Lee Hsien Yang – Making leeway in globalization

Singapore Telecommunications Ltd has turned the island state into one of the most wired countries in the world. The man behind this? CEO and president Lee Hsien Yang.

He asked to be called Hsien Yang last year after being appointed president and chief executive officer of the SingTel Group in May 1995.

Known to be a private person, his professional life – which began in the Singapore Armed Forces (where he rose to the rank of brigadier-general before joining SingTel) – has always been played out in public due to the prominence of his father.

Singapore Telecommunications Ltd (SingTel), until recently the government-backed telecom monopoly that has turned the island state into one of the most wired countries in the world, has produced an almost idyllic high-tech environment, with fiber going to nearly all apartment buildings, schools, public institutions and enterprises.

Hsien Yang has already announced a series of initiatives designed to capture a huge chunk of corporate customers' regional traffic. Earlier this year, for example, SingTel rolled out an Internet protocol (IP) virtual private network (VPN) service as part of a S$40 million (US$23.8 million) package of enhancements to its ConnectPlus portfolio of products. ConnectPlus includes international leased circuit services, frame relay, corporate voice and router management in 11 neighboring countries, with direct links to the United States and the United Kingdom.

The operator plans to double the size of its S$100 million (US$59.5 million) investment to date in corporate network infrastructure by the end of 2001, with the bulk going to IP facilities and bandwidth. Hsien Yang hopes the investment will yield early returns. Last year, frame relay and leased circuit services accounted for about 80% of SingTel's S$635 million (US$378 million) revenue from data services. By the end of next year, the company estimates that frame relay, leased circuits and IP will each account for one-third of data revenues.

"Being able to understand the needs of the customer will be the key to success in what will be an increasingly competitive industry."

The much publicized battle with Pacific Century CyberWorks for Cable & Wireless HKT, Hong Kong's dominant telecommunications company, was the first billion-dollar initiative by SingTel to expand into the region through mergers and acquisitions. Lee has taken the failed attempt all in stride. "We think it was necessary that we go through this," he says matter-of-factly. "We will look forward, rather than look back." Its offer for Malaysia’s Time Dotcom was rejected. And SingTel has recently announced plans to buy into Australian telecommunications operator Optus with an A$16 billion bid, where it faces competition from both Vodafone and Telecom NZ.

In a recent speech, Hsien Yang stated his vision for SingTel, “The challenge is for operators like SingTel to find the winning formula. Being able to understand the needs of the customer will be the key to success in what will be an increasingly competitive industry. Technology will make almost anything possible, but clever use of the technology will make for commercial success.”

He will have to try hard to make leeway for SingTel to grow in the global telecoms marketplace. – Ken Wong, ZDNet Asia