For me, Singapore has always been a place in the world, where integrity and honesty are held high in the list of requirements for individuals, corporates and governments. Lee Kuan Yew left his philosophy and thinking as a gift to future generations on how to manage a community and a country - with a magic mix of “democracy and autocracy”. Some thinkers like Phil Kotler are trying to promote such thinking especially since they now find that democracy has not been the perfect answer for the US – though they all admit that it is only the best of all forms of government that are available. All alternatives have many more negatives.
On a visit to Singapore, I was stepping out of the hotel one morning onto the pavement, when I saw a person stepping down from the bus at the bus stop opposite, and nonchalantly throwing, what I thought was the bus ticket, onto the road. It seemed he was an Indian visiting, perhaps for the first time – and not knowing the rules. I moved towards him, to tell him this is not done here – when a young lady (a police inspector in mufti) walked up to him briskly, pointed to the ticket he had thrown and told him about the fine he would have to pay. One could see that he was shocked. But he had no way out. He meekly paid the fine and lost, perhaps a significant amount of the foreign exchange he had brought in those difficult days when you could leave India with an allowance of a small sum of dollars!
I was travelling to Singapore airport from the hotel in town, and when we arrived, I paid the cab driver the fare indicated on the meter. He gave me 15% back of the sum shown. I said that I had paid as shown on the meter. He told me that he had taken a longer route to the airport, because part of the regular route was under repairs. There was no reason for me, as a customer, to pay for the extra mileage involved – and this was what he was returning to me. ‘Then keep that as a tip’, I quietly muttered. ‘No sir, we don’t expect tips in Singapore!’ I had no answer. Only a silent admiration.
I remembered that even 40 years ago, my boss, the managing director, had visited Singapore and had bought a music-recorder-player, which was not easily available in India in those days. When he came to the hotel room, he tried to play it – but with no success. He was worried. He was leaving later that same evening. He phoned the store – told them his problem, and they assured him that someone would come and set it right within the next hour. The service man did come and showed him how to work it. But he had also brought another piece, which he opened up and showed him again, how to operate. And then he insisted that he take to India the new set he had brought – because, as he said: ‘I don’t want you to go with any doubts about a product you had bought in Singapore’.
On a short holiday to Singapore, I had promised my daughter that I would take her for dinner to a restaurant where the food was excellent and which I always visited during my visits, even if they were very brief. She was naturally looking forward to this. When we went there one evening, a day after we arrived, I found the restaurant closed! I thought this was very strange, so I made enquiries all around and was finally told that the restaurant had not passed the last inspection of the food inspector and they were closed as a penalty and given time to correct whatever was wrong. Even a well-known and popular restaurant was not spared!
A few years ago, I had checked in for a flight to Mumbai from Singapore, when I (belatedly) realised that I still had the room key of the hotel jangling in my jacket pocket. I desperately looked for a post office from where I could get an envelope and post the key back to the hotel. I could not find one. As a last resort, I went to the information point to find out where the post office was. The young lady at the counter told me that there was no post office at terminal 2, and I would have to go to terminal 1.
Seeing the expression on my face, she asked me what the problem was. I told her. ‘Oh, don’t bother too much’, she said. ‘Just drop the key in the post box, down the passage, near the Gucci shop’. ‘But what about the postage and the envelope?’ I asked her. ‘The metal tag has the name of the hotel. The postman will know. The key will be delivered.’
A week later, I received an acknowledgement from the Dixon hotel, with an apology that they had been remiss in not asking for the key at checkout!
That is why it was so depressing to read the news on 16 July 2023, that a minister (seems an Indian origin name) and a Malaysian hotel millionaire had been arrested in a money racket. And yet, it is not depressing.
It shows that irrespective of what level you are at, in status and/ or in wealth, the integrity index will still be used to measure you and make you pay the price to uphold the well-nurtured national levels of integrity!
A lesson, perhaps, for many countries, especially in the Afro-Asian region!
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India- FIMC. He was a successful corporate executive for 14 years and then pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books, a business columnist and has been visiting professor in Marketing in the US, Europe, and Asia for over 40 years. His latest books are ‘Marketing in a Digital/Data World’ with Brian Almeida and ‘Customer Value Starvation Can Kill’ with Gautam Mahajan. He now spends most of his time on NGO work and is presently Chairman, Consumer Education and Research Society, India)