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To be a successful co-operative leader, one must be committed, have good attitude and good interpersonal skills. Co-operatives is about people, hence people skills are important.

- Mr Leow Ching Chuan

Leow Ching Chuan V2 02 SmWhen the membership of Singapore Organisation of Seamen (SOS) nosedived from 6,800 in 1983 to 2,265 in 1989, a group of trade union leaders, instead of buckling under pressure, showed true grit and resilience to create new pathways for growth. Led by Mr Leow Ching Chuan, then SOS General Secretary, the Union took upon itself to create jobs for members and to find additional sources of income through the Co-operative way.

“The downturn in the shipping industry and the competition from seamen worldwide competing for the same job made it very tough for our Singapore seamen to make a living. They were tramping from one shipping office to another looking for work at sea,” said Mr Leow.

It was in the season of dark hours and adversity that the Seacare Co-operative was birthed in 1994.

Today, Seacare Building at Chin Swee Road remains abuzz with entrepreneurial activities characterised by new incorporations, mergers and acquisitions in its five business clusters: Investment; HR & Lifestyle; Property & Environmental; Medical & Maritime; and Hospitality.

Right next to the Seacare Building is the 16-storey The Seacare Hotel hailed as the first co-operative owned hotel in Singapore. After the flagship hotel was launched in 2013, Seacare Co-operative went on to acquire and invest in hotels through its global subsidiaries and associate companies. The Co-operative now has portfolio of 12 hotels in Singapore, Malaysia and the United Kingdom (UK).

How did a group of trade unionists turned not only the Union around but went on to “build up a viable and vibrant organisation of corporate enterprise under a co-operative masthead”, as its vision says?

Seacare Chairman and SNCF Co-operative Champion Mr Leow offered some insights.

“One way of infusing a strong commercial side to the co-operatives is to have recognised business leaders, from whom everyone can learn from and seek advice, on their boards. Our co-operative leaders may have institutional knowledge about the co-operative, but not necessarily have the commercial experience,” he said.

Serving in the different boards of Seacare Group of companies are people who have shown leadership mantle in the business world. For example:

* Mr Kong Mun Kwong, who is Chairman of Seacare Holdings Pte Ltd, is Deputy Chairman of Cathay Organisation Pte Ltd and Former Chairman of Singapore Contractors’ Association as well as Adjunct Associate Professor in NUS.

* Mr Goh Yeow Tin, who is Chairman of Seacare Foundation Pte Ltd, Seacare Medical Holdings Pte Ltd and Seacare Manpower Services Pte Ltd, is also the Chairman, TLV Holdings Ltd and Director, Sheng Siong Group Ltd and VICOM Ltd.

* Mr Raymond Chia, who is Chairman
of Seacare Properties Pte Ltd, is the Executive Chairman and Group Chief Executive Officer of Chip Eng Seng Corporation Ltd.

* Mr Allan Hui Kok Hong, who is Chairman of Seacare Hospitality Pte Ltd, is the former Chief Operating Officer of Stamford Land Corporation Ltd and Stamford Hotels & Resort Pty Ltd.

* Mr Shankar Alan s/o Anant Kulkarni, who is Chairman of Seacare Thrift Pte Ltd, is the Director and Lawyer of Alan Shankar & Lim LLC.

Mr Leow is quick to add that a good co-operative leader needs to have a good attitude and good interpersonal skills. “Co-operative movement is a mass movement, hence people skills are important,” he pointed out. “People is at the centre of all we do.”

It is no surprise that Seacare Directors like Mr Kong and Mr Goh are active community volunteers who have BBM (L) next to their names. Among the many hats they wear, Mr Kong was the Chairman of Singapore Corporation for Rehabilitative Enterprises and Mr Goh, the Chairman of Teck Ghee Citizens Consultative Committee.

Mr Leow, himself a PBM holder and Friend of MCCY, sets the bar in giving his time for the greater social good by supporting and collaborating with new and fellow co-operatives; and backing SNCF in many of its initiatives such as its thrust in the youth sector and capability building. He was a member of SNCF Board and Central Co-operative Fund Committee.

Mr Leow embraces the young and brings them under his wings, and patiently turns them into tomorrow’s leaders. For example, to nurture new blood, he stepped aside in 2010 for Mr Kam Soon Huat to head the Singapore Organisation of Seamen while he took on the role of Executive Advisor to the Union. In Seacare group of companies, it is a common sight to have staff in their 30s and early 40s holding executive positions and earning their stripes under the mentorship of Mr Leow.

To the Chin Swee Road neighbourhood, Seacare Co-operative is a household name that denotes generosity and open heartedness. Every Lunar New Year, the Co-operative hosts a celebration with sumptuous eight-course lunch and top-notch entertainment for the aunties and uncles living in the vicinity. For those who cannot attend due to mobility challenges, the Co-operative will visit them together with Lunar New Year goodies. And in recent years at every Hari Raya Puasa, Seacare Co-operative will visit the residents with a ‘green’ packet containing a cash gift along with goodies like seafood, cookies, dates and chocolates.

To the SOS members, Seacare Co-operative is family that stands by them. Through SOS/Seacare welfare schemes, such as Seacare Medical Scheme, Seacare Maritime Training Scheme and Seacare Sailors’ Home Scheme, their lives are made better.

That is the Co-operative Difference.

Learning Tips

  • A board comprises members with a wide variety of skills, experience and institutional knowledge can propel the business forward
  • People must be at the heart of all we do
  • Co-operative needs to do well so as to do good

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