In Singapore, Indians at Work Can be Very Intimidating

An expat must adapt to the genteel workplace in Singapore, says Bharat Puri, Cadbury’s global chocolate category director

Published: Jul 6, 2009 09:00:00 AM IST
Updated: Jul 5, 2009 09:29:18 PM IST

Singapore is an incredibly efficient place. You can feel [it] from the time you land at Changi Airport — you always leave the airport in just 10 minutes flat despite having checked in baggage! It’s amazing how you can get off an Airbus 380, which has 400-plus passengers, retrieve your luggage in a jiffy and be on your way home in that short a time. That’s just one indication of how the system works in Singapore.

When I moved from India to Singapore in early 2006, I soon realised that for expatriates, Singapore is a very easy place to move into. Everything works like clockwork here. For instance, when you move to Singapore, you need an Employment Pass that allows you to work here. My Employment Pass took all of five days to process! Finding accommodation was another pleasant surprise. [If] you see a place and like it, [you] make an offer to the landlord and move in 15 days later.

Even Dependent Passes, [which] I needed for my wife and children, are usually very easy to get. But mine ran into a problem. My marriage was conducted according to Hindu customs, so I did not have a marriage certificate — and the authorities do not issue a Dependent Pass without one. I had to go back to India to get an official marriage certificate made.

For an Indian, it is extremely easy to move to Singapore because close to 10 percent of the population here is of Indian origin. And now thanks to banks and financial companies that have regional headquarters in Singapore, there is a substantial expatriate population of Indians here. In fact, there are so many Indians here that Bollywood movies are released here on the same day as in India. You get Indian food easily — even chaat.

But you do miss the hustle bustle and chaos of a large city like Bombay or New York, where there is a lot more happening culturally. For me, Singapore is like coming back to a cocoon because I travel so much. Each city has a character — and Singapore’s character is all about being efficient and well run.

A Melting Pot
The work environment here and in multinational companies especially, is extremely multi-cultural. Cadbury in Singapore is very diverse. It’s about adjusting to several different cultures. When I came here, I had a Mexican, a Japanese, an Indian and an Australian in my team, apart from native Singaporeans.

The fascinating thing is seeing the differences in culture across countries and seeing how work gets done across all of them. So if I have to launch a new chocolate and discuss this with an Australian, the discussion will be very direct and clear. Hierarchy is not a big deal in this context.

The Japanese, on the other hand, will be incredibly polite and will respect hierarchy. There will be no loud voices when you are holding a discussion with a Japanese. So that helps you build an understanding of how the Japanese system works. I have noticed one trait in both the Japanese and Chinese: There is no disagreement in public and a person shouldn’t lose face. So they normally don’t contradict others.

Singapore has a more Western influence in that sense. Singaporeans tend to be very diligent, hardworking and process-oriented. The difference between large emerging markets and Singapore is that a Singaporean doesn’t have to fight for a train seat or a bus seat. So the level of aggression in them is much less. They often get disconcerted due to the aggression in Indians. During meetings, Indians tend to debate passionately. But the next day it’s all back to normal. A Singaporean colleague saw this and got very disconcerted. She thought that the Indians would start hitting each other! I used to be very strident with my point of view in meetings. And then I realised no one spoke after I did — I now speak much more softly!

Red Carpet
Doing business is very easy in Singapore. They have such an evolved system in place. The Economic Development Board (EDB) of Singapore is extremely proactive. They hold regular sessions with us on our plans. They also help us identify the next set of opportunities and we tell them about the constraints we face. We usually meet them once in six months. But if need be, we meet them more often as well.

A few years ago, Cadbury moved its regional headquarters to Singapore and then we established a science and technology centre here to conduct research and development for gum and candy for Asia-Pacific markets. The EDB stepped in to understand what we needed. They helped us work through the modalities. Setting this up was more like having a partnership with the government — in India or most other countries we would have done it on our own.
Singapore is very clear about where [its] strengths lie — hence, the stress on the financial services industry, high-technology and biotech, and the whole shift towards the knowledge economy. You just need to see the development happening in the new technology parks to believe this.

(As told to Neelima Mahajan-Bansal)

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(This story appears in the 03 July, 2009 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Rajju

    Respected Sir/Madam What is your opinion about Company Medical Negligence for paralysis stroke treatment round about 20 hours delayed and crushed that person life and his dependents life. By that medical negligence know I am in very poor position both physically and financially. So, Company dragging the issue since 2006 to know, till now they never pay compensation. Please kindly tell your opinion and advice to me. This is my humble request. Thanking you Yours truly Rajju E-mail Add:

    on Jun 19, 2013
  • Miss Nayanika Banerjee

    Me and my boyfriend are both law graduates and want to settle down in singapore with a job as well as buy a house and also get married there. I would appreciate if anyone can help us with the details of how to go aboout this plan and where to start off with.

    on Jan 25, 2012
  • Rama Chandran Andrew

    A mediacorp artise (shoha sukumar) wrote in her facebook account about india's indians feeling superior to singapore indians. She got blasted for that! However, singapore senior minister gog chok tong and our minister for community development and sports, vivian balakrishan notice a trend along this line. Our former ambassador to the united nations, professor kishore murbhani felt otherwise. Your thoughts?

    on Jul 28, 2009
  • Shravan Bhat

    Hi Bharat Uncle! Loved the article! I'd like to read more of your writing.

    on Jul 21, 2009
  • Sagar Chandratrey

    Unfortunately things have changed in Singapore especially for renting a house. Many of my friends were duped by the landlords here and the authorities do not help in any way.<br /> <br /> The situation is very tricky especially for those who are renting a place in Singapore for the first time.

    on Jul 6, 2009
  • Ravi Andrews

    Singapore is certainly very cosy place, My first visit to Singapore was via US and i was so much impressed/moved with every place i visited in Singapore.<br /> <br /> I would certainly suggest very traveler to experience Singapore (It's unique).

    on Jul 6, 2009