Setting Up International Trading Institute
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.î
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.