So you're CEO

By Iqbal Abdullah in

On my flight on Singapore Airlines from Changi to KLIA I read an interesting interview of Tan Suee Chieh in The Straits Times Opinion section (Fri Oct 19 2012 edition).

In that interview Tan basically talks about going "from well to good", and how this is a departure from how he usually did things before going on board as head of Singapore's NTUC.

I find this excerpt of the interview particularly interesting:

"I worked in commercial companies for 25 years. My job as CEO of a listed company has always been to maximise profits. And my obligation is to give as little as possible to the customer, subject to market share and profit considerations. But my job at NTUC Income is to give as much as possible to the policyholders as a group. It's two different mindsets."

Of course, as an outifit out to make a profit everything is subject to profit considerations. But I feel that being CEO or the leader even for an unlisted, 3 person family business, with obligations to give as little as possible to the customer while in the same stride talking about maximising profits is misguided at best.

Is this how our Asian CEOs on this part of the world generally think what their mandate is all about?

In my role as a leader, in a nutshell my work boils down to:

  • Give good returns to shareholders by maximizing profits, as they are the ones taking the risk to put up the money for the business in the first place.
  • Stand in the customer's shoes and give them as much as possible making them happy, which will get you more money to do point 1 above. You are where you are because your customers are.
  • Empower your employees and then stand out of their way so that they can please your customer which will lead to point 2 above and consequently to point 1.

It should not be (and it never is) a zero sum game. Maximising profits does not mean giving as little as possible to your customer.