Many foreigners talk about Singapore as “Asia Light” referring to the fact that almost anything is possible and almost nothing is hard in the small island state just south of Malaysia. The infrastructure is among the best in the world, the English language is widespread and for companies and business men from all around the world, Singapore has in recent years been one of the hottest spots to operate.
”Singapore has an extremely efficient business process – probably one of the best in the world. On top of that you can add sound economic policies, a stable political environment and a well regulated financial market, so it’s the place to be,” explains President of the Swedish Business Association of Singapore (SBAS), Jan B. Djerf, sitting in his office with the stunning view of the marina skyline.
Sweden in Singapore
As SBAS President the most important tasks for Jan B. Djerf is to make the organization interesting and useful for the Swedish business community in Singapore and to represent Sweden in the board of EuroCham.
Of course overseeing all of SBAS’ activities, that today are numerous, is also important. The organisation arranges lectures and seminars with topics relevant to the business community. Primarily issues that are of Asian, regional or Swedish importance are covered and held on average twice a month.
Together with the other Nordic business chambers in Singapore SBAS members enjoy ScandBizBar once a month which gives an excellent networking opportunity to all participants. In collaboration with the Swedish embassy, SBAS arranges business delegations to countries in Asia.
“So far we have visited Brunei, Vietnam and Indonesia. In fact, the delegation to Indonesia was the biggest Swedish business delegation ever with 26 participating companies,” says Jan B. Djerf.
On the social front SBAS hosts a number of events that have become highly popular amongst members and friends. The annual midwinter ball, the family rounders, the Christmas dinner and the midsummer festival are now all traditional gatherings for the approximately 2000 Swedish nationals in Singapore.
“The Swedish community in Singapore is very, very vibrant. Apart from SBAS and our events, there are a number of organizations with Swedish connections that also do all kinds of initiatives. And then we have a very active Swedish embassy as well. So we are really thriving,” says Jan B. Djerf with a hint of pride.
One of Jan B. Djerf’s first encounters with heavy weight business life was when he was attached as Head of the Treasury Department at Ericsson in Stockholm. This was the first bigger step in a long and exiting carrier. From Ericsson, Jan was headhunted to a company called Alfinad SA in Brussels, Belgium – in fact it was the Treasury Department of multi-international Sweden based company Alfa Laval.
At that time Sweden had currency and credit regulations that resulted in a big number of Swedish companies moving their financial activities into a special company structure called Coordination Center in Belgium. Over the years Jan B. Djerf had moved up and was now President of Alfinad, when Tetra Pak in 1991 bought Alfa Laval, bringing him to Lausanne, Switzerland as Director Group Treasury at Tetra Laval.
In 1994 Jan B. Djerf joined Swedish bank Handelsbanken. The following ten years the job with one of the biggest banks in Scandinavia would take the Swede across the world – more than once. But no matter how used to life as a “business globetrotter” Jan B. Djerf has become, Sweden still holds something special.
“I miss the different seasons, the nature and the open landscapes with its silence and the fresh air. But most of all, I miss the light during the summer-evenings,” he says.
With Handelsbanken, Jan B. Djerf started out as Treasurer in Singapore, making it his first encounter with the small Asian city state. In 1998 he moved to London and was responsible for the bank’s currency and interest rate trading. An activity that was later centralized to the head office, thus he moved back to Stockholm.
In 2004 it was time for the second period in Singapore. As of now, Jan B. Djerf is responsible for Handelsbanken’s operations in South East Asia, India, Australia and New Zealand.
Land of possibilities
Six years ago Jan B. Djerf willingly embraced the opportunity once again to make Singapore home for him and his family. Having three sons automatically makes certain demands on the place you choose as your base. Thus education, health care and security are important issues for the Swedish family. And according to the Swede all that is of world class in Singapore.
The possibilities of practising different sports are also very important when having a family composition with three active boys. Again there are no limitations in Singapore.
“They can even play ice hockey here,” Jan B. Djerf says with thrilling excitement.
Jan B Djerf is not alone in his evaluation of Singapore. Approximately 250 Swedish companies are placed in the small, fast-growing Asian state where the GNP is expected to make a 15 % increase during 2010.