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Singapore Synopsis

Do we really have the mindset to understand the market as it will be?” asked Steven Green, U.S. Ambassador to …

Do we really have the mindset to understand the market as it will be?” asked Steven Green, U.S. Ambassador to Singapore, of our roundtable participants. Business leaders representing North American, U.K., and Australian companies joined us and our event partner Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu for three days and nights in Singapore.

Before becoming ambassador nearly two years ago, Green ran American Tourister. “I’ve been fascinated by emerging markets,” he says. “If I were to start a business tomorrow I would like to start an opportunity fund for small and medium companies.” Green thinks opportunities abound for all U.S.-based businesses internationally, but particularly in Asia. This isn’t to say he seized every one that came his way.

“Some guys left Samsonite to create E-bags where you order luggage over the Net,” he recalls. “I knew the people, but couldn’t commit $15 million for 30 percent of the start-up. But people look at assets differently today. Who needs buildings and fixed assets? It’s ideas and people that count.”

Green hopes small and medium companies get the message and use the Internet as a way of compensating for lack of resources. He thinks Singapore is the most congenial place for SMEs to go global. His enthusiasm for Singapore borders on a boosterism that might raise eyebrows in other places, but is readily accepted in this business-oriented city-state. Imagine a country created by a coup d’etat by its chamber of commerce. Singapore comes closest. (As you can see from the clip on this page, our mere presence in the Prime Minister’s residence merited local press.) Yet Singapore officials concede that they’ve done a poor job marketing their image abroad, where the media has portrayed it as an authoritarian state that canes foreign students for graffiti and imposes severe penalties for chewing gum or littering. During our stay we learned that there was more to the celebrated caning incident than what was reported in the U.S. popular press. But it’s undoubtedly true that from Lee Kuan Yew’s leadership to the present, Singapore insists on a more disciplined social code than anything that would be tolerated in the U.S. Rudy Giuliani’s New York notwithstanding. But it’s in no way a police state.

John Allen, president of New York-based venture firm Spring Investments, has been traveling to emerging markets since he ran Bank of Boston’s foreign investments in 1965. “I judge a country by the attitudes one sees on the street everyday,” he says. “People who greet you with a smile, have confidence in their future, and believe that their children will be better off tell me whether you’re in a country that has promise. I can think of few places in Asia where one sees this other than in Singapore.”

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