Volatile, competitive and fast-paced, the commodities industry is exciting at best and chaotic at worst. Riding the roller-coaster of its unpredictable ups and downs, twists and turns requires discipline, agility and an insatiable hunger for knowledge. Luckily, Swiss Singapore Overseas Enterprises CEO and Managing Director Rajesh Somani is well-equipped for the ride.
"In a fast-changing world, I believe in continuous learning," he says. "The world is full of challenges, and in order to make the right informed response, knowledge is key. I firmly believe that when you stop learning, you stop leading."
Rajesh has been with Swiss Singapore for nearly three decades, helping the company reach soaring new heights year after year. During that time, he’s seen the industry take on many different shapes as it transformed through the years.
"When I joined Swiss Singapore, market information was the unique selling point for a successful commodity trader. Flow of information wasn’t very smooth and transparent – and it wasn’t available to everyone," he recalls.
"Now, all of that has changed, and anybody and everybody can get all types of information by simply touching the search key. "Business communication has also totally evolved in that time. It changed from telex and fax to wireless communication with delivery in a second across the world. Movement of goods has also become quite easy after the World Trade Organization agreement, bringing a lot of freedom without restrictions and licences. This has all helped in growing international trade while helping mid-size companies like Swiss Singapore play effectively and competitively."
Recognised as instrumental in expanding the company’s footprint, Rajesh has endured these industry changes, making Swiss Singapore a global force to be reckoned with. "In 27 years, we have successfully evolved the business with changing international dynamics by adopting various business models," he says.
I firmly believe that when you stop learning, you stop leading.
"The commodity trade is like a flowing river; it is up to us to be standing there with a spoon or bucket. "Swiss Singapore has grown from less than US$40 million in 1993 to more than US$5 billion today, all while expanding from three countries to 23 and dealing with international counterparties in more than 80 countries.
"These achievements have arisen thanks to a high level of commitment, a dream of becoming an international commodity player and the creation of an excellent professional team."
As part of a US$48 billion Indian multinational Aditya Birla Group, Swiss Singapore adheres strictly to the Group’s values of integrity, commitment, passion, seamlessness and speed. And Rajesh credits the company’s ongoing success to this highly ethical culture and its talented team of professionals.
And he believes, "If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together". "Reliability and trustworthiness are the key drivers of our growth," he shares.
"We proudly live by our values and demonstrate them through our conduct in all business transactions. There cannot be a better way to instil this into our team than to lead with exemplary behaviour and practices in day-to-day business."
The ‘Power of Five’ is Swiss Singapore Overseas Enterprises’ unique way of saluting, celebrating and cheering the inspirational acts of integrity, commitment, passion, seamlessness and speed by its people over the years.
Integrity: Acting and taking decisions in a manner that is fair and honest. For Swiss Singapore, integrity moves far beyond financial and intellectual integrity, encompassing every definition of the word.
Commitment: On the foundation of integrity, commitment is doing everything that is necessary to deliver value to all stakeholders. In the process, Swiss Singapore believes in being accountable for its actions and decisions.
Passion: A voluntary, spontaneous and relentless pursuit of goals and objectives with the highest level of energy and enthusiasm. The company believes the energetic, intuitive zeal that arises from emotional engagement with the organisation makes work joyful, inspiring everyone to give their best.
Seamlessness: Thinking and working together across functional groups, hierarchies, businesses and geographies. Swiss Singapore leverages its diverse competencies and perspectives to garner the benefits of synergy while promoting organisational unity through sharing and collaborative efforts.
Speed: Responding to internal and external customers with a sense of urgency. Swiss Singapore believes in continuously striving to finish before deadlines and choosing the best rhythms to optimise efficiencies.
Having this solid foundation is key in moving forward – especially in the fast-paced world of commodities. As digitalisation and new technology infiltrate the business landscape at unprecedented speed, Rajesh admits there’s a dire need to keep up in order to remain relevant.
"Worldwide, artificial intelligence and ecommerce are going to be part of every business. Therefore, preparing our company and making it technologically and AI savvy is the need of the hour," he explains.
"So we’re looking into how we can utilise a fast and highly versatile communication system to serve our customers and suppliers on a real-time basis. This will be key to succeed in the commodity business."
Rajesh also believes that data analysis and machine learning will play a major role in his team’s ability to make sharp, knowledge-based decisions. "Business risks are changing fast," he points out.
"Therefore, strengthening our system for collecting relevant and big data for critical decisions will be the top priority. "As such, we are investing in new technology, digitalisation in our business and arranging workshops and training regularly for our employees. Adding new values by way of improved logistics, better freighting and developing a diversified customer base is going to be a great help in keeping the company competitive in the international commodity market."
Awards & recognition:
2008 – Outstanding Leader by Chairman of Aditya Birla Group
2018 – Asia Pacific Entrepreneurship Award, Asia Enterprise
2018 – Member of the Year, Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI)
2019 – Exemplary Service Award by Chairman, Aditya Birla Group
Swiss Singapore provides critical supply chain support to both large and small businesses around the world. Being a commodity trader, that means the heritage-rich company must serve its suppliers and customers. To do this effectively, Rajesh stresses the importance of building relationships, not just for now, but also for the long run.
"Delighted customers are the ultimate objective of our business," he says. "As such, we follow internationally accepted business practices with all fairness as a committed and trusted business partner. Our continuous fulfilment of business commitments in highly volatile markets enables us to earn respect and credibility in the international market."
So it’s only natural that Swiss Singapore expects the same in return. "Mutual trust and respect along with the fulfilment of business commitments is key for developing long-term relationships in the commodity trade business," Rajesh says. "This has enabled the company to deliver a profitable balance sheet over the past 30 years, without exception.
"In the highly volatile commodity and sea freight market, it’s important that we not only perform in a rising market, but in a bearish market as well. The biggest risk in trading is not to take risks. Due to our superior contractual performance and continuous hiring of vessels in the international freight market, we’ve been able to develop an excellent relationship with Oldendorff Carriers and other global shipping companies. It’s the perfect example of a win–win situation that has led to a long-term relationship."
At the end of the day, Rajesh likens the commodities market to life: "Everyone has to face low and high times. Keeping calm and patient during the low times and not forgetting your roots during the high times provides the required strength to enjoy every moment of your life. "Ultimate success as well as the means of that success are both equally important. I firmly believe that no amount of business or professional success in your life can compensate for your failure at home. Balance is the essence of life."