David Kelly (Marketing and Public Relations, 2007), is the Executive Director of the British Chamber of Commerce in Singapore. Since Britain signed a Free Trade Agreement with Singapore, he and his team have supported over 90 companies who have been looking to establish a regional hub for their operations in South East Asia. We caught up with David to find out more about his role in supporting British business in Singapore, the opportunities in Singapore for British Companies, and his advice on building and developing your career.
The first thing we wanted to know was – what is the British Chamber of Commerce in Singapore, and what does it do?
“The British Chamber of Commerce Singapore does two things broadly, says David. “It is the representative voice for the British business eco-system in Singapore, sharing knowledge, connecting people and helping companies to do more business. Secondly, we support export-ready British SME’s who are looking to sell to, or set up in, Singapore. Singapore tends to be a regional hub for South East Asia, with many companies setting up their regional hubs in Singapore and then expanding across ASEAN. The UK and Singapore are also working on a Digital Economy Agreement, which is looking to further boost digital trade between both countries so the Chamber plays an important supporting role in representing business views.”
And what does an average day of work look like for David?
“It’s very varied! It can switch between a meeting with the British High Commissioner to Singapore and the Department for International Trade to look at how we can support businesses, to representing UK companies here in market to the Singapore Government, to hosting events (virtually at the moment!), launching products, talking to companies in the UK about Singapore as a market, to running the operational aspects of the Chamber (not forgetting that we are a small business too with a P&L!). I also co-Chair a network of the British Chambers in South East Asia called BiSEA (Britain in South East Asia) where we focus on sharing best practice across our networks, support the COP26 agenda on sustainability, and support companies looking to trade across the region. It’s varied, challenging and feels non-stop!”
What opportunities are there for UK business in Singapore, and how can you support them to achieve their goals?
“Technology-led businesses and innovative companies have a natural home here, with a focus on EdTech, FinTech, HealthTech, PropTech, FoodTech and more. Singapore is a good digital playground, with a very well educated workforce – English being the first taught language. There are a lot of investment groups here which can make access to capital attainable. Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry has a very focussed set of plans under their “Industry Transformational Roadmaps” or ITMs, which layout where Singapore wants to go. Sustainability is a big agenda item and Singapore has a Green Plan set to drive green finance, education and innovation around key markets including the built environment, maritime and automotive.
“The level of support we can provide UK SME’s depends on the sector, company size, appetite locally for the product/service and the export-readiness of the company. Support ranges from simply sign-posting to experts in key sectors, to helping launch products into retail outlets, to market research before companies enter the market, to showcasing products and introducing companies to potential partners or buyers here. Our business eco-system enables us to have great knowledge of the market, with businesses willing to support others. We work closely with the Department for International Trade (DIT) here at post to complement the work that they do on their high-priority sectors.”
Your job and work sounds great – how did you get to where you are today?
“It wasn’t a position I ever thought I would hold – my CV merely led me to this position in a slightly convoluted journey. After University, I joined a small Financial Services company and was given a pretty free role to drive business growth using marketing and PR which I relished. I then moved into the wine and spirit sector, again in a marketing turnaround/growth role which then led me to help develop brands within the portfolio that we built in the UK, US and Hong Kong as the start of my international focus. From there, I joined a UK professional body in London as their Head of Marketing increasing the subscriber base from 11,000 to around 20,000 members – it was then that the company posted me to Singapore to grow the brand overseas and open up new branches across APAC. One of the first things I did when I relocated was join the British Chamber as a member to build my network and I sat on a few business committees. So one might say it was luck that my CV read “marketing turnaround, financial services, F&B, regional growth across Singapore and APAC, membership/institutional turnaround and leadership, and, managing stakeholders and a governance heavy organisation” – the relevance of my experience fitted well.”
How did your time at Hull support your career journey?
“I was lucky to have some amazing tutors who were very generous with their time. I always wanted to do more than simply get my degree, and I was offered an opportunity within the Hull University Business School to set up a business – it was either a theoretical business to obtain credits for the course, or, having proved a business case, accessed a small pocket of funding to set up the business and run it. I set up a clothing business called Obviously Ltd with a course friend of mine – it made a small amount of money, nothing to pop the champagne corks, but the experience and opportunity to put theory into practice was a really important early first step. It also led to us opening the North East Business Week alongside Rachel Elnaugh from Dragon’s Den at the (then) KC Stadium. Two people who particularly influenced my journey (and who I’m so grateful for) were Adrian Allen who was the Innovation Manager at the University, and Robert Coates who was a lecturer and mentor in the Business School.”
David’s Top Tips for Success
1) always put your heart and soul into a role – the more you do, the more you learn and the faster you grow. Learn from mistakes, be human, move on.
2) Never choose a job based solely on where it is located – I don’t just mean overseas, but look at the opportunity and whether you would enjoy the role – don’t let commuting, moving or relocating overseas be a blocker.
3) People are you most important asset – work with people collaboratively and try and build your EQ skills.
4) Don’t worry if you feel out of your comfort zone – everybody has imposter syndrome!
5) Get yourself a mentor – ask senior leaders if they are willing to help you, and be structured in the advice you need from them. You never know, you may be helping them to learn new perspectives too!
6), always remember that you’re not climbing a mountain, you’re traversing a mountain range. There will be ups and downs, but always take pause for a breath and admire the view to recognise where you have come from, but also to help de-clutter and focus where you are going within your role.”