Getting business done the right way in Singapore

Getting business done the right way in Singapore

The Singaporean economy is now one of the most influential in the world, attracting huge investment from all over the globe thanks to its free, open and very tax-effective business laws. There is simply no more pro-business place to do business and, as more companies wake up to this fact, expect even greater concentration on the South East Asian state in the coming years.

If you are new to Singaporean business and want to get involved, then the sooner you do so the better. With more and more western companies looking to make a profit in Singapore and more and more western business people looking to work in Singapore, the best opportunities may not be there for long.

For those concerned about stepping into an unfamiliar business culture, then this guide will help. Here we run down the most important things to keep in mind before you start doing business in Singapore.

A westernised business culture, with an Asian hierarchy

The good news for those coming from a western business background, is that the Singaporean market-place is very much a westernised culture, despite its position in South East Asia. Unlike, say, China or Korea, where westerners constantly run the risk of embarrassing themselves by pursuing a deal with too much enthusiasm, the structure of how deals are struck in Singaporean business will be fairly familiar to anybody who has ever sat in a New York, London or Berlin boardroom. That does not mean, however, that there are not certain Asian-style workplace traditions that need to be respected – there very much are. Happily, however, they are a little easier to follow than in many other Asian nations.

Hierarchy remains a key part of the way companies are run and, like in the aforementioned Chinese and Korean economies, the senior management will make the first and final decision on everything – dissent is generally not expected or accepted. There is, however, a degree of tolerance for private debate, so long as it is reasoned and clear in its intention, though this should only be done in closed, one-on-one meetings and not in front of the whole team.

Similarly, it is considered very rude and unprofessional to get a junior member of your company to contact a senior member of a Singaporean company. Status is important here, and there is an unspoken rule that only those on the same levels will deal directly with one another. Age is a big part of this too, and the Asian tradition for respecting your elders and deferring to their experience over your youthful vigour is firmly in place here.

In fact, showing and gaining respect is really the key to how business gets done on the island. You will only build up a powerful network of business contacts by showing that you deserve their respect – through your professionalism, your usefulness and the respect you show to others. Losing face is very damaging in Singaporean business, whether it is due to your failure in a business deal or your poor personal behaviour.

Underlying all of these rules is the perhaps most important fact of all about Singapore, which is its incredible multiculturalism. The fact that this population of more than 5 million people is made up of a mix of Chinese, Indian, Malay and Western people means what is expected, culturally, in one company will differ in another. It might sound strange, but reading up on the background of the company with whom you wish to do business or for whom you wish to work will be essential to understanding how to behave.

The industries driving the economy

The industries driving the economy

Singapore's economy is not only the most open in the world, it is also the 7th least corrupt, the lowest taxed and is governed by laws that have been rated the most pro-business in the world. Given all these factors, it is easy to see why the Singaporean markets continue to soar and why so much foreign money pours through its companies. If you are looking to make the most out of this powerful and influential economy, then it is worth learning about what drives it. Here we look at the most prominent industries in Singapore.


With millions upon millions of foreign visitors coming to Singapore every year, it is no shock to find out just how important tourism is to the economy. In fact, it is the biggest service sector in the state and is estimated to rake in about $30 million in 2015. What makes Singapore such a trap for tourists? Well, alongside its rich history, it fascinating clash of Chinese, Malay, Indian, Arab and Western cultures and it stunning conservation sites, it also has a glorious climate and some wonderful beaches. Business travellers also make up a huge percentage of the 17 million odd arrivals that come to the island each year, while retail and medical tourism are both also on the rise. Among the big names brands associated with Singaporean tourism are Singapore airlines (voted best airline in the world), Shangri-La hotels and Changi Airport (voted the world's best airport).


Given the free-flowing nature of its economy it was inevitable that the financial sector would feature on this list. Singapore's banks, wealth management firms and lenders are some of the most important business engines of South East Asia. Thanks to the extremely pro-business nature of its laws and its superbly gifted multicultural workforce, the island attracts tons and tons of investment and many of the world's biggest companies have money here. International trading takes place right around the clock, 24/7.


One of Singapore's most rapidly growing industries over the last decade or so, construction now sits at the top table as one of the economy's pillars. Its expansion has been quite remarkable to witness: in the year 2007 it grew a whopping 20% and has not stopped since. With shopping malls, casinos, hotels, apartments and much, much more being planned for the next year, it is only likely to get bigger.

Biomedical Science

The island of Singapore is now one of the world's most important centres for bio-medical progress. Key research and development projects are constantly being done here, while production and manufacturing of medical goods and the provision of medical services are also massive areas of growth. One indicator of the sector's rapid expansion is MerLion Pharmaceuticals, who received a Scrip award as the Best Company in an Emerging Market.


Singapore is the world's most powerful hub for logistics services, according to the World Bank. The importance of this factor cannot be overstated, as it allows Singapore a huge influence in the global business community, as companies across the world rely on its logistics innovations. The island is home to Asia's most important logistics education centre, The Logistics Institute Asia Pacific.

Largest companies in Singapore

Largest companies in Singapore

Singapore remains one of the world's most open economies and its love affair with the free market continues apace. Business tends always to be booming on the island and this is reflected on how many large, internationally influential businesses are based there. Here is a guide to some of the largest brands and organisations who call Singapore home.

Cerebos Pacific

Cerebos is one of Asia's leading manufacturers of food and health supplies. Its main catalogue of products is made up of sauces, condiments, coffee beans and chicken related products.

Amtek Engineering

A precision metal stamping company, Amtek provides better engineering and manufacturing techniques to its clientele. Amtek parts can be found in everything from televisions to toasters to cars to computers and much, much more.

Frasers Centrepoint

An investment holding company, Frasers Centrepoint's biggest business is done in the architectural field. In fact, Frasers is now seen as one of the world's great innovators when it comes to supporting the building of high quality houses, both in Singapore and abroad. This is due to a mixture of different qualities that is displays in these projects, from the choosing of great locations, to the intelligent pricing, to the perfectly judged sales dates and launches and the excellent marketing campaigns.

CK Tang

Singapore's most prominent retail organisation, CK Tang's department stores and merchandising can be seen all over the island. These elements are far from the only arms in its operation, however, as it is also distinguished in the catering, café, restaurant, fashion retail property fields.

Boustead Singapore

Boustead is an investment holding business, one of the most trusted and long established of its kind. Its operations have been credited with spurring on much of the economic growth that has recently taken place in Singapore, thanks to Boustead's unique infrastructure.

British American Tobacco

With over 180 different markets across the globe, BAT is the second biggest cigarette manufacturer in the world. The secret of its success is its massive network of farmers – it works alongside thousands in countries all over the world to ensure it gets the largest and best tobacco yield.

Jardine Cycle and Carriage

Like many states in South East Asia, the automotive industry is a big part of the Singaporean economy and Jardine is at the centre of this. It works for a number of the biggest car brands in the world, including Mitsubishi, Kia, Mercedes and Citroen, providing numerous services including manufacturing, assembly, retail, distribution, mining and heavy equipment.

Auric Pacific Group

Once again, we add another investment holding company to the list, which shows you just how profitable and popular this business is in Singapore. Auric is known for being involved in wholesale distribution, equipment for the health industry, wine and food and property investment. Auric is a well-known brand throughout Asian business.

Captialand Commercial

A real estate company, Capitaland is also a major player in hospitality and financial services. Amongst its huge catalogue are offices, homes, houses, malls and more. It is by no means limited to Singapore either, with properties in 20 other nations.

City Developments

Known locally as CDL (City Developments Limited), it's the granddaddy of all property companies in Singapore. Since the early 60s, CDL has been lading its industry, developing hotels, apartment blocks, clubs and much more all over the island.

Up and coming markets

Up and coming markets

If you are planning on investing in the booming Singaporean economy, it is worth paying attention to the trends and growth areas there. The freeness, openness and pro-business nature of the Singaporean economy mean that there are always new sectors on the rise and keeping abreast of all of them can be tricky. That's why we created this handy guide to the main areas to watch out for in the coming years. Getting in on the ground floor with these industries could be key to maximising your investment in Singapore.


Though, traditionally, gambling was against the law in the Singapore, two major casinos have recently popped up on the island – the Marina Bay Sands and the Resorts World Sentosa. Since they opened their doors in 2010, these two hotspots have brought an estimated $30 billion to the local economy and put even more juice into the always booming tourist trade. The job market has been a big winner too, with around 30,000 jobs created either directly or indirectly by the casinos. Singapore Pools is a not-for-profit organisation, set up to counter illegal gambling activities in Singapore by providing a legal and safe environment for those who wish to bet. 70% of Singapore Pools' revenue goes to prize payouts while 27% goes to taxes and surpluses which are channelled to good causes. Operating expense is kept low at 3%. Though there are still careful regulations in place to stop the seedier elements of gambling from spoiling the tranquillity and peacefulness of the island, gaming and gambling is likely to becoming a more and more prominent part of the economy in years to come.


Singapore is the proud home of Asia's best healthcare system, which makes it one of the most reliable and high quality healthcare system's worldwide. The proof of this is in the rapid growth of medical tourism in the last decade, with about 1 million people touching down in Singapore each year specifically to access its hospitals and doctors. The government wishes to keep increasing this number too, so one could do a lot worse than invest in Singaporean medicine.


Like its medical system, Singapore's education system is one of the world's best and, thus, it attracts students from across the world to its institutions every year. The island has a long standing commitment to excellence in this field and standards are impeccably high. As most courses are thought through English, it gives Singapore a very wide catchment for potential students. This, along with the safety and standard of living offered in Singapore, makes it a very appealing prospect for young people looking for the best of the best from their third level schooling.

Media and communications

Over the last five years or so, Singapore has emerged as one of the main media cities in Asia. This is the result of a concerted effort from its government to boost its relationships with foreign media businesses, with new channels and home-grown movie projects. Video games are another hugely important part of Singapore's media sector and are expected to keep growing in the next few years. Global media brands such as Disney, BBC, ESPN and Discovery all have offices in Singapore.