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.