Developing Customised Programmes
I am so glad you used the word government. Because even in 2001, 2002, we recognised that corporates will take a longer time to get buy-in, but Singapore Government do spend a lot of money on talent development, and we want a piece of that action. The other thing is we know which government agency we want to go after. We wanted to go after the EDB [Economic Development Board]. And why the EDB? Because the EDB are the talent which comes from overseas, so many of their scholars have American education, understood the interactive approach, loved the case study approach and therefore they will give us support, that's one. Two, they are the ones who will be attracting a lot of MNCs [multinational corporations] to come into Singapore. So if they have a great learning experience with us, when they talk to the MNCs, they will be hearing about us, so that became a strategic positioning.
There's a FIREfly Program which is a very critical piece of executive education partnership. FIREfly is the name that the EDB give to their high potentials, their fast-track talent within the company, within EDB but not just EDB, the whole of Ministry of Trade and Industry which consists of the seven sisters. EDB is the eldest sister and then you have SPRING, you have IE [International Enterprise Singapore], and you have the Energy Markets Authority, and some of the other smaller agencies. But they are all under the Ministry of Trade and Industry. So with the EDB behind us, we know that we will get wonderful feedback if we do a great job. So it's high risk, but that's exec ed. You need to have that high-risk component and then you can reap higher returns.
We pitched for the FIREfly Program, but we knew that on our own brand, we will never get it because EDB buy brands. So, in that first three years, EDB did not give us their mandate, they gave it to INSEAD. So, from 2001 to 2003, we knew that it went to INSEAD and that, you know, INSEAD professors had access to those talent for a period of close to about eight days on an international business program. And CCL [Centre for Creative Leadership] was the other partner to the INSEAD program and CCL was doing the Centre for Creative Leadership. They were the ones doing the soft skills.
So, we didn't get the deal, but we didn't give up because 2000 to 2003, we were already building our Wharton partnership in one or two open-enrollment programs and we were rapidly recruiting faculty. So our faculty was being honed with a lot of the small-style interactive pedagogy. So we all knew we will have a pipeline of at least five to six great faculty that we could field.
In 2002, second half, EDB actually put up another RFP [request for proposals] saying that they have tried the INSEAD model and they would like to see who else is willing because there's a contract up for renewal. It's a three-year program so there will be a contract for renewal. This time round, we knew that we have to really have a brand name to partner with us. So we went to Wharton who has already got this relationship with us and we say, Can we use your name to come up with a design so that we could pitch for this deal? Janice said, That shouldn't be a problem, you know, please go ahead. And so we sit down with counterparts in Wharton and do up a great proposal and send that in. Unfortunately, someone knew about this, mentioned to INSEAD, who is also in the running to try and get the program, and INSEAD told Wharton that, Hey guys, you have a strategic partnership with us, so you should not be partnering with SMU to put in this proposal. So, Pat, it was such a downer because it literally, we were told that we cannot put the Wharton name in there. We have to pull out, take it back and we won't get the deal. And it was a wake-up call because I then realised that even in executive education, you could get blocked, you could have a partnership, but the partner would tell you that you are the second partner, a lower partner, and their hands are tied. They cannot partner with you because they have their own strategic partnership with another entity.
So, once again, a second disappointment, we didn't get the deal, but we never gave up. 2005, RFP came out again and EDB told us that please submit a proposal because they actually had two contracts with INSEAD and they were not satisfied with it. INSEAD professors did not want to customise to the challenges faced by Singapore. So you cannot teach EDB like the way you were teaching corporates. EDB officers have to realise why are they doing an international business program, because they need to understand business and think strategically about how to entice those businesses to Singapore. So they cannot just do a one-size-fit-all program. We have no recourse to go back to Wharton because we don't even know if we are allowed to. We went with Chicago.
So, that was the start of a great relationship. We don't have an exclusive relationship only with Wharton, so we could partner with Chicago, just as we could partner with Carnegie Mellon. So we went to Chicago Booth and we ask them, ìWould you like to submit a proposal with us? They worked very hard with us. Four days of training in SMU, four days in Chicago. We brand them as being the university in the city. We are already in the city, so EDB is very near us. They are at Raffles City, we are at Bras Basah, so it's a no-brainer. We brand our location, we brand the fact that our kids is already out in the market.
So in 2005, we won the contract in partnership with Chicago. And EDB officers started to know what it's like to have a program in SMU. We won the second contract another three years after that with Chicago. But three years after that, we bid for the program without the Chicago name and we got it. So, that was so satisfying because we went all the way up with our own brand name and we got the contract without having to leverage on another bigger brand. And I think that's the kind of journey, the satisfaction of building a brand, but it takes time and it takes very committed faculty and a very committed team. And that's how we do the customisation. So EDB was just one of the many. And then we have a very long relationship with IBM, so IBM is another very long-term client. They do about six runs a year in the early days. Up till today, we still have IBM as a client and IBM is now doing fifteen runs a year of one-week program with us.