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Transcript: Luncheon Remarks by Ho Ching at Stewardship Asia 2018 Roundtable

Boon Hwee
Friends
Ladies and Gentlemen 

Good afternoon. 

I am humbled by your presence. You are all busy people, leaders in your own right, your own sphere. You have ideas to turn into reality, and businesses and organisations to run. Yet, you have invested a thoughtful morning to examine stewardship challenges in a world at the cusp of major disruptions, or major transformation, if you want to use a more positive word. You are brimming with energy and optimism, and a strong sense of duty and responsibility. 

I really wish to thank Boon Hwee and Stewardship Asia for their kind invitation for me to join you here today.

 

A seed for Stewardship in Asia

Stewardship Asia was founded seven years ago1. It set out to foster sound stewardship in a growing Asia with diverse populations, cultures and economic models. 

Asia has gone through much over the last century – wars, including World War II, fights for independence, quarrels over borders, skirmishes for resources and territory. 

In 1945, post War Asia produced just one-sixth of global output or GDP2

Then, in the 1960s, the Japanese economy took flight. Shortly after, the four little dragons of Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, also took flight, each with their own model. 

In the last 20 years, we begin to see China also taking flight. China has overtaken Japan as the 2nd largest economy3 in the world. At the same time, ASEAN – the ten countries of ASEAN together – has also prospered, with a robust economy of US$2.6 trillion4. This is followed by India and Korea, as the next largest economies in Asia. 

Today, Asia has doubled its share of global output. It now produces a third of a much, much larger global GDP5 in nominal terms. 

What Asia does, and chooses to do, will make a difference to the world, and to her own people. It is thus, timely and right, that Asia steps up to play its part for a sustainable future of our planet. 

So I want to congratulate [Ong] Boon Hwee in leading Stewardship Asia, to give voice to sound stewardship and good governance in Asia. 

Over the next 20 minutes or so, I would like to share some thoughts on stewardship, including some examples from Temasek.

 

Business and society

Ladies and Gentlemen:
As you’ve heard this morning, businesses do not exist in isolation from society, or the forces that shape us all. 

Businesses provide goods and services to meet the needs of society and the people. Yes, businesses must make profits to survive and thrive. 

But can businesses go beyond profits? 

In 1919, the Ford Motor Company in the US had a large capital surplus. Its founder and majority shareholder, Henry Ford, wanted to pursue more than profits. He wanted to end special dividends for shareholders, cut prices for his cars, invest in more production, and hire more workers. 

Henry Ford said:

“My ambition is to employ still more men, to spread the benefits of this industrial system to the greatest number possible, to help them build up their lives and their homes.” 

Unfortunately, his minority shareholders disagreed, and took him to court. 

The Michigan Supreme Court eventually ruled against Henry Ford. It declared that:

“A business corporation is organised and carried out primarily for the profit of the stockholders …. The discretion of directors … does not extend to a change in the end itself”. 

In other words, the Michigan Supreme Court restricted the board of Ford Motor Company to pursue profits only for the shareholders, with no mandate to change that end. In that way, the US is a little bit behind the example that we heard this morning how San Miguel has gone beyond just the pursuit of profits. So perhaps this is a value on which Asia leads the US? 

Separately, in Europe, however, shareholder interests do not reign supreme. 

Germany has a corporate philosophy rooted in Bismarck’s welfare state in the 19th century. German companies with more than 500 workers have significant employee representation on their supervisory boards6. German boards have a broader mandate beyond just shareholder interests. 

Over the last 35 years, France, too, has progressively codified similar requirements. French companies with more than 1000 employees must include one or two employee representatives on their boards7

Here in Asia, apart from what you heard this morning about the Philippines and other countries, about Confucianism and other philosophies, Singapore has found a new way to balance stakeholder interests differently. 

First, similar to UK, board directors of Singapore companies have a fiduciary duty to the company. Their duty is to the company as a whole, rather than just shareholder interests. 

Second, and more uniquely, Singapore promotes a tripartite partnership between labour, business and government, for the common good. 

Businesses must be competitive to succeed. But this is not an end in itself. 

The end, as [Lim] Boon Heng pointed out, is a better life for the workers and their families, and a peaceful, thriving and just society. 

Hence, government, unions, and employers in Singapore collaborate closely to provide economic opportunities through competitive and successful businesses, and to anchor productive jobs through skills and training. 

Interestingly, in recent years, even the US is beginning to change its narrow view of company mandates. 

Since 2010, some 33 American states have statutes for “Benefit Corporations”8. Benefit Corporations are “for profit” businesses with the mandate and leeway to consider public benefit, in their decision-making, beyond just shareholder interests. 

At Temasek, we too look beyond the narrow confines of profits. We see three roles for ourselves – as an investor, an institution and a steward. 

Let me explain. 

 

Temasek as an Investor

As an investor, Temasek aims to deliver sustainable returns over the long term. 

We invest not just for the next three or 10 years and not even for the present generation. Instead, we constantly challenge ourselves to shape and re-shape our portfolio to deliver for future generations. 

This is why we embark on long term projects like the Mandai Nature Safari Park. This project marries nature conservation with a family and leisure retreat for our urban population, even as it aims to deliver a sustainable bottomline. 

I joke with the Mandai team – they’re mostly much younger than me, some of them half my age, or a third – that they are working for their grandchildren. The trees that they plant will take over 50 years to mature – certainly beyond my lifetime, and likely beyond their working lives. 

So, yes, Temasek aims to deliver returns, but we want to deliver returns in a responsible and sustainable manner for our future generations.

 

Temasek as an Institution

Next as an institution, we want to build for the future. What this means is our values and our people. 

How do we want to develop our people to think long term, and to act as owners and stewards? What sort of DNA do we want in our people? 

I am very encouraged that the values of integrity and meritocracy consistently rank very high with our staff, alongside the pursuit of excellence. 

To think long term and to act long term, we need to have systems and structures to facilitate and foster that culture as much as possible. 

Should we just go for returns, or should we look at risk adjusted returns? If businesses go through cycles, should we reward short term results, or foster a long term incentive system? 

Some say we will not be competitive in hiring good people if we hold back incentives for too long. 

But the people we want are precisely those who will not be tempted or distracted by short term gains. Those who can think like long term owners; those who can act as stewards in the interest of the larger whole, are precisely what makes Temasek special. 

Hence, we have spent time to layer in our values, our philosophies, build systems and processes, systematically, over the years. 

How else should we develop our people? 

One example is our MAD KPI incentive – MAD, M-A-D, is short for Making A Difference. 

Our MAD KPIs support a strong learning culture. 

This includes an opt-out programme for all our staff to learn and requalify their CPR and AED skills every two years9. CPR, you pump the chest to restart the heart! 

Through such training, we have put many hundreds of our people into their local neighbourhoods, here in Singapore and elsewhere in the world, knowing how to restart a heart. We hope they never have to use their skills, but when they do, they can Make A Difference! 

So you see, Temasek doesn’t just train our folks for job specific skills. We want to enable our people to contribute to their families and their communities in broader ways, and beyond their work life and tenure in Temasek.

Here, I would like to raise an idea as food for thought. 

Ladies and Gentlemen:
Companies have been enjoying the human capital that have been trained in schools and colleges, funded mostly by governments and families. 

We should not take the easy way out to retrench the obsolete, when technologies change. We should not throw the problem of skill obsolescence to governments and societies.

Businesses must step up, in a tripartite partnership with governments and unions, to upskill and re-skill our workforce to be employable and to be future-ready. Even better, if we can bring along our suppliers and outsource partners on our re-skilling and upskilling journeys.

In short, businesses should not outsource away our responsibilities as a key stakeholder for the common good, especially for our workforce. 

 

Temasek as a Steward

Lastly, Temasek has a stewardship role in two aspects: the community at large, and our future generations. 

We encourage our staff to be constructive members of society in their own right. 

We grow with Asia, and re-invest in Asia. We invest beyond Asia, and re-invest in the world. We invest in our family of Temasek Foundations10, to build people, capabilities and communities, to give a hand up, rather than a hand out. 

Beyond the community, our larger responsibility is really towards our future generations. 

At one level, Temasek is a Fifth Schedule Company under the Singapore Constitution. This means we have a constitutional responsibility to protect the past reserves of our company for our future generations. 

At another level, we are a responsible global investor, investing and re-investing for sustainable long term returns. We want to help seed a better world for present and future generations, by promoting sound stewardship and good governance.

 

Ecosperity and the UN SDGs

One key initiative for our future generations, has been to promote Ecosperity. This twins Ecology and Prosperity - to foster sustainable development. Ecosperity echoes what Singapore has done since independence: from a backwater, to a garden in a city; from a city in a garden to a city in nature. 

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Three years ago, Singapore joined over 190 other UN members to adopt the UN Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. Together, we pledged to bring about a better and more inclusive world of hope and opportunities by 2030 – twelve years from today. We also pledge to protect our planet for future generations beyond 203011

Put simply, the UN SDGs spell out goals for an ABC World – A for an Active economy of jobs and fulfilling opportunities for people; B for a Beautiful society of justice and inclusion; and C for a Clean world of fresh air, clear water, cool earth. 

I would like to urge companies and non-profit organisations alike to explore how they can contribute to specific SDGs, relevant to each of our institutions. 

 

Do Well, Do Right, Do Good

Ladies and Gentlemen:
I have outlined the three roles of Temasek, as investor, institution and steward. 

A few years ago, a friend challenged his research institution to contribute to people and society beyond their research mission. He called it their “triple bottomline”12

Some describe the triple bottomline as Profits, People and Planet. I prefer to think of it as Performance, People and Planet. In other words: to do well, to do good, to do right. 

These goals would be equally applicable to NGOs and governments, as well as companies and non-profit organisations. 

Coincidentally, the triple bottomline of Performance, People and Planet, dovetails nicely with the three roles of Temasek:

  • to do well as an investor;

  • to do right as an institution; and

  • to do good as a steward. 

As businesses, doing well means delivering the returns. Without profits and returns, we can’t survive the short term and we would have no means to make any difference. 

To do well gives us the capacity to fuel our investments, create jobs and grow our businesses into the future. This, we must do well. 

Doing right means building a culture of integrity and fairness, and developing our people as healthy, capable, productive members of the larger community. 

Finally, we must do good, beyond the token or traditional “CSR”13 of the past. More than demonstrating positive contributions to our broader community, we must act as stewards for our future generations.

 

Conclusion

Ladies and gentlemen:
As you have heard this morning, we face a world, threatened by the digital divide, environmental havoc, climate change, even religious terrorism. 

The digital revolution will be one of the biggest disruptions that mankind has faced to-date. 

On balance, technology is a force for good, as are globalisation, free trade, and the international rule of law. 

However, the transition to the new digital world can be very unsettling. 

Many new kinds of jobs and opportunities will be created, including by leaders in this room. But many people risk being left behind when their old jobs disappear. 

Businesses, governments and civic societies, as well as individual workers and the labour movement, must help our workforce navigate through the disruptive transition. Individuals need to prepare themselves to move beyond their comfort zones and learn new skills. 

But more critically, the unthinking pursuit of development and growth, at the expense of our planet, is a “slow boiling frog” danger14

The high carbon emission and various forms of air, water, soil and noise pollution are threatening to turn our world topsy turvy. 

I submit that we all share a common duty to protect our planet. That duty starts with each of us today, if not yesterday. 

Stewardship in a disruptive world, is thinking, planning and acting today with tomorrow clearly in our minds15

I propose we begin today, to develop the relevant triple bottomlines for ourselves and our institutions. This will help us frame how we can do well, do right, and do good, for our companies, people and planet, for a sustainable tomorrow. 

Thank you.

_________________________________________
Footnotes

1 Stewardship Asia was founded in 2011 as the Stewardship and Corporate Governance Centre.

2 According to the Maddison Project, from the Dutch University of Groningen’s Growth and Development Centre, Asia’s GDP of US$0.9 trillion during the late 1940s was 16% of global GDP US$5.3 trillion.

3 China overtook Japan in 2010 as the largest economy in Asia. According to the World Bank’s 2016 numbers, China’s GDP was US$11.2 trillion, followed by Japan at US$5.0 trillion; India at US$2.2 trillion; and the Republic of Korea at US$1.4 trillion.

4 ASEAN, consisting of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, had a combined nominal GDP (in current prices) of US$2.6 trillion in 2016, according to the World Bank, with Singapore at about US$0.3 trillion.

5 Based on the World Bank’s 2016 numbers, Asia’s GDP of US$24 trillion accounted for about 32% of global nominal GDP of about US$76 trillion.

6 Other than media companies and charities, German companies with 500-2000 employees have employee representatives elected by secret ballot and making up a third of their supervisory board membership. For companies above 2000 staff strength, employee representatives are nominated by unions and form half their Supervisory Boards.

7 Since 2013, French companies with more than 1000 employees are required to have one voting employee representative for boards with less than 12 members, and no more than 2 voting employee member for larger boards. France first instituted this rule in 1983 for state owned companies. In 1986, it widened the practice to private companies on voluntary basis. This was made compulsory for all listed companies in 1994, before extending to all companies subject to employment size by 2013.

8 At this time, some 33 states have “Benefit Corporation” statutes, while another seven are in process of implementing. A list is in the Annex to this speech.

9 This CPR/AED life skill training and recertification alternates with First Aid training every other year, with Mental Health First Aid added recently.

10 Temasek Trust is responsible for managing endowment gifts from Temasek, while the family of 6 Temasek Foundations focus on delivering programmes to build people, build capabilities, build communities and rebuild lives.

11 The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development were adopted by world leaders in September 2015 at a historic UN Summit. Over the subsequent fifteen years, with these new SDGs that universally apply to all, countries will mobilise efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind.

12 “Triple bottom line” and “People, Planet, Profit” were terms first used by business author, John Elkington, in 1994 to describe business mandates beyond profit, to embrace people and planet. “People, planet, and profit” was the title of Shell’s first sustainability report published in 1997.

13 CSR, or corporate social responsibility, is a concept that originated in the 1960s, and has now been enshrined in organisational policies (self-regulated), and in some countries, statutory obligations on businesses. It has many definitions, none of which are uniform. It can cover a suite of corporate actions, such as philanthropic contributions, or adopting organisational policies that are believed to benefit the wider community. In more recent years, one very broad definition of CSR has aligned to the concept of doing well, doing right and doing good.

14 Based on the old fable of the “boiling frog”, the premise is that if a frog is put into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in water that is brought to the boil slowly, it does not recognise the danger and will be cooked to death. The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people to react to or be aware of threats that arise gradually.

15 As Singapore’s founding Foreign Minister, Mr S Rajaratnam, said: “We must do things today with tomorrow clearly in our minds”.

ANNEX 

States in the United States with “Benefit Corporation” statutes

 

 

State

Enacted in

1

Maryland

 

1 October 2010

2

Vermont

 

1 July 2011

3

Virginia

 

1 July 2011

4

Hawaii

 

8 July 2011

5

California

 

1 January 2012

6

Massachusetts

 

1 February 2012

7

New York

 

10 February 2012

8

South Carolina

 

14 June 2012

9

Louisiana

 

1 August 2012

10

Illinois

 

1 January 2013

11

Pennsylvania

 

1 January 2013

12

Washington DC

 

1 May 2013

13

Arkansas

 

27 July 2013

14

Delaware

1 August 2013

 

15

Nevada

 

1 January 2014

16

Oregon

 

1 January 2014

17

Rhode Island

 

1 January 2014

18

Colorado

 

1 April 2014

19

Utah

 

13 May 2014

20

Florida

 

1 July 2014

21

West Virginia

 

14 July 2014

22

Nebraska

 

18 July 2014

23

Connecticut

 

1 October 2014

24

Arizona

 

31 December 2014

25

New Hampshire

 

1 January 2015

26

Minnesota

 

1 January 2015

27

New Jersey

 

23 February 2015

28

Idaho

 

1 July 2015

29

Indiana

 

1 July 2015

30

Montana

 

1 July 2015

31

Kentucky

 

1 July 2017

32

Texas

 

1 September 2017

33

Wisconsin

 

26 February 2018

34

Alaska

 

In process

35

Georgia

 

In process

36

Iowa

 

In process

37

Kansas

 

In process

38

Mississippi

 

In process

39

New Mexico

 

In process

40

Oklahoma

 

In process