Singapore’s Norwegian Community Thriving

There are predictions of fewer expatriates to be sent out on foreign assignment onwards, while international companies are indeed increasingly hiring locals for positions which used to be held by someone from their respective home countries.

This does however not really seem to apply for Norwegian companies operating in Singapore. In the South-East Asian city state the community just keeps on growing. (In fact the Nordic country on the contrary has some difficulties in getting Norwegians to jump on overseas offers due to dual careers of spouses and couples.)

1300 Norwegians in 2007 has increased to around 1600 in 2010 (of which around 100 are students), and with 170 companies present. It’s increasing all the time, says the since five years back chairman for the Norwegian Business Association (NBAS), Mr Erik Borgen, who came to Singapore in 2004.

“Families are happy here, so lots of people are having kids too.”

“During the crisis many thought that a lot of expatriates would be sent home, lots of Norwegian companies would have to close because of business going down. But we haven’t seen that at all, it has been stable and we have actually continuously seen an increase in members during this period.”

NBAS, a forum for Norwegian organizations and their executives, has developed very positively, he thinks.

“We now are around 130 members, and have a new board with new members where we’ve tried to reach more for the younger professional population. That is quite interesting; there’s an increase in the younger professionals coming here and they are getting jobs in Norwegian or non-Norwegian companies, particularly within maritime or financing. We hope to reach more towards these people as well with our activities.”

He is increasingly seeing younger Norwegians arriving who views Singapore as an increasing popular place to live and work in.

Though it requires a good track record and great skills to come here and succeed, since even though foreigners are needed the local work force impresses.

Mr Borgen also holds the high and challenging positions of the Regional Director of DnB NOR Bank in Asia and General Manager for Singapore. In that role he is involved in recruiting locals.

“People here are extremely knowledgeable and hard working so the quality of scholars is fantastic. We interview people here for jobs all the time and it’s unbelievable what some of these guys have done. But here (at DnB NOR) we have a balance between local professionals and others we bring down from our organization in Europe.”

“So it takes some courage to come here and challenge your self even for ambitions young Norwegians who know something, want something, and are more international-minded than most Norwegians.”

Meanwhile companies within the maritime industry in Singapore are struggling a bit in hiring or getting the interest from the youngsters, according to Erik Borgen who is also a board member of the Singapore Maritime Foundation.

“Not least for the shipping-shipping oriented trades, like naval architects, surveyors etc. One of the challenges Singapore has is to make the shipping industry more attractive, it is not looked upon by the youngsters as any cool industry.”

DnB NOR Follows its Clients
The presence of Norway’s largest bank is very much inter-connected with the presence of Norwegian companies in the region. Norwegian direct investment to Singapore has been increasing tremendously since 15 years ago, partly due to its closeness to booming markets like China and India.

As one of the world’s leading shipping banks DnB NOR caters strongly to the maritime sector where Norway have some huge players and also focuses on banking with offshore, logistics and energy companies; being the market leader for the Norwegian companies in the region.

“A lot of Norwegian companies have Singapore as a hub and they cover at least South- East Asia. Many of the companies we find in Shanghai are the same which is also the main reason why we are also in Shanghai,” says Mr Borgen.

In addition DnB NOR has taken a significant step forward on the China market by becoming the first foreign bank to offer vessel mortgages to owners of Chinese-flagged vessels. The bank was recently issued a full banking licence to carry out domestic currency transactions in RMB (China’s currency) as well.”

“This makes us as competitive as local counterparts so we are now a good alternative for the Norwegians businesses that would like to continue working with DnB NOR, in Norway and also in Singapore and China.”

A representative office has also been opened in Mumbai, India – another important area for Norway where the bank could eventually open a branch.

The fact that they have grown into largely a European bank Erik Borgen also thinks makes it interesting out here, following clients to the markets they expand into.

“We are trying to focus on the same business areas here, but we specialize within energy, shipping and off shore. We are specialized in the sense that we do have certain knowledge and in those areas we think we can become more international.”

A new element in Asia is that an investment banking area has been developed so the bank has equity analysts in Singapore covering those segments.

“And we do research on Asian companies and are involved in equity sales of these companies.”

“We have a relatively large market share amongst the Norwegian corporate segment particularly here in Singapore, but also in the region, where we can assist and do something.”

New Norwegian Investments within Renewables
In the energy sector one recent huge new arrival is the Renewable Energy Corporation (REC), which is opening an integrated solar manufacturing plant in Singapore towards the end of 2010. REC from Norway is a global leading player in the solar energy industry.

Its new production complex also attracts a lot of sub contractors, SME’s, says Erik Borgen.

“We’re seeing quite a few of them coming to Singapore, and some of those companies are clients of ours.”

As for NBAS members it is mainly from within renewables they have new companies joining.

“Otherwise they are related to the maritime area; shipping and off shore. So that’s still an increasing area. It’s more of the same, I would say,” thinks the chairman.

Believing strongly in networking activities NBAS organizes a range of events throughout the year. The Norway-Asia Business Conference used to be an annual event which in May this year, supported by Innovation Norway, for the first time was turned into the Norway-Asia Business Summit for the whole region.

“We find it to be extremely relevant to network across the border with Norwegian businesses. We all have some of the same challenges across the region and to get together from time to time must make sense,” is how Erik Borgen explains the new initiative which was held in Shanghai coinciding with the royal opening of the Norwegian pavilion at the world expo there, and to which all the Norwegian chambers in the region were invited.

Just as Singapore itself, NBAS wants to be seen as vibrant with events such as this one and reaching out to the younger Norwegian business population.

About Joakim Persson

Freelance business and lifestyle photojournalist

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