And the important thing is—because an MOU is just a sheet of paper of course—is that the president of SMU at that time Ron Frank, agreed to back the MOU with some resources, small, in the context of, of course what Singapore is spending on some of our new universities now, but not insignificant. And through the allocation of that budget, that we said would last for—I forget, an initial three or four years—we could put together a consulting team from CMU that took a multi-year interest in the start up of the school. That turned out to be really helpful. We did not transplant anything from CMU. So it’s not that there was this thing at CMU, there was this programme at CMU and we would bring it over here, and the resources would be a payment for that. It was not that at all. It was through these resources a set of CMU faculty became engaged in a way as a kitchen cabinet, if you will, a set of advisors who would help think through [the design of the school] and be a sounding board, and if we have these [prospective] faculty, could you also evaluate them, you know, faculty candidates. So the whole thing was more a collaboration, than any aspect of, “We know something and we’re going to transplant it to you.” And they were willing to take the attitude of, ”We’ll help you grow from scratch and plan with you.” And that, that’s how it happened.
As you know under the SMU system, all students are supposed to do ten weeks of internship and that's very important for, it's important I think for all students but it's particularly important for law students because it enables them to see what actually happens in real life. The internship fair, we had twenty-six firms of lawyers, including the government legal service and the Attorney General's office who came and had stands and talked to people, it would be second-year students who'll be the main group. You can't do internships in the first summer or at least they don't count. So most of the internships were done either between the second and third year or between the third and fourth year.
And this is an opportunity for students to make contacts. So far this has been very successful, I mean that the people have got internships that, the internships were undoubtedly one of the major factors in determining whether you get a training contract and if you, under the Singapore system, after you have a law degree, you have to pass through two more stages before you become a lawyer. You have to, there's another exam, which is not done by the universities, there's a course for that which will take six months. Then you have to do six-months training contract. So you can't get to be a lawyer if you can't find somebody who'll give you a training contract. Experience shows that successful internships are the best way to get training contracts. And so far the first cohort seems to have done very well in getting training contracts. A lot will depend on how well the first cohort get on when they're actually doing the training contract and when they actually get jobs. If they make people feel that SMU law graduates are okay, this will be a big forward step, yes.
Well the India Desk started because when we started thinking about SMU global positioning, Asia positioning, we felt we needed to have some insights into Asia so Arnoud took the China Desk and I took the India Desk. We made the mistake of not simultaneously starting the ASEAN Desk which we are now starting. So the idea was can we reach into the Indian corporates, the Indian academic institutions, and what can we learn from them and how can we contribute in that part of the world so we can then expect them to contribute to our initiatives. Examples of things that we did, we did the first crowdsourcing of case writing in India. We held a case writing workshop in Mumbai, and in collaboration with Tatas, and we invited 22 Tata managers and there were five faculty, six including me. And we took four case writers with us. And out of that one, two and a half day engagement, we wrote 6 cases on Tatas. So that reinforced the already strong bond that existed between SMU and Tatas. They were already taking our interns and so on and so forth so it was easier to sell them the case writing initiative. We partnered with the IITs, Indian Initiative of Technology in Kanpur which is where I graduated from. We already had an MOU in place with IIT Madras. We explored the relationships with Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore and Ahmedabad; now Calcutta is talking to us, IM Lucknow, the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade in Delhi. The Indian collaborations are a little bit tougher, particularly with the top institutions because just as the Singapore government looks at SMU as an investment they have made, particularly for the undergraduate program, if I take the Indian Institute of Technology they look at the government's investment in IIT. And so it's harder to do undergraduate level collaborations, you know particularly with these institutions. It is getting easier to do postgraduate collaborations. We are also exploring things for example with Bombay Stock exchange, to see if we can use them as a point to connect with the industry. We are also talking not just with Tatas, we are talking with the Birla's and so on and so forth. We worked with CII, which is Confederation of Indian Industries. It's sort of a giant India wide chamber of commerce, if you want to think of it that way. And we use them to do programs, for example, in innovation. We are aligning, by the way, with our areas of excellence. So we did a program on Innovation Strategy in Mumbai, in collaboration with CII. And I was there. Some couple more faculty members were there. We beamed in Arnoud and one of our collaborators in the West, Peter Williamson. We brought them in through the satellite and CII helped us get senior level people from Ericsson India and so on and so forth. So it was a very good blend of academic and corporate thinking.
When we decided to work with Wharton, as you know Wharton has very strong research standing, so that becomes a good opportunity, plus we were only hiring PhD from mostly from Ivy League schools and top schools to attract these people. You don’t have good research, they won’t come. So we need to work on having professors [and] researchers who want to come to do research here.
Yes, we got to create an environment, so we have the Wharton-SMU, Wharton Research Centre. That was the first centre that we started. So we need to give them the environment to work, you see. No point talk, talk, talk, talk, they come here, they can’t do anything. So we fund them, fund them, we give them a critical mass so that they can work together, plus trying to link with other universities and people. So the research environment has been very good. In a short ten years, we have done very well.
Totally, I think that's when after we've gone the route of having university partners, we start to get a lot of associations calling us. I think that's where we start to think about professional education, because we actually have government agencies coming to us and said, Are you able to co-brand with us, like SPRING-SMU? So we said, What do you have in mind? They say SPRING is a government agency and we have to train many small-medium enterprises, because those are our customers and we are happy to fund them on subsidised program to learn about management skills. But these are entrepreneurs, they are owners and to entice them to come back to school, they don't want exams. But they cannot learn about one week of management, taking a whole week off their work because they are running a business. So can you customise for us two-days or three-day program in a month but stretch it over a period of six months? So, in total, maybe an eighteen-day program and the Government will subsidise. SPRING says, we will co-fund for all those companies that meet our criteria and it could be 50-50, but we want our name there. So we want SPRING to be there, we want SMU name to be there, and we will co-fund you from back-end. The client when they complete the program will get a reimbursement of fifty percent of the cost.
That's the beautiful thing about Singapore government. They've gone beyond funding projects; they've gone to funding talent. So we said, Great, it's a win-win proposition. If the Government is willing to invest, we are willing to go one step more. Then we turned to the Government again and we said, Look, we would love to do this program, we love having you, but many of these SMEs [small and medium enterprises] come in to the class would say, eighteen days, what's so special about this three-day, three-day program? And SPRING is very kind, they say, Yes, I agree with you, what is so special? I said, I want to write a local case for each of the three days. I do not want to just deliver a program. I want to create IP [intellectual property]. I want us to own the IP. So SPRING say, How much would you need? I said, For every case, we need X dollars and we will co-own the IP. So, SPRING, you could use the case, but SMU will own the IP, we could use the case. And we'll use this case in this classroom, but we may use the case in our other classrooms, but we'll give credit where credit is due.
So, each of the six modules come with one local case. So, instead of talking about Starbucks, we wrote about Ya Kun. We wrote about Ya Kun as a business, Ya Kun as a franchise, we had Adrin Loi [Adrin Loi Boon Sim], the owner, the founder of Ya Kun on camera like this, being interviewed. We have a case study, we have a case teaching note. And the faculty who was teaching that module on strategy, will invite Adrin Loi into the classroom if he could make it after lunch for a lunch-time talk. And if he can't make it, what happens is we play the tape of him speaking to the audience. And it's amazing, Pat, because not only does Adrin come in for close to about three to four runs, he brought in his kaya jam and give it to all the attendees because he is so proud of the Ya Kun label.
That's the beauty of executive education. We don't only have relationships with each of those modules, with each of the case writer and the subject, but we have also touched the lives of growing companies, so it did not need a brand name partner anymore. SMU is now known to be very pragmatic, very applied, able to even get leaders of companies to come into the classroom.
When we launched this SPRING-SMU program, we launched it at the SPRING session for SMEs, and the first person sitting on the panel with me was Charles Wong of Charles & Keith. And I turned to Charles because I need to market my program; I turned to Charles, Charles, have you been waiting for a program like this? Charles says, Not only have I've been waiting for a program like this, I will sign on immediately. And he took a cheque and he wrote the cheque in front of an audience of two hundred. And he says, I've wanted to go back to school because I never finished my degree, I never had a degree. I am from Presbyterian Boy's school. I started [working] when I came out from the army, working for my mother in a shoe store in Ang Mo Kio. I've never gone back to school. So, I built a business this size today, but I never had a proper schooling. So, I couldn't wait for a day when I could come back for this kind of SME leaders' program.
Of course, it was great endorsement, Pat. Immediately after the info session, we literally had lots of people coming up and telling SPRING, Do we qualify? And even without subsidy, people signed up. They said, I want to be going back to school with the likes of Charles Wong. And so that first batch, the cohort class unfortunately, Charles could only attend the first module, his business was just growing exponentially so he sent his next in line to attend the subsequent module but my first batch of SME leaders include people like C K Low [Low Cheong Kee], of Home-Fix. And Home-Fix has been such a supporter ever since, because he came to my sixth module professional education program. So that taught us the value of having long-term programs, because executive education is too fleeting. It's just for one week and once you have a deeper program, you build a relationship. And every year after that, Home-Fix send their next C-suite equivalent. They are a small outfit, but they will try and send one every year because they understood what it is like to be in class.
And I have this lady who runs Pinnacle Motors, Larry and Valerie Tan. They will come to class as a couple and Valerie will go back. Next month, she'll come back again as a couple. And each module that she takes, she writes a reflection on her website. She became my branding ambassador. She tell's the whole world, that just taking a module every month with SMU has increased her confidence. She tells me that her staff has noticed the transformation. So these were the real, hungry learners. They never had an opportunity to do a degree, and some of them may have a degree but never had an MBA, and they may have a degree in engineering but never had a management perspective, and they become the accidental entrepreneur and leader. So, to come back to class and get that sound bite of learning with other like-minded people, they love it.
So from then, we have done partnerships with BCA [Building and Construction Authority], so we have BCA-SMU Construction and Development program. So we have that. So we've started doing by sectors and that caused me to realise that we need to have specialisation. And so we also went into healthcare space and finance and banking space. So we are starting to grow our verticals, but from a management perspective, and speak the language of the SMEs' the healthcare, the finance and banking, the building and construction.
The Wharton School has a very large undergraduate programme and an MBA programme and a doctoral programme and we’re part of a large university. So when visiting us obviously, they became more aware of what we do and that led to an invitation to formally collaborate on the establishment of an undergraduate business school. And in January of 1998, an agreement was signed and I was present for this so two people came over to sign the agreement which was a Memorandum of Understanding that the Wharton School would assist in the formation of an undergraduate business school. So that was signed in Philadelphia and I was there.
I actually love the idea of creating new initiatives. So, you know, executive education was a large part of my portfolio, but as you talk with clients, as you work with government, you will start to hear some of the challenges. So, in the year 2006, I recall, IE Singapore which is International Enterprise Singapore, which is the globalization arm of the government. They help small-medium enterprises globalize. But there's also another part of IE that a lot of people don't realise and that is a program where they attract trading firms to locate their HQ, headquarters, in Singapore. And the reason they want to do this is very simple because Singapore's reason for existence is we are a trading port.
So in 2006, the Government started to find out that many of the trading companies were stretched for talent. They were getting their trader from Shell [Shell Trading], London. They were getting traders from Netherlands and it was very costly. And when there are more and more trading companies setting their headquarters here, they were doing an unhealthy task of pinching staff from each other.
So 2006, IE Singapore called in all three universities to a nice chit-chat session at their Bugis office. And they said, Hey people, can you help us build a pipeline of talent that will be job-ready to join the trading companies? And I could almost imagine that conversation up till today. NUS and NTU's, NTU's extension was invited, NUS's extension was invited and they invited me as executive education dean then, thinking that I only wear the same hat like the other two, looking at only professional training. Then I listened to the conversation a little bit and we actually had Olam [Olam International], Sunny Verghese, we actually had a Shell representative and I can't remember who else from another of the trading firms sit with us at the table. And all of them were thinking that everything is about professional training. It was just trying to maybe retrain someone who are in some other areas and transform him into a trader of grains, of energy, of metals.
And I listen to the conversation a little bit and I looked at IE, I said, if we were to come in with a proposal where we could reach out to the undergraduates and include in that some kind of a track that will make our kids job-ready, will you guys be interested? The immediate reaction from NUS and NTU was, There is no way we will get involved because we could never change or have a say in the curriculum of our university. Then I took away my executive education hat and I put on my associate dean of LKCSB hat. I said, in SMU, we actually have two years of broad-based education and we actually have a third year where we have a major. Maybe I could park the track under one of my majors, but I need support. I need to convince the students that if they were to go down this narrow pathway, there is a pot of gold at the end of the journey, because I no longer have the degree of freedom to move to another course. I am now going to something very much concentrated with a specialisation so you have to entice the students for me. When NUS and NTU say game over, they will not follow up because they have no way that they could incorporate any professional type or non-degree type training into a curriculum.
So IE thought that I was the most amenable and they formed a focus group of trading partners for me to have a conversation. That was a wonderful start that I am so proud that they've gone this direction. Those early partners stayed with us. I gave them a proposal where I told them, If you want our kids to go down this specialisation, put your money where your mouth is. I want 30,000 from each of them a year for a commitment of three years. So, one year, I cannot do anything, so I need that commitment of three years and I will design the concentration under finance major because all our students, seventy percent of LKCSB students opt for finance major, so I need a pool of good talent. Not only that, when I asked all the trading companies, they told me that all their traders are very good with numbers they are numerate, they are quick on their feet and they make very strong decisions. So, we actually on that very first meeting had a commitment of twelve trading partners. Today we've built up to twenty-three. We have doubled our trading partners and we wanted them from a whole diverse ecosystem. So we had bankers, because to do trading, you need to know trade finance, so we want banking because our kids love to join banks. So we have ABN AMRO [ABN AMRO Bank], we have Rabobank [Rabobank Group]. Those are all the Dutch banks and they were the ones who know about trading because the first traders to Asia is from the Dutch East Indies Company.
So we were like amazed that we have the Olam, the Noble [Noble Group Limited], the rubber, we have Lee Rubber [Lee Rubber Group] coming in, we have the Shell, we have the BP, and so on and so forth. We have just celebrated the sixth year of our trading partnership pact. These six years means that they have all renew twice. They are going into my third renewal now. I build for sustainability so those early partners continue to invest in our talent and IE has now given me funding for ITI [International Trading Institute]. They also invest in our research capabilities. So SMU is the only university in the whole of Asia that has a concentration in commodities trading.
You have to hear from the market where is the need, where are the future jobs? Our broad-based education is great, but at the same time, you cannot be a generalist, you have to be a T-shaped individual. Even in business school, you should have concentration where you know an industry so well that even when you are a management associate coming out from the U [university], you will have that sector in your palm, because there are very few business degree or econs or IT graduates who will know a particular sector. So it's the same thing, it's like marrying technology with finance and banking.
We have just launched a maritime economics concentration because this model has worked so well. The MPA, the Maritime Port Authority approached me again and said, We have no talent joining the ship management, the ship building, the ship brokerage, the ship financing, the ship insurance sector. Can you help us grow a talent pipeline? I went to Economics Dean Bryce [Bryce Hool], and said, Bryce, will you work with me on this? Bryce says, I would love to because I want to make sure that our economics graduates have a niche that is different from all the other economics graduates coming out from all the other school. And we knew we will succeed because at the recent Maritime Week, when Minister Tharman [Tharman Shanmugaratnam] announced the maritime economics concentration, I've been approached by ten shipping firms and they said, We'll take one of your students and we'll give you a scholarship.�
So the game has begun and we loved this. And why is this important? Because our kids when they come out, we don't want them to get disillusioned, we want to have students coming to SMU, knowing that at the end of the program, they are job-ready and the customers are looking for them, and not them looking for the employers. But at the same time, we want our kids to be happy at work. We want them to have the fit, so not all of them may like trading. We actually have a pioneer group that came out and three of them are in risk management and they love it. They are in Shell and they are not in trading, but they are looking at middle office. They love looking at where the risks flows are and they monitor the risk and they do risk reports. So, we actually have a whole value chain in the trading concentration.
And so we took the Wharton curriculum and we also examined the curriculum in some top schools in the US and elsewhere and then we decided that we would adapt the Wharton model to suit the Singapore, the local environment. So that was the starting point. And basically what we wanted was to provide a broad-based education and that was something different at that time because in the other two universities, given the history of Singapore, both universities were very much adopting the British system. And British system of education is definitely not broad-based. You know, if you are in business, you study business and that’s it. So the idea of having a broad-based education and then you specialise was something that was quite new at that time. So we adapted best practices in other US universities but primarily still keeping to the basic Wharton model.
They had the Wharton Research Centre and so there were Wharton faculty coming through regularly. That hit a speed bump with SARS. There was a lot of citation of Wharton's the number one business school in the world and I said, Excuse me, if I look at the current, if you look at the Financial Times they rated Wharton number one and Kellogg at Northwestern [University] number six. If you look at the US, within the US ratings, it was just the opposite at that time, and I said it's too unstable and the methodology is not great. So what we should be claiming, which is unassailable, is Wharton is one of the premier business schools in the world. That is true; nobody would dispute that. It's not going to change next year; it's not going to change in the next twenty years. So Its intellectually more honest but it's also in your interest. Because otherwise everybody is running around quoting this, that, and the other thing. Don't get me started too much on the rating games stuff, there's a lot of incredible flaws in a lot of these metrics that go on.
Actually, that was a challenging time. Not only are we trying to brand our undergraduate, but undergraduate programs take three-and-a-half to four years, so you will not get to see the fruits of the labor until a longer time period. So part of executive education role was to quickly get buy-in from corporates, because when our kids graduate, they will need companies to want to accept them. But the companies have to have a sense of who we are. So executive education is actually a very strategic component because we want to get up-front and close to the corporates early. And they need to experience what it's like to have a piece of the learning experience in SMU, so that they themselves can appreciate that the final product that they are going to recruit must be good, because they themselves had the experience of having been to classes. So it was meant to be a very powerful buy-in from all the top companies.
Unfortunately, all the top companies have already been sending their executives to incumbents or to even bigger brand names, so we were like literally asking ourselves, why would they come to SMU? We don't even have our first batch of degree holders. The taxi drivers are still mixing us up with SIM [Singapore Institute of Management] because we were all along Bukit Timah Road. And we literally had to tell people, do you see that signage, do you see that lion-faced logo, could you make sure you turn in? And it's such a long walk in, into a beautiful, scenic, garden campus. So the only way that we could pitch is we need a big brand name as a partner.
So we were shameless, we leveraged on our Wharton partnership. We wanted to tell people, we must have sufficiently wonderful faculty for Wharton to be willing to lend their name to us on the open-enrollment programs. So, we did not use Wharton for many of the custom programs, partly because they are not physically here, and so they could not sit with me to speak to the client and do a lot of customisation, so I have to represent the face of SMU. But to the public out there, they need to know that SMU is in this game, that SMU is already an active player in executive education.
So, we are really grateful that Janice [Janice Bellace] was our president then and Janice opened the door for me to have conversations with my counterpart in executive education in Wharton. And we were very specific we did not want all the Wharton programs we wanted those programs where we have sufficiently high-level faculty where we could play a partnership role. We do not want to be the little sister, even though we are little sister. We want to say we are equally on equal standing, and if it's a six-day program, Wharton will do three days and we will do three days. And whatever certificate of attendance that comes out for the executives, it should have the two logos side by side. So we are very proud to be an equal player.
It allowed us to bring in, on a regular basis, Wharton faculty and it also allowed our faculty to work with Wharton faculty. So they come together, they proposed research ideas and they would work as collaborators. And so it is funding for Wharton faculty to come out to Singapore to work with our faculty and it is an incentive. And also part and parcel of this is to get them exposed to SMU so that the hope was that some of them will come back on a regular basis and, I think, the concept was useful. It also gives us that branding angle, you know in SMU there is this Wharton thing.
Besides getting government approval and government approval was crucial for a number of issues. One was affinity towards an American system. Nomenclature for academic staff, which you may think is not a big deal but it was a very big deal because we are moving towards the American system it was only logical that the American nomenclature was adopted. Accepting the four year program wasn’t an issue because as I said, after all the British system was a four year system with three years pass degree and an additional year honours. The city campus and getting Government to approve to give land was a big issue. Whether the Government will give land in this prime area was a big issue but we were quite confident that since Government was so bent on having a university that they would give the land and of course the funding that would come with it.
With Wharton’s consultancy, with Wharton’s involvement, we were quite confident that the university will get off to a very good head start. With or without NUS [and] NTU reducing their intake. After all we are going to start small as a boutique university and then develop it into a bigger university as we went along. With Wharton involvement I was definitely confident that we will get good students and I think that turned out to be the case.
At that time I signed the document, it was about that time. We had a meeting and we decided that in order for our Singapore business school to be the top, top, top top-notch, we want to go for the top-notch US university, business school and Wharton is the best. And then they sent me on a trip to Wharton, and we [talked about] collaboration with Wharton, I think that’s a godsend. Janice Bellace was quite happy, you know, and the president [Judith Rodin] of Wharton [should be U Penn] was quite happy, so there was collaboration, which is very good for us. And once we start marketing [that] we collaborate with Wharton, the whole world is different. So, that was a good collaboration and I’m very happy that Wharton has been very kind to us.
Oh we just, at the point I think, we were interested in expanding our international engagement and Singapore was interesting to us, partly because it was in South East Asia and secondly because it is English-speaking, it’s a huge plus. Also, one of our very prominent alumni John Huntsman Junior, the Huntsman family is quite prominent, but John Junior had been the US Ambassador to Singapore around 1990, 1991 and he had always maintained very good contacts with people. So he was one person who brought this and said, “You really should consider this”. He’s now the US; right now he’s the US Ambassador to China, John Junior. So we said, “Of course, we’ll explore.” So, that was one reason.
The second reason was we had wanted - when I say engagement, we did not want to run another campus somewhere but we did want a place where we could have faculty do research and learn much more about the economy and culture, about parts of Asia and so Singapore seemed a natural.
Our first BBM [Bachelor of Business Management] programme was actually structured quite closely to Wharton. It’s not a direct import but quite closely. We look at what they have done, more the philosophy, because we want the American-style education which include broad-based, that’s a word that’s used a lot when we first market SMU where students are exposed to a lot more things than being super specialised from a very early age which is quite the British system. Whether it’s fair to call it the British system or not, but at least the British system as manifest in Singapore. So we sign the five-year agreement with Wharton, the spice or rather the icing on it to get Wharton to agree, of course, is also a research MOU. They had to be fair. And out of that collaboration we learnt a lot from them as I’ve said. Personally I’ve gone to Wharton to visit them for a couple of days, talk to about eight or nine people in the area that I am involved with in SMU at that time. Each of us visited different people to talk about different things.
All right, a lot of what we did was influenced by what we saw as best practices in other universities and quite early on, about sometime in 1999, SMU had already entered into an MOU [memorandum of understanding] with Wharton [Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania]. And Professor Janice Bellace had visited SMU a couple of times already. So the fact that we had entered into an MOU with Wharton meant that we should at least adopt a lot of Wharton practices. So we studied the Wharton model very carefully and actually many of us made trips to visit Wharton. At least two teams went to visit Wharton. I was in the second team that also visited Wharton in about end of 1999, beginning of 2000. And we were at Wharton and we looked at the curriculum at Wharton. We also met with the faculty members at Wharton. For me, I met with a lot of the accounting faculty. Kai Chong [Tsui Kai Chong] met with the business faculty and then some of the team members also visited the IT department in Wharton, you know, their finance department, all the administrative departments to look at how things were run at Wharton.