their businesses by transforming and seizing new opportunities.

What are some of the prominent challenges that you have faced?

First, changing the mindset of businesses and the people who run them was one of the major challenges. When the business is doing relatively well, business owners tend not to make significant changes and their employees may steadily grow into their ‘comfort zone’. There are many challenges facing companies which they must deal with even in good times. Our members should come forward to seek Government support for which there are numerous measures to help companies revitalise their businesses. But these assistance are now targeted, requiring companies to show their commitments and have some skin in the game.

Another challenge was getting businesses to digitalise. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, SMEs would give various reasons why they were unable to do so, such as not having the time or resources to implement new digital initiatives. When COVID-19 hit, companies are forced to think out of the box, and digitalise as border closures and restrictions on travel kick in. Everyone was forced to go online, have their staff work from home or go bust. In the end, many companies managed to start their transformation journeys.

What is in store for SBF?

With COVID-19 still prevalent in many countries, and with our own economic recovery remaining uneven and uncertain, we need to stay vigilant and not be complacent. Our main priority is still the health and safety of our businesses and their workforce. We are committed to supporting the efforts by our Government to help both employers and employees transform for the eventual recovery.

For businesses, SBF will continue to assist members to digitalise and internationalise to help them recover and thrive during this challenging period. Through GlobalConnect@SBF, we have reached out to over 2,000 members and provided advisories to at least 250 as of last December. We are also working closely with companies on their internationalisation plans and hope to encourage more companies to seek out new opportunities in overseas markets. We are also opening four SBF offices in the key markets of Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand. This will deepen the way we support our businesses on the ground.

On the digitalisation front, SBF and the Infocomm Media Development Authority have renewed a Memorandum of Intent last October to promote the adoption of digital tools and technologies to help businesses drive digital transformation and position them to seize opportunities in the digital economy. Job transformation officers will also be assigned to be onsite to guide businesses in their digital transformation efforts.

What are your plans, workwise, for the near future?

I will continue to serve the business community in my new role as SBF’s Senior Advisor. I am a Singapore member of the APEC Business Advisory Council. New Zealand who is hosting APEC this year has asked me to chair a workgroup on Regional Economic Integration. I will apply my knowledge and experience to help build better connections for our business community.

I will also be very much involved with SBF Foundation’s work. The SBF Foundation is an important business community platform and I am proud of its establishment. Through my involvement, I hope to strengthen the links between our companies and the Foundation.

On a personal note, what do you hope to do now that you have retired?

I plan to travel overseas to spend more time with my family. Of my five children, four are overseas, including a granddaughter whom I visited when she was a week old. She is now one year old. I saw her grow online. I hope that the COVID-19 situation will stabilise so that I can visit them hopefully, later this year.

My son, who lives with me in Singapore, has disabilities. I would like to help people like him lead more independent and fulfilling lives particularly through employment. In fact, the SBF Foundation has a collaboration with SG Enable on the Enabling Mark, a national-level accreditation framework that benchmarks and recognises companies for their practices and outcomes in disability-inclusive employment. I look forward to more such collaborations among employers, various agencies and volunteer organisations on accessible employment opportunities for people with disabilities.