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Chairman to Chairman Conversation

19 September 2018, Wednesday

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More than 30 board chairmen representing 40 of the largest SGX-listed companies joined the Diversity Action Committee (DAC) for a breakfast conversation with

  • Peter T. Grauer (Chairman, Bloomberg)
  • Peter Seah (Chairman, DBS Group and Singapore Airlines)
  • S.S. Teo (Executive Chairman and Managing Director, Pacific International Lines)
  • Janet Ang (Vice President, Industry Solutions and Smarter Cities, IBM Asia Pacific)

Sponsored by DBS, the event discussed board resilience and diversity, and how companies can navigate disruptive changes in technology, markets and supply chains.


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  • Peter T. Grauer, Chairman, Bloomberg LP

KEY TAKEAWAYS : Dialogue with Peter T. Grauer, Chairman, Bloomberg LP

  • Conversation led by Janet Ang, Vice President, Industry Solutions and Smarter Cities, IBM Asia Pacific
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On disruptive changes in technology, markets and supply chains

  • Operate under an atmosphere of constructive paranoia.
  • Bring a technology mindset into what we do. Retrain staff and providing them with the background to understand programming.
  • Tone for all critical aspects such as innovation, governance, board diversity has to be set at the top of the organization.
    “I think, particularly at the board level, be sure that the tone is set at the top of the organization about the importance of protecting our client information and grilling that down the company and be sure you have checks and balances built into the entire structure, which we do, particularly with our engineering folks. I think it’s our responsibility if we don’t fulfil it, it’s going to be fulfilled for us (by government regulatory).”

On board diversity and resilience

  • It is a cop out to say there are not enough board-ready women. It just means we are not working hard enough to find the right candidates.
  • Owners of companies should stand up and demand higher performance with regard to diversity in the boardroom as part of their evaluation of their ownership of companies.
  • One of the things we need to do as board leaders is take a risk a little earlier in someone’s career and give them the opportunity to sit on a board.
  • It’s almost unfair to just have one female director. His experience was that the first female director’s outspokenness was dramatically bolstered when she had more female colleagues at her side.
  • It’s not just about having one underrepresented colleague on the board. It’s really about building up that slate. The women directors they really got their voice when one became two, and even more forcefully when two became three.
  • It is the responsibility of the chairman to charge the Nominations and Governance Committee, and hold them accountable for the whole initiative around diversity and inclusion at the board level. It goes beyond the board – it has to be driven up and down the organisation for the best long-term results.

How to get more women into senior management

  • In succession planning exercise for the top 125 jobs in Bloomberg, the chairman does not accept plans unless there are minority underrepresented groups as part of each one of the succession plans for each of the 125 positions.
  • Acknowledged that the greatest difficulty is not in hiring people from underrepresented groups but in retaining them. One of the ways Bloomberg is minimizing the risk of attrition is by teaching managers to be more flexible and applying common sense in the relationships that they have, particularly with underrepresented groups in their teams.


  • Peter Seah, Chairman, DBS Group and Singapore Airlines
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On disruptive changes in technology, markets and supply chains

  • Banking is probably at the crossroads, where technology and fintech have changed the banking business quite drastically.
  • It is not just about producing apps. It is how you use technology to improve your risk management, improve delivery of products, services and knowledge to customers. How do you create a workforce within the bank that is really for the future.
  • Boards need to consider how to prepare leadership that they need in 10 to 20 years’ time, that will lead a millennial operation within the organization.
  • Boards still retain the key role of ensuring the long term vision of the company but the historical approach where a board has the role of a policeman should be long gone. Today’s board needs to not just supervise, but be a very important partner to management. If you’re going to drive extensive organizational change, it has got to start from the board.

On board diversity and resilence

  • Important to find board members that can work well together and have the ability to debate, argue and share common interests. Board members must be as passionate and committed to the company, as the management. But shared passion and commitment does not mean they have to agree. But ultimately, the board has to approve the direction.
  • Seek out different skills, based on the composition of the board and the future of the industry. DBS appointed a Korean board director with experience in banking and technology.
  • “I personally don’t believe in trophy names. Members become part of the board to contribute so we only seek out people whom we think can contribute.”
  • Board has to provide oversight over talent. The talent pool in the organization determines the success or failure of an organization. The board spends a lot of time looking at talent and succession-planning.


  • S.S. Teo, Executive Chairman and Managing Director, Pacific International Lines (PIL)
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On disruptive changes in technology, markets and supply chains

  • Boards have to be mindful of the latest technology and the change in business.
  • Technology is at the verge of changing the way we do things in a tremendous way. Block chain is one of these technologies.
  • Board sets the future direction of the company.

On board diversity and resilence

  • PIL is looking to expand to a different geographical spread and getting the board to buy-in to technology and breaking the tradition of how business is done. Bringing in board directors from outside the circle, from different disciplines, has helped. Diversity is important, especially in different disciplines and different geographical spread, for PIL.
  • Board members must be of the same track. We can diverge a bit, but the broad direction has to be the same. Board members have to share your vision and your aspiration and also they must take pride in what the company can achieve.
  • Bringing in the right person with the right perspective to the board helps both the owner and the management team.