Ever since finishing his university degree in Copenhagen back in 1973, Ole Lisborg has had only one employer. The Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A long and interesting career has taken him around Europe, most recently serving as Ambassador to Luxembourg. Now, in Singapore, Ole Lisborg wants to continue the great work of his predecessors to the post, promoting Denmark and Danish Business in South-East Asia.
Strong Danish community
With a long background in Europe it was quite a change of culture for the newly appointed Ambassador Ole Lisborg to be posted to the Far East and it took some preparations.
“You don’t just arrive and say: ‘So, this is Singapore,’ and then take it from there,” he says.
“From the time I knew about the new job to my arrival, I read everything I could find on Asia, be it about economics, culture, history or whatever.”
Besides going through a whole book shelf of Asian literature, Ole Lisborg also contacted his predecessors to the job as well as diplomatic colleagues in order to be as well prepared as possible.
The newly appointed Ambassador visited Singapore once before when he in the mid 80’s was there as Head of Department in the Danish Foreign Ministry, negotiating air traffic. Arriving once again some 25 years later has been nothing but positive.
“The expectations I had have been fully fulfilled. It’s a very vibrant environment and the Danish colony here is active and lively and I’ve been well received with people being very positive towards me. Maybe if I don’t do my job properly, the tune will change, we’ll see,” Ole Lisborg says with an underlying tone of Danish irony.
According to Ole Lisborg, it was obvious from the very first second that the Seamen’s Church is the gathering point for Danes in Singapore. At the beautiful church on Mount Faber he found a community very much in peace with itself.
“In Luxembourg there were also Christmas bazaars and other events at the Danish church. But nothing like here. You get a feeling that the Danes here are truly close-knit,” he says.
Besides the church, the Ambassador also mentions the Danish Business Society (DABS) as an important factor and benchmark, as business is one thing that the vast majority of the Danish colony have in common.
The Embassy continuously receives many inquiries from Denmark and Danes thinking about setting up a business in the small Asian city state. And the message from Ole Lisborg is clear – business opportunities are nothing short of great in Singapore.
“Singapore see themselves as the spearhead in several areas of business and development. And with good reason. It’s completely deliberate politics, as the money is set aside to hold this position,” says Ole Lisborg, and offers a tangible example, telling that Singapore has four universities, but only in one of them the Dean is from Singapore.
“They want the best and if the best is not available in Singapore, they will just seek elsewhere and produce the means to get it here,” the Danish Ambassador says and gives a proposal as to why the Asian countries are marching on (Singapore expecting a growth of overwhelming 15% in GDP in 2010) while the Western world experiences somewhat of a stagnation.
“In the EU I saw first hand how the decision making process is often very long and problematic, while out here, I’m of the conviction, they tend to come straight to the point. There’s no doubt that this is where it’s happening, and if we are not careful, Denmark could end up as a museum where the Asians come and visit and see how business was run in the ‘old days’,” he laughs.
Fortunately it is not all that bad as Ole Lisborg explains how there is quite an interest in some of the things Denmark can offer and that Singapore sees some competencies that can be learned. Especially Danish design is becoming increasingly popular in Asia. Every Saturday the newspapers, which by the way are also thriving in Asia as the only place in the world, are filled with adds showing off new and extravagant apartment projects. And often there is a Danish touch to it.
“You always see a Svane chair or a P.H. lamp in the pictures. With all the money floating around out here, the trend is that everything expensive and Western they just have to own,” he says.
Not all work
In Singapore, on a small piece of land best described as rainforest, Ole Lisborg and his wife, Else, live in an old English officers building. One of the famously known ‘black and white houses’ dating back to colonial times.
“If you ask me, our house has a lot more charm than the new high-rise buildings being build all over town. But with that charm also comes a lot of maintenance,” the Ambassador says.
The fact that the old house is situated in the middle of the “jungle” has some rather unusual side effects.
“Every night we hear strange animal sounds from outside. It takes some getting used to, that’s for sure,” says Ole Lisborg with a smile and immediately continues on, explaining that the sounds are the least of it. Every now and then the Ambassador house is visited by some very special guests. The type you do not invite in for tea, though.
“It’s quite an experience when 15-20 monkeys come by in some rampage going through the trash as well as the flower beds leaving our garden in ruins,” he says rather amazed.
Staying in the animal universe, when asked about his recreational time, Ole Lisborg tells that the family recently got a new member. After their Vizsla dog through 15 years passed away in Luxembourg they agreed that the time was right to get a new dog – a new Vizsla that is.
“It’s the most expensive dog ever as we ordered it from Australia to avoid quarantine, but Else has promised to train and take care of it so it’s going to be quite the spare time project..
“On Ole Lisborg’s account he has come to the conclusion that there is probably no way around picking up the game of golf again.
“I haven’t played in many years but I’m constantly invited to this or that, and it always takes place on a golf course. One would think that Singapore couldn’t really be able to run as efficiently as it does – considering how much golf is being played. If it’s green out here, it’s a golf course,” Ole Lisborg laughs out.
H.E. Ole Lisborg, born 29th of January 1948
1973 MSc (Econ.) University of Copenhagen
1973 Ministry of Foreign Affairs
1980 1st Secretary, Danish Embassy Bonn, Germany
1983 Head of Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
1988 Counsellor, Danish Representation at the European Communities, Brussels
1993 Head of Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
1999 Ambassador, Riga, Latvia
2003 Ambassador, Bucharest, Romania (also accredited Chisinau, Moldova)
2006 Ambassador, Luxembourg, Grand Duchy of Luxembourg
2010 Ambassador, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam
Married to Else Nepper-Christensen, 2 daughters
Speaks English, German and French