Letter from Singapore: leadership and the talent challenge

Leadership and the talent challenge

Here in Singapore, we have been discussing the urgency and importance of building teams of talented and effective people.  

Its old news that attracting, developing and retaining talent is a top business priority in APAC, but the conversation is getting louder as the commercial context changes. Economic growth is slowing down right across the region and its creating an environment that many marketers here have little experience of or skill in. One senior marketer observed that for years their business was losing market share, but as the category was growing so fast, the overall performance of their brands remained, superficially, very strong. As the category slows, suddenly the focus is shifting to the need to gain share, but the technical and behavioural skills needed to do that aren’t there.

Across the region there is broadly a strong sense of optimism – there are strong symbols of hope and possibility before people’s eyes  - here in Singapore these range from the celebrations this year for SG50, the newly iconic and awe inspiring Marina Bay Sands complex, as well as infrastructure projects underway – everything from new MRT lines to desalination of the Bay. If we can turn seawater into drinking water, then surely we can solve any crisis set before us?

However the talent challenge is one that leaders are still struggling with here and there seems to be no obvious and certainly no quick answer.

One senior leader observed that we spend billions of dollars understanding and developing our brands but barely a fraction of that understanding and developing our people.

All are agreed that simply trying to pay more to win and hold on to talent is a zero sum game. The need now is to truly understand the motivations of bright new marketing & commercial talent and as leaders, create an environment and framework for that talent to thrive. Connecting a strong sense of personal purpose with the organisation’s purpose is one way to do this.

But where will the leaders come from? Organisations have arguably promoted junior talent too quickly either in a desire to keep hold of ambitious people, or simply because there was no-one else to do the job. But this has created a cadre of young leaders with little line management experience who are being placed into leadership positions with little support.

It seems we need to find new ways of building leadership skills that are rapid, deep and tailored to the needs of the region. The region hasn’t got the time or the patience to nurture talent over ten years, it needs it now.


Harriet de Swiet is Board Partner APAC at Brand Learning. Read more from Brand Learning in our Clubhouse and find out about our International Marketing Leaders Programme here.