Tag Archives: A*Star

Singapore, China: Excites, Adventures and More

Guest post by Xiaoyuan Su (TMMBA Class 2012)

As a native Chinese, this International Study Tour to Singapore and China is special to me, as Singapore is a nation with a majority of population as Chinese ethnically, and China is my homeland.

The trip was exciting, and I think it is different for each person. When I did a survey during the farewell dinner in Beijing, a majority of the non-vegetarians think the most exciting portion of the trip happened in Singapore. However, as I observed, ISTers spent more money in China, especially in the jade market and tea store. For Westerners, Singapore is more comfortable and China may be more interesting (Quote from Lisa). While some classmates especially like the Singapore guide Lim’s comments during her guidance for us, I am not a fan of Lim, who kept complaining that Chinese from mainland China are willing to take jobs at lower salaries etc.

The company visit to GE Water was great. As we had a case study of GE in our leading organization change course, we were well prepared to the culture of the company. At the same time, the director of GE Water gave us a high-profile presentation and Q&A. Singapore Airlines was fantastic, the onsite experience of emergency handling training field, the pilot room, and the first-class cabins were all exciting. I hope there were not too many of us got offended when the presenter of A*Star stated that only a few students there know UW as more go to MIT to pursue higher education. As I learned from a friend of mine who is working for A*Star, Singapore students have multiple sources of funding so that they can get admitted by elite universities without the need to get sponsored by scholarships there. It’s interesting to mention that three of the four presenters of our company visits in Singapore were from foreign countries and all of them apparently work and live there happily.

I might miss a lot of fun in Singapore during the free time on March 14. I gave a talk on recommender systems (which is my research topic) at Nanyang Technological University. I was 15 minutes late due to a series of episodes, and found a group of young researchers sitting in the room waiting for me, each having a representative paper of mine in his/her hand. I got many good questions during the talk, and I used the TMMBA professors’ (especially Bigley and Ali?) favorite answer to handle the questions: I will get back to this question soon. After the talk, the hosting professor asked me to attend a research meeting with his graduate students.

What’s the buzz in China? Is it shopping? I hope not. Telling the truth, I really don’t know what the true values of the jade works are, even if they are authentic, jasmine+gold, and whatever; and I don’t have a close estimate of the sales margin of the fancy teas. I bought 50-yuan rose tea from the market Jack (the popular Chinese guide) led us to and none for jade as I have many jade products at home already. So I hope the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Hotong tour are much more interesting to my classmates. Otherwise, eating out for Peking duck, drinking at night bars, massaging, exploring the street at night are also fun.

Wait. Did we visit any companies in Beijing ? Yes? at least Amazon. The supply chain management principles are applied well in the Amazon fulfillment center in China. The purchased products are efficiently dispatched to ordering customers there. We visited the office of US China Business Council, which made our trip to China appearing official. The TEDA visit happened in Tianjin, another big city in China. The port city appears dusty everywhere, which is a reflection of China: the factory of the world develops fast at the cost of environment. TEDA administrates a big economic and industry zone of the city of Tianjin as it hosts foreign companies, JVs, and incubates startups with attractive policies. We also visited two foreign company-controlled local logistic companies, one with a small conference room, one was presented by a less-than-fluent English speaker (where TMMBA turned to be PMBA in their greeting display in the lobby).

Almost an adventure in my homeland. I extended my stay in China to visit my parents and other extended family members in Suzhou, a neighbor city of Shanghai. I spent an afternoon and evening for our high school classmate reunion, a special reunion for me. During the dinner, when I tried to show off my recently acquired US green card to my classmates, I found the one in my wallet was something else (I took that by mistake due to a hectic pre-trip rush). The mistake forced me to stay two more days in China as I have to hold my own green card to get out of China and return to USA. I therefore had chance to spend more time with my parents, my brothers and their families, and my friends in my hometown. As I was lucky enough to get timely help from a Chinese lady who was returning Shanghai from Seattle and took the green card to me, I did not get stranded aboard because of my insanely careless mistake. However, I had one more problem: I got a cold during the two days beyond schedule.

TMMBA visit to A*Star in Singapore

2012 TMMBA International Study Tour guest blog by Ben Morales & Stephanie Casey

Similarities and differences to a company visit in the US

We would compare the A-star campus visit to a company visit in Silicon Valley.  Silicon Valley is home to many of the world’s largest technology corporations, and known for world-class engineering and product development.  A-star is similar to Silicon Valley in that it has a focus on research and development for biomedical sciences, physical sciences, and engineering and has established itself as the premiere research institute in Southeast Asia.  Dr. Seng was able to paint a broad landscape of how A-star fits into the global view of premiere institutes such as Carnegie Mellon, but also zero in on how it is influencing Southeast Asia and its role in Singapore.  This perspective was unique to Singapore and very different from a company visit in the US.

A*Star’s global mindset

In my observation, A-Star is key to the Singapore government’s strategy on how it will continue to grow its economic engine—via bio-tech and high level engineering activities.  That said, the mindset of A-Star is to recruit and partner with the best minds and companies around the world.  They recruit heavily from all over the world, and even though they lose some of Singapore’s brightest minds to Stanford and Harvard, Dr. Seng works diligently to bring those students back after their education.  Additionally, Dr. Seng pointed out that Singapore is within a six-hour flight of two-thirds of the world’s population.  This statistic was incredibly powerful as we realized China and India account for a majority of the world’s population, and that an organization like A-star can have an even greater advantage when they are geographically positioned so close to these burgeoning populations.

The company culture

Given its engineering and scientific focus, the A*Star culture appears to be an entrepreneurial one.  One in where there is a high level of collaboration, experimentation and risk taking.  That being said, there is a lot of pressure to produce.  A lot of money is flowing through the institution so it’s imperative that they launch or license products and file patents to sustain the organization.

Doing business in Asia

It appears that doing business in Asia is less complicated than I originally perceived.  The economic growth in the Asian market (at least in Singapore and China) appears to be fueled by big brands entering these markets without hesitation.  Initially these companies entered these markets through joint-venture licensing deals and evolved to wholly owned foreign entities (WOFE’s).

The growth potential and relative immature nature of the China markets has some companies (i.e. Godiva) making significant investment plans based on performance of like brands vs. the typical quantitative analysis usually performed in other mature markets.