Mr Lim Ho Kee, Chairman of Singapore Post since it went IPO in April 2003, was the deserved winner of the Hall of Fame Award 2012 in the Supply Chain Asia Logistics Awards. Calling the physical mail business a “burning platform”, his mission as the Chairman of Singapore Post is to ensure that the team remains adaptable and forward thinking in changing times.
SCA: Can you share with our readers how you became the Chairman of Singapore Post as you were previously in the banking and financial industry?
LHK: I became Chairman of Singapore Post 9 years ago when Singtel (Singapore Telecommunications), decided to list the postal company in the Stock Exchange of Singapore. While there are differences in terms of available resources between what I faced when I was in the banking industry and in Singapore Post, the need to continue to be able to reinvent your organisation remains a critical factor for its success. With today’s fast changing environment due to social media, communication channels and technology, if we are not able to evolve to meet the needs of the industry, we will be left behind, whether it is in the banking or supply chain.
SCA: There is a rising trend of e-Commerce in Asia, making last mile logistics increasingly important. What are your plans for Singapore Post in relation to this development of e-Commerce in Asia, particularly in Singapore, ASEAN and Asia?
LHK: Ever since we were listed in the stock exchange 9 years ago, it is getting apparent that the mail business is not going to face continuous growth. On average, an individual only sends out 6 letters a year today. Based on the local postage of S$0.26 per mail, that works out to be just S$1.56 per year. That will not be tenable for our stakeholders. We started reviewing the opportunities associated with e-Commerce since then and believe that Logistics and Fulfillment in e-Commerce will be key to our success. We are working hard to make sure we become a leading player in this field in Singapore and Asia. We have invested in various e-Commerce related companies in China and Malaysia that are expected to rein the growth for us over the next few years.
SCA: Would the upcoming AEC 2015, which would turn ASEAN into a single market, affect the development and expansion of Singapore Post?
LHK: We are connected to the various postal operators in ASEAN and we meet regularly to discuss how we can better collaborate with each other. Unlike the global integrators with extensive networks and resources, including owning their own freighters, we are limited in terms of resources and nationalistic structure that reduces our ability to freely extend our network. However, we do have a strong last mile infrastructure as we technically visit every household in Singapore five times a week. The other postal companies also share this strength within their own countries and we seek to cooperate with each of them to ensure that we can provide comparable quality service with the big boys but at a much lower cost.
SCA: Would you consider Mergers & Acquisitions to expand your network?
LHK: We are always open to strategic acquisitions to expand our network and ability to serve our customers more effectively. Sometimes instead of acquisitions, we enter into collaborative arrangements with other entities. For instance, our wholly-owned subsidiary Quantium Solutions, recently collaborated with Japan Post to support a project there whereby it provides the fulfilment solutions such as warehousing, inventory management and pick & pack and Japan Post conducts the last mile domestic delivery.
SCA: How does Singapore Post manage the challenge of Talents in terms of recruitment, retention and career advancement? Do you have a talents issue in Singapore Post?
LHK: I actually believe that the current management team in Singapore Post is the strongest since I became the Chairman. In terms of talent management, we have to be creative. Compared to many multinationals, we are considered small. While this is a disadvantage, it is also an advantage. For instance, we formed a new entity dedicated to e-Commerce. We set aside a certain percentage of share options for senior management that directly ties rewards to performance, which is good for the organisation and shareholders.
While monetary benefits have been an effective way in recruiting, retaining and developing our employees, we also motivate our employees through recognition and awards programs. For instance, for our front liner employees, instead of the usual annual awards, we introduced monthly awards. We also aligned incentives to fit into the cultural environment that we are in – for instance we organised the “Iftar” or break fast ceremony during the Ramadan month and gave our Malay outdoor delivery staff a special allowance in appreciation of their efforts to ensure uninterrupted service. Understanding and taking care of the needs of staff from all levels will always be the key to successful talent management for our company. Although we are a small organisation, the fact that we are a “national champion” in performing an important service for the community is a source of encouragement for the staff.
SCA: How do you keep your team motivated and to stay on top of their game?
LHK: While we try to do the best we can through compensation and internal recognition, we also need to make our staff feel proud to be a part of the team and organisation. I was a little embarrassed when I was nominated for the Hall of Fame Award, but if these awards bring recognition to Singapore Post, then I will gladly be a part of it. Another example is that we are the only postal company in the world to have won the Express Mail Service (EMS) Cooperative Certification Gold Level Award by the Universal Postal Union for our Speedpost Worldwide Courier Service for 11 consecutive years since 2001. Nominees for this award included postal operators from various countries in Asia and globally.
SCA: Where do you see Singapore Post in the next 5-10 years?
LHK: We seek to become a significant player in e-Commerce in the region. Depending on which research studies you read, Asia is set to become the largest e-Commerce market by 2016 with a 40% market share and by 2020, its market share is expected to triple to USD 1 trillion. Moreover, Asia is set to lead the exponential growth in the next few months as our markets began to mature. We definitely intend to play a part in this growth and will continue with our strategic investments to support the expansionary opportunities in this market.
It is also imperative that we continue to dedicate ourselves to innovation and customer service in order to stay relevant to the needs of our customers. In fact, Singapore Post was recently awarded as the Service Provider of the Year by Postal Technology International and is thus far the only Asian postal company to receive this award. This is consistent with our growth in the stock market- SingPost had IPOed at 60 cents and our dividends to date is 68.9 cents. It is a sign that we are on the right track.
SCA: Do you have any key experiences or mentors who have deeply influenced what you believe in and your commitment to work and life?
LHK: I would say that one of these people would be Prof Moneim el-Meligi. I met him when I was in JP Morgan in the early years. He made a big impact on me especially in the way he thinks and his management techniques. During his work with JP Morgan, he developed the widely acclaimed Organization Management Seminars, now known around the world as OMI and OMII. I tried to bring him to Singapore to conduct this seminar but was only successful when I was appointed the Dy Managing Director of Monetary Authority of Singapore. Till today, he still conducts regular workshops here in Singapore.
The other influences in my life would be the various types of books that I love to read. I am an avid reader and enjoy learning new things. I share what I read with my management team and look forward to play the role of a mentor and coach to all of them as well as learning from them.
SCA: Is there anything that makes you hopeful or concerned for the future of last mile logistics in Asia and the role Singapore Post will play?
LHK: I am quite hopeful yet concerned at the same time. I am hopeful in that we have a very strong management team today who has the full backing from the board. We are also investing for the future and hiring talents to join the team – even though we know they may take up to six months to become effective contributors. We are definitely investing in our infrastructure and Information Technology to keep our business processes up to date. My main concern will be in the area of managing our talent, as we need to continue to replenish our talent pool to support the aggressive growth plan of the organisation. The postal business remains a major challenge for us – like a “burning platform”, while it still exists, it may not last for long. Hopefully our investment in the other businesses will rise up in time to replace this shrinking business. The key to our success may be to “hope for the best but prepare for the worst” such that if the worst did not happen, then we will definitely be doing well.