Simon Kearney: “If you look at the demographic and economic trajectory of a place like Singapore...it's only going in one direction: fast. That's as good a reason as any to come and work here"
Interview by Molly O'Brien, Marketing & Communications Specialist, Advance
Simon Kearney has forged a successful career in newspaper journalism. He was Political Editor for the News Limited Group’s Sunday newspapers in Australia, as well as a senior roving reporter for The Australian covering everything from coups in Fiji, bombings in Bali, race riots in Sydney and indigenous disadvantage in outback Australia.
He came to Singapore in 2008 to run communications for a billionaire philanthropist making films in India, the Philippines, Rwanda, Iraq, Kenya and Afghanistan. In 2010, he met business partner Neal Moore at online TV channel TelecomTV.com and launched content agency Click2View shortly after.
Advance recently spoke to Simon about the advantages of starting a business in Singapore, what it’s doing well, and the trajectory for Click2View in the future.
Had you always planned on going out on your own after working as a journalist?
The story how I came to Singapore is quite serendipitous. I was working at The Australian, covering great stories and spending a lot of time in the Australian outback. I wasn't looking for a job. In 2008 I received a job offer to work for a Singapore-based billionaire, to help with the communications for his philanthropy work. I thought to myself, "There are very few opportunities you're going to get to work in close proximity to somebody with that level of resources."
What was the main reason you wanted to establish a new business in Singapore after you experienced such a successful career in Australia in journalism?
Setting up a business in Singapore was very a deliberate decision, mainly due to the connectivity it provided. When we first started out with Click2View, what we were initially doing was shifting video content to the online service provider. We looked at Singapore, which was laying down its fibre network at the time, and you could see the way technology was going - it was going to be video.
How did Click2View come about?
There were two ideas with Click2View. When we first started in 2010, I was thinking about how a journalist’s skills could be applied outside of journalism. The writing was on the wall for the newspaper business model, and I'd been exposed to this incredible entrepreneurial culture when I was working for the billionaire. He surrounded himself with entrepreneurial people from all walks of life, who have now all gone on and built great businesses. I thought to myself, "I could do this." I was thinking about my skills as a journalist and what value they had in a more commercial environment. Journalism is basically storytelling, and we wanted to help organisations find their story and tell them in an authentic and almost non-promotional way. The demand for authenticity is just growing and growing. There's no better person or profession, I should say, to apply that than journalists.
Where do you hope to take it in the future?
Definitely Global Domination! It’s been a long, tough journey to get to where we are now, and it's been hard to get the budgets from large companies. When we started doing content, it wasn't as though every company in the world was willing to put a retainer contract out every two or three years like they do in PR and advertising.
One of our big clients went through a phase where they sacked their PR agencies and we were the only one retained because we were the one function that they couldn't do in-house. That's pretty rare. It's starting to change now though; most big firms are thinking of content as a line item in the marketing and communications budget.
What is the corporate landscape like in Singapore compared to somewhere like Australia? Would you say that it's easy for Australians looking to move overseas to get jobs in Singapore?
The job market here is a bit tighter now because the government is trying to promote the local workforce and not what is called “foreign talents”. I think it is a place of opportunity, though. One of the things that the billionaire taught me was putting yourself in the right place is extremely important. From his point of his view, putting yourself in the right country, in the right region, was just as important as picking the right business. If you look at the demographic and economic trajectory of a place like Singapore, and a region like Southeast Asia, it's only going in one direction: fast. That's as good a reason as any, I'd say, for anyone to come and work here.
I came in 2008. We started the business in 2010. In about 2012, something changed and it was really noticeable. In the expat community, we suddenly started getting applications from young people from all over the world wanting to come work for us. They were coming for the experience and the opportunity. I think that Singapore has become a place like London was when I was growing up – young Australians are coming here to push their careers forward.
How does doing business in Singapore compare to other cities of Southeast Asia?
It's an interesting place. From my point of view, the great thing about Singapore is there's an excellent rule of law and zero corruption, it is a great place to do business. Everyone is here because of the opportunities. We joke in Singapore, it's the biggest small town you've ever lived in. When you arrive if you go around and make an effort to meet people you pretty much know everyone in your industry in six months. You bump into them on the street – it reminds me of living in Hobart when I was younger.
What do you see as the main advantage of starting a business in Singapore as opposed to Australia?
Accessing a global market. I think our business would be a bit more domestic if the business had started in Australia.
What was your biggest takeaway working for the billionaire?
It was really fascinating. It gave me an insight into the mindset of people with extremely significant resources. It's a good reminder to know that they're just people like you or me, except with lots of money.
His philosophy was that philanthropy should be based on business principles. He brought in a whole range of people. The really interesting thing is all the people that I worked with have gone off and formed or started really quite amazing businesses.
It created a sense of aspiration in me. Because I'd come from a public service family, the idea of running a business was quite foreign to me. It awoke in me a feeling of aspiration, I thought, "Well, I can do that!”
What, in your opinion, does Singapore do really well?
The environment; it's all innovation. There is a lot of government money being invested in innovation. Every company is opening up innovation labs, labs at some of the big companies might have a dozen or more people working in them. That just creates an ecosystem of entrepreneurialism. You can see it's starting to change some of these big old companies as well, which is quite interesting.