Executive Director Anders Hegre, supported by an engaged board, has steered NBAS (Norwegian Business Association in Singapore) through the challenging Covid-19 years and come out of it even more vital. Learn more about Anders, his role, and what lies ahead for NBAS as Norway’s strong engagement with Singapore continues unabated.
It took only a short time, after arriving in Singapore, for Anders Hegre to break his intended sabbatical and start getting involved in the local business community. A smart move, it appears, since it also led to him getting the job as Executive Director of NBAS.
He came to Singapore in October 2018 as a trailing spouse with his wife Leona – who works for Wilhelmsen Port Services – and their daughter.
“I had in mind that after 20 plus years of hard work in Norway, I should have a few weeks of sabbatical. However, on the second day of my sabbatical, I realized that I am too purpose-driven and have too much energy to just lay by the pool or play an occasional game of tennis. So, I started looking around for something and found NBAS,” begins Anders. He holds a Master’s Degree in Political Science and has worked in the public, civil, and private sectors.
He met his predecessor Silje Kalsaas, through his daughter’s school and started volunteering for NBAS.
“It’s symptomatic of Singapore. If you keep your eyes, ears, and mind open and remain humble, opportunities will arise. So many smart, ambitious people are in such a small geographic area. During the first few weeks, we randomly met Innovation Norway’s director, Pål Kastmann, and his family in the park. We would soon be working closely together”, says Anders.
“Then Silje moved back to Norway, and the position of Executive Director in NBAS became available. Perhaps I had some advantage as I had previously done volunteer work for them. Anyway, I applied and was appointed.”
Norwegian business presence in Singapore is traditionally dominated by the maritime, offshore, and energy sectors, but diversification is beginning to bear fruit. The business incubator Antler is a great example. They started out of Singapore in 2017 and are now established in almost 30 countries.
“When you look at NBAS, you can rightfully think we have dominance in maritime, offshore, and energy companies. But we see, to a bigger degree, a diversity of companies coming in. Let me mention Tomra, Nordic Semiconductor, Kezzler, and NeatFrame as examples from the last year, all technology-focused companies. Another recent example is Nordic Formula – a beauty and skincare company aiming at the Asian market.”
NBAS’ membership offerings also stimulate diversity. Start-ups can become members with a reduced fee if they are set up in Singapore. NBAS also has associate company members, overseas members, and individual members.
‘Innovate to Zero’
Team Norway in Singapore is a well oiled machinery comprising the Embassy, Innovation Norway, Norwep, and NBAS.
“We have received feedback that Team Norway works well. In my opinion, this is due to having an ambassador, H.E Eivind S. Homme, who has, from day one, demonstrated in both words and actions that he is an advocate for the business community. The ambassador actively supports Innovation Norway, NBAS, and Norwep, and the three organizations function well in terms of legitimacy, leadership, and execution,” states Anders
“It also helps that all actors understand each other’s objectives as organizations and have an eye for how we can grow the cake bigger. Additionally, there is a lot of passion, competence, and engagement among the people involved, which is an important factor in our success.”
Combined, they organize 40+ high-quality professional and social events throughout the year, benefiting Norwegian businesses and strengthening the relations and collaboration between Singapore and Norway.
Some major events in 2023 include Norway Night, Science Week, SNIC 2023 – Innovate to Zero and the annual Seafood Dinner.
During the week 25-29 September, Team Norway will bring together academia and businesses to strengthen innovation and foster opportunities in areas such as aquaculture, sustainable urban development, energy efficiency, digital health, maritime/offshore, and offshore wind.
The week will culminate on 29 September with SNIC 2023 – Innovate to Zero and The annual Seafood dinner at the Fairmont Hotel.
Anders highlights that this week’s events perfectly align with Norway’s export efforts, where a greener maritime industry is one of the focus areas.
No doubt, as two big maritime countries, Norway and Singapore collaborate tightly: “We consider ourselves maritime and innovation partners, and there is close cooperation both on an institutional regulatory level and the business level. We are building on a history of more than a hundred years, always deepening the collaboration and looking for ways to stimulate new business and innovate together,” says Anders.
Covid times and rejuvenation
Back when Anders entered the NBAS role, initiatives for rejuvenating NBAS had already been set in motion, much thanks to the President, Leonard Opitz Stornes.
“He has big ambitions and visions on how NBAS can be of value to our members and others, and I can relate to his thoughts and ideas. So, I have been happy to try to execute those.”
Driven by Mr. Stornes and board member and marketing professional Rigmor Berthier, NBAS rebranded with a professional identity and a more versatile website that enables the hosting of events, registrations, and publishing of content. In Parallel, Treasurer Torgeir Willumsen has led a process of modernizing the work processes in NBAS.
“When COVID struck, we found new ways of providing value for our members. We came up with podcasts and special insights panels with quite a high level of participation, providing insights on relevant topics for our members. We even managed to use TV studios for best-in-class quality”, exemplifies Anders.
“At the root of this is the thought that a networking organization is here for our members to meet and exchange their experiences and build competence. But it is also a tool to connect with new businesses in Norway and include them in the business community when they enter Singapore and the region,” he adds.
“Also, with our great allies in Team Norway, we work to strengthen all bonds between Singapore and Norway. It’s cultural, political, and business – it’s all relations. We have brought that up to a new level, with a holistic view of what this business organization can incorporate.”
“I think it was essential that we managed to maintain our offers to our members and others even if we went into Covid. We wanted to do everything we could to provide value, and after coming out of it to keep the best things we learned under Covid and bring back the best things from pre-Covid – such as the Annual Seafood Dinner,” the Executive Director reflects.
He says that it was initially a challenging period for many member companies, with a few having to leave Singapore. But as Covid went on, they also experienced that the support schemes from the government were very good, making it possible to maintain one’s business.
Anders believes that NBAS has strengthened its role in the process. “I think we have a strong position within Team Norway. And I think we have earned more visibility also in Norway. I think our members appreciated that we had the attitude that we did what we could to support them and provide value. We also kept up holding social events and hosting business lunches at different restaurants. We never stopped – except when you were restricted to two persons. Then I felt like it was more of a date than matchmaking,” he smiles.
“It’s crucial to not focus on me but on the President and the Board because I can only do as much as they want me to or allow me to do. The President is very forward-leaning, and the Board functions as outstanding advisors, and is good at backing up. My contribution is, first and foremost, my drive and energy to execute”, says Anders.
Commenting on the role so far, he says it gives him a sense of purpose, helping out members and creating new opportunities. The SNIC conference and the sustainability agenda – are also super important for him as the father of a young child.
“Working for NBAS has been a very educational and developmental experience. President Leonard Stornes has been like the senior family members from my childhood ski trips, always waiting and pointing out the next mountaintop when you’ve struggled up and thought it was time for a break. I wouldn’t have missed this time for anything!”
And when challenged on the future of Singapore as a hub, Anders says: “From a business perspective, Singapore is purpose-built for business, and they have not strayed from that vision. They built the country using intelligence, drive, and strategic geographic position. However, there are always obstacles to overcome, like the pandemic and rising prices due to an influx of people from China and strong general inflation. To attract talent and business while providing work to their population, they must find a balance on work permits. This has become a hot topic of late.
However, in my experience, Singapore is constantly working to find the right balance and the best solutions in the long run. Our members have also found Singapore an excellent business hub and entry point to the massive Southeast Asia market in many sectors. I do not doubt that it will continue to be so.”
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