Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Commercial for Singapore

I am still a little jet-lagged after a two-week stint in Singapore teaching an intensive executive class in equity investment management. This was part of the M.S. in Finance program run by the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College. The students were all business executives. Some were working for large international companies, including Credit Suisse and Barclays. Others were working with local companies. All of them were experienced, smart, hard-working, and motivated.

This was my first visit to Singapore and I was extremely favorably impressed, so please excuse the somewhat promotional nature of this post. I had heard a lot about this small pro-business city-state before going, but nothing beats seeing it with your own eyes. Singapore is very modern, clean, and safe. There is very little crime and you can walk where ever you want without worrying about your safety. Because the country is near the equator, you should be prepared to sweat if you plan to do a lot of walking. Unlike in most American cities, I spotted no litter or graffiti. Of course, the authorities are famous for cracking down hard on violators, but it simply is not in the nature of the population to deface property or throw trash into the streets. People seem to be extremely conscious of how their actions affect others.

I found that most prices were quite similar to those in the U.S., but a few things were clearly much more expensive. For example, a small (or should I say tall) plain cup of coffee from Starbucks costs more than $3.00 U.S. And don't even think about buying a car. A small Toyota would set you back about $80,000 U.S. This is the government's way of controlling traffic. Nonetheless, there were still plenty of nice cars on the streets. However, a car isn't even necessary since public transportation is readily available and taxis are reasonably priced.

Of course, Singapore's biggest draw is its pro-business climate, which includes low taxes. I met with Will Adamopoulos, who heads the Forbes office in Singapore. Will and his family have been living in Singapore for many years. He stressed the rising number of billionaires in Asia. I also met with Mykolas Rambus, CEO of Wealth-X, a company he founded in New York City in 2009. Wealth-X now has eight offices around the world. Mykolas moved his family to Singapore about six months ago. Other well-known residents include Eduardo Saverin, co-founder of Facebook, and billionaire investor Jim Rogers.

Singapore often shows up at the top of the world rankings of best places to conduct business. The International Finance Corporation and the World Bank rank Singapore #1 in their Doing Business 2012 report. Anyone interested in getting started can refer to the website, Guide Me Singapore.

Unfortunately, I missed the famous Singapore Airshow. It got underway the day after I left to return home. I probably would not have been able to get a ticket anyway. They sold out quickly. Fortunately, the Airshow was extremely profitable for Boeing, which scored a $22.4 billion contract with Indonesia's Lion Air for 230 new jet planes. This deal certainly highlights the growing importance of Asia in the global economy. And with the rest of the world in an economic slump, American companies that want to grow must increasingly turn their focus to Asia.