From a child who dreamt of becoming a bus conductor, to undertaking senior management roles in a few private companies, and today, spearheading the growth of SMEs in Singapore, Teo Ser Luck, Minister of State for Manpower, shares with Entrepreneurs’ Digest how his experience in the private sector has helped him to understand and be of service to local SMEs and entrepreneurs
The transition from the private sector to politics was not without difficulty for Teo Ser Luck. Carrying with him over a decade of experience he gained from the private sector, he tells us humbly, that when he first entered politics, he too struggled for a period of time before getting accustomed to the new focus and directions of the government sector.
“Politics is entirely different from what I used to do. I had to quickly adjust and adapt,” says Mr Teo, 47, Minister of State for Manpower, who had spent a number of years taking up a variety of occupations in the private sector before joining politics in 2006.
Today, Mr Teo is a passionate and conscientious individual, who plays an instrumental role in the drive for enterprise growth and workforce advancement in Singapore. This diligence and determination stems from his experience in the private sector and is clearly visible through his active involvement in SME-related matters.
As he reminisces on his previous job experiences, Mr Teo is thankful for the invaluable lessons that have shaped him into the leader he is today.
However, politics was an area he never saw himself stepping into.
The Path to Politics
Since a young age, Mr Teo was a carefree and down-to-earth person. His father was a labourer while his mom worked as a seamstress.
As parents, they never placed any high expectations on Mr Teo. Instead, they taught him the value of simplicity and modesty.
As such, Mr Teo’s dreams were always straightforward.
“As a child, I wanted to be a bus conductor because they carried a layered pocket bag with a clipper that punch holes on tickets. I thought that was cool,” he recalls and adds that for a period of time, he aspired to be a football player but was “not good enough and there was no S-League then.”
After graduating from Nanyang Technological University, Mr Teo, had a simple goal – to get a job, support his parents and start a family of his own. He spent over 10 years in various industries including the supply chain, technology, and sports and fitness sectors, and even going abroad to China for instance to live and work.
Even then, he never once considered entering politics.
“Politics was never the center of what I did. I only think about it when it affected my business directly,” Mr Teo explains.
However, the arrival of his eldest child was the game changer.
A New Face in Politics
Having attained financial stability through the support and guidance received from his family, mentors and business partners, Mr Teo contemplated serving as a volunteer.
Then came the birth of his eldest child. It was at that moment when he felt a profound sense of responsibility entrusted upon him, not only towards the upbringing of his child as a father, but to make a difference to the community and enrich the lives of others.
“It was the birth of my first child that inspired me to take the leap of faith when I was asked if I wanted to stand for elections,” he says.
He has not looked back since. In 2006, Singapore’s politics saw a new face.
Since then, he has taken up roles as the Minister of State for Trade and Industry, before being assigned as the Minister of State for Manpower. He is also concurrently the mayor of the North East District.
Growing Our Enterprises
Having worked for many years in the private sector, Mr Teo says it is not difficult for him to relate to the struggles business owners are currently facing.
However, in the midst of economic restructuring, Mr Teo says it is necessary for SMEs to look at the current trends of their industry and have a sense of where it is going, to see how they can restructure their business models and fill in the gaps.
“There is an urgent need for more innovation, adaption and internationalisation. We will either make or break during these difficult times and we have to stay united and be as ready as ever,” he stresses.
The introduction of grants and schemes such as the Capability Development Grant, SME Talent Programme, Lean Enterprise Development Programme and Mentorship for Accelerating Productivity Programme ultimately seeks to help SMEs cope with the lean manpower situation and push these enterprises through their journey towards higher productivity. To help SMEs, Mr Teo also set up the SME Centres across different areas to provide business advice.
“Companies need to know that if they need help, there are platforms readily available,” Mr Teo says.
Today, Mr Teo is actively involved in various business and entrepreneurial associated matters, especially in areas of manpower and restructuring. He remains humble and is grateful for the support he receives from business frontrunners and organisations.
“I would never be able to succeed without the help from business leaders and trade associations like ASME,” Mr Teo says.
“There is a lot of potential for growth as we put our resources into sectors that matter but we need to ride through the difficult periods to come out stronger. With the government and business sectors working together, I am confident we can weather the storm,” he adds.