Working in SME

Philip is in career transition and looking for a suitable opening. He talked to Joseph, his close friend for a help. Thomas suggested why not try in SME (Small and Medium Enterprises). Philip has apprehensions about SME and thinks that there is not much scope in SME for professionals like him. Philip is a qualified engineer and holds Masters in Business Administration.

Majority of professionals have overlooked the scope of working with SME. In Singapore, SME contribute nearly 90 percent of all businesses. It is a large force to recon with. Today, SME are engaged in manufacturing, engineering & construction, logistic & transportation, trading, and services – almost every sector of the business world. Sole Proprietary, Partnership, Private Limited companies are different forms of SME.

There are few reasons for not choosing SME as a workplace. The major one is heavily centralized approvals and decision-making. It is said that if ‘Towkay’ (a hokkien term for the boss/businessman) not in the office, nothing can move. More often the term is used for the entrepreneurs who worked their way up to own the SME. A Towkay is upright and have courage to forge ahead despite difficulties.

The scene is changing. SME want to build competitive edge; many of them want to venture overseas. Their children have finished education and returned from abroad to join the business. They want to do the business differently. However, they lack management resources.

This is a great opportunity for professionals to enter the SME. They can bring rich experience from previous organizations and introduce management techniques in SME. One weakness found is the lack of proper documentation. So when someone leaves, the process and working knowledge is also gone. And, the worst is that newcomer starts from scratch. As a result the staff are confused more.

Simple structure; however, less clarity on reporting lines in SME organizations. Multi-tasking is in practice, and Seniority weighs more than anything else.

Every penny counts – the Towkay is the owner, unlike large organizations where the boss is also a shareholder. Most important is the Control on cash and materials. Rule of thumb for investment decision, measure progress or success

Apart from job scope in SME, other advantages include learning from the boss. Learn from Towkay – To read people – what’s in other person’s mind, what she/he wants, Negotiation skills – get what you want, and Decision making with business acumen

The BOSS – the Towkay – knows you personally. She/he often talks to you. This is rare or not possible in larger companies. You rarely can see the head of the company (except at the annual day function).

What are the challenges of working in SME?

SME are important value-adds to nation-building. Therefore, there are joint initiatives from SPRING, IE, and WSQ for encouraging SME to forge ahead.

• Successful SME are moving to brand-driven for improving the bottom line results.
• Family managed SME hesitate to hand over to professionals due to fear of losing confidentiality.
• SME find it difficult to recruit and/or retain talents.
• Communication is the lifeline of any business; yet, there is lack of internal communication. Many owners fail to communicate the strategy and plans to their key mangers, again for the fear of losing confidentiality. As a result, many a times one hears the boss saying that she/he has to repeat instructions for getting what they want.
• Protecting Intellectual Properties (IP) where SME invest time and money to build – particularly for those who aspire to expand overseas.
• Playing middle-man role did not pay. – Deal direct with the end-users.
• Government agencies are encouraged for accepting the combined bid from several SME – GeBIZ Mall, an online platform to participate in the public sectors’ small purchases.
• SME can approach the private organizations online on Global Sourcing Hub (SBF).
• One-on-one consulting with SPRING, to understand FTA (benefits like import duty free imports for your customers in other countries)

Few tips for professionals to succeed in SME

• Referrals weigh more in recruitment & selection.
• Trust and faithfulness are the main ingredients for long stay in SME.
• The key to success in SME is holding hands of the staff and preparing them for implementing the systems.
• Budgeting, Internal controls, and compliance are needs of the hour.
• Simplified manuals are of great help
• Honesty is the utmost in surviving.
• If you make mistake, admit and correct it. The boss is hands-on and knows every corner of the business.
• No formal orientation for newcomers.

Few examples of successful SME in Singapore include Richland Logistics, BreadTalk, Charles & Keith, Jean Yip, Polar Puffs & Cakes, Soup Spoon, and Atlas Sound & Vision.

Suresh Shah, Managing Director, Pathfinders Enterprise

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