SPH chief executive named as one of Insead's top 50 alumni (ST)

BackNov 07, 2009

SINGAPORE Press Holdings' chief executive, Mr Alan Chan, was yesterday named as one of the 50 alumni from top international business school Insead to have had an exceptional career and made a difference to the business world.

He is the only Singaporean and Asian to achieve this honour.

The awards were launched by Insead as part of celebrations commemorating the founding of the graduate business school 50 years ago.

The names of the 50 alumni are being unveiled over the course of the anniversary year. Ten, including the chairman of cosmetics giant L'Oreal, Sir Lindsay Owen Jones, have already been honoured.

Mr Chan was among the second batch of 10 outstanding individuals cited by Insead's Dean Frank Brown during the school's Leadership Summit Asia held at the Singapore campus yesterday.

Mr Chan, 56, was earlier described in the book "100 Inspiring Rafflesians" as that rare breed of person able to successfully bridge the worlds of civil service and business. He is also one of the few who is equally at home in French and English.

Attending Insead in Fontainebleau, near Paris, was not his first stint in France. The former student of Raffles Institution and National Junior College, a President's Scholar, won an engineering scholarship to the Ecole Nationale de l'Aviation Civile in Toulouse in the early 1970s, and took the unconventional route of going to France rather than Oxbridge. Mr Chan joked in an interview with The Straits Times that it was torture having to first learn the language and then do two years of preparatory classes.

But the broad-based engineering course, which included French philosophy and literature, sparked a life-long affection for the country's culture.

On returning to Singapore in 1978, he joined the Civil Aviation Department and was on the team that helped develop Singapore Changi Airport.

While with the civil service, Mr Chan was offered a postgraduate management scholarship in 1982 and he chose Insead, given both its reputation and his fluency in French. In 1983, he did a masters degree in business administration (MBA) at Insead, which has since set up a campus here.

After returning home, he moved to the Ministry of Home Affairs. "The MBA opened up various vistas for me and it covered political and business analysis, something that was very useful in the next stage of my career," Mr Chan said.

"Insead was a great insight into excellent teamwork and camaraderie, and prepared me for many real-life negotiations in my career."

Mr Chan added that the MBA was also useful in helping him examine issues from an economic and business perspective, something which proved valuable when he was later appointed to the boards of government-linked companies such as DBS Group Holdings and PSA.

In his two dozen years in the civil service, he held several senior posts such as Transport Ministry permanent secretary and director of manpower, Ministry of Defence – where he worked on reducing the period that national servicemen serve, from 21/2 years to two years.

Mr Chan also served as principal private secretary to Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew. In 2002, he made the switch to the private sector when he was appointed SPH group president, assuming the position of chief executive on Jan1, 2003.

He turned his attention to the media group's future. "Knowing that we are in a mature business, I decided that we had to build adjacencies. We worked on a roadmap for SPH. Using the talent we have within the organisation, we are building businesses in magazines, outdoor advertising, new media, radio and properties."

SPH also continues to enhance its print offerings, such as with the bilingual freesheet, my paper, he said.

His many contacts from his Insead MBA days have stood him in good stead. "When I went to Peru and Norway for business meetings, I found myself negotiating with my Insead classmates."

Mr Chan acknowledges that the newspaper industry is facing its toughest times yet. "The newspaper sector is facing serious challenges from the Internet, both in terms of readership and advertising revenue. My ambition is to successfully transit the company to the cyber age."

He is also chairman of the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Mr Chan is married with two children.