"INNOVATE or perish" was the general consensus by panellists during a discussion at the launch of this year's Enterprise 50 (E50) Awards on Thursday.
In the session moderated by KPMG Singapore's head of Enterprise Jonathan Ho, three business leaders - all past winners of the awards - told the audience of more than 100 corporate leaders at the St Regis Hotel that innovation was no longer a luxury but a necessity to survive.
The E50 Awards honours the 50 most enterprising, privately held local companies in Singapore across all industry sectors.
Nominations are now open for this year's winners of the awards, an event organised by KPMG Singapore and The Business Times.
At the panel discussion, PBA Group chief executive Derrick Yap said the fast-paced nature of the robotics and automation industry gave the company little choice. To build an innovative culture in the company, the traditional carrot-and-stick approach no longer works, he said.
"You need to offer a big fat carrot and you need to remove the stick. Once you start punishing people for getting something wrong while they are being innovative, no one will want to innovate anymore."
On the other hand, he acknowledged that companies cannot burn money indefinitely.
"It's about ownership and boundaries for them to play in. You can only innovate if you fail," he added.
Fellow panellist Helene Raudaschl, managing director of food supplier Indoguna Singapore, said communication is key to innovation.
"Food trends change a lot, and we constantly have to think of new ideas. But our think-tank cannot just come from the leaders - it has to be across the business. Our team knows that if we don't innovate, we won't be the market leader," she said.
She added that it was not about telling the team what to do, but providing examples or case studies on ideas to get them excited.
Sometimes, a lack of innovation is not the fault of the employees, but that of the leaders.
The third panellist Lawrence Chan, managing director of Asiatic Agriculture Industries, candidly told the audience that he found out through an external training session that he was the company's main obstacle to innovation.
"I realised I was the bottleneck. From my personal experience, as much as the bosses want to drive innovation, the important thing is to enable the team to share their concerns. And when we are able to hear their concerns, there will be better buy-in - even before innovation can take place."
The discussion about innovation tied in nicely with the theme of this year's E50 Awards - "Accelerating Growth, Innovating for Tomorrow".
Nominations for this year's awards close on June 30. The 2018 E50 list will be unveiled at a gala dinner to be held in the fourth quarter.
These annual awards have built up an honour roll of companies that have contributed to the city-state's economic development at home and abroad.
The ranking of the top 50 companies is based primarily on a set of qualitative criteria and a set of quantitative performance indicators over a three-year period.
Firms which have been on the E50 list for five years are accorded the Five-Year Award.
A special award category called the Internationalisation Award seeks to encourage local enterprises to expand overseas.
KPMG's Mr Ho said: "The E50 Awards is one of the most prestigious awards in our marketplace. This ranking serves to encourage other companies to come forward and benchmark themselves with the best of Singapore's enterprises."
Past E50 Award winners are invited to join the E50 Association, which organises business missions, seminars, ministerial dialogues and networking sessions.
Wong Wei Kong, editor of The Business Times, said: "Though the path to success may often be fraught with challenges, these privately held SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) have shown that they can overcome difficulties through determination and passion, and we look forward to sharing their stories."
Supporters of the awards include Enterprise Singapore, the Singapore Business Federation and the Singapore Exchange. OCBC Bank returns as the main sponsor for the 13th consecutive year.