An Interview with Martin Roll - Master of Ceremony at Women's Forum Singapore


Martin Roll is an experienced global business & brand strategist, senior advisor and facilitator to Fortune 500 companies, Asian firms and global family-owned businesses on how to build and manage strong, global brands as well as the leadership of high-performing, marketing-oriented businesses in a hyper connected and fast-paced, digitalized world.


Earlier in 2017, Singapore had a rebranding campaign titled “Passion made Possible.” How do you think Singapore can further create brand equity? How can it distinguish itself from hubs such as Dubai which also juxtapose their business and tech capabilities with its culture, history and people?

Passion made Possible was a rebranding campaign launched by the Singapore Tourism Board and the Singapore Economic Development Board, to boldly showcase the Singapore attitude and mindset as one that is passion-driven, determined and always persevering towards success. This was a very refreshing take on Singapore as it drew focus towards its people and their spirit, away from the traditional outlook of Singapore as a destination with world-class infrastructure, a clean and green city and a cosmopolitan culture.

Singapore has come very far in just a short span of 50 years - from a colony to a city-state with its own unique identity that is different from any other city in the world. Here are a few ways that Singapore can maintain and further create brand equity.

Export branding: Export branding refers to the export of goods associated with a nation. Singapore has historically done well in the export of machinery, electrical equipment and mineral fuels. However, there is huge potential for Singapore to leverage on exporting its culture. Singapore can look towards how Hallyu, the Korean wave, has boosted the South Korean economy. ‘Made in Singapore’ is still a relatively new and unexplored concept. There is a lot of potential for local brands and companies to bring ‘Singaporean’ experiences into the global scene.

Generic nation branding: This refers to boosting a country’s national brand image to the rest of the world through governmental efforts and strategically promoting brands that boost a country’s national image. As the lead agency promoting overseas growth of Singaporean brands, IE Singapore should continue to spearhead national branding programs (e.g. the Singapore Brand Awards) to raise the profile of Singapore’s manufacturers and brands overseas.

It is also important for countries to promote brands that help to boost a country’s image. Singapore’s most famous brand, Singapore Airlines, has undoubtedly contributed greatly to Singapore’s global brand equity. The brand’s famous icon, The Singapore Girl, has done as much for Singapore’s image than its political stability, infrastructure, workforce and its extensive network of Free Trade Agreements. SIA has contributed around 20% to the overall nation brand equity of Singapore. Looking ahead, it is important for governmental bodies to take notice of and promote such brands that could potentially help boost Singapore’s image.

Internal nation branding: For a nation to boost its brand equity, it is important to ensure it stays attractive to foreign investment, through efforts like building a talented and productive workforce. As a country with scarce natural resources, human talent will be the key to success for Singapore. Skillsfuture, a national movement to encourage Singaporeans to take ownership of their skills development and lifelong learning, is a good example of an initiative to ensure that people’s talents and skillsets stay relevant in the workplace.


As you will be speaking at Women’s Forum Singapore, could you share with us some areas and industries (with key figures) where women leadership have benefited from and those where women leadership is badly needed? How can we empower leaders and not just women as leaders?

Companies in the MSCI World Index with strong female leadership generated a Return on Equity of 10.1% per year versus 7.4% for those without. Introducing women into leadership positions means introducing diversity in company’s leadership teams, and diverse teams make better decisions through more diverse problem-solving, increased organizational collaboration and better employee engagement. Some industries that have benefited from having women in their leadership include fashion, cosmetics, retail and hospitality, including companies like L’Oreal USA with 53% female Senior Managers, Marriott International with 42% female Senior Managers, and Procter & Gamble with 36% female Senior Managers. On the other hand, industries that badly need to balance the female-to-male employee ratio include traditionally male-dominated industries like finance and technology.

According to 2018 McKinsey report “The Power Of Parity”, it was found that all countries in Asia Pacific including Singapore could boost growth by up to 12%, just by advancing women’s equality in leadership. To achieve this massive growth boost, the region will need to increase the participation rate of women in the labour force, increase the number of paid hours women work, and add more women to higher-productivity sectors.


Where does Singapore rank in terms of diversity and inclusion? How can Singapore improve further from its status quo?

Although Singapore ranks third in Asia-Pacific (behind Philippines and New Zealand) in gender equality for labour-force participation, with an inequality score of 0.68, it definitely has room for improvement. To put things into perspective, in Singapore, only 25% of senior management and 8% of Board members are women. There is definitely potential for more women representation in professional and technical jobs, perceived wage gap for similar work, leadership positions and unpaid care work. In addition, with a score of 0.36 in gender inequality for legal protection and political representation, Singapore has much room for improvement in ensuring that women are well protected by law and are fairly represented in the political scene.

Nonetheless, Singapore ranks top in Asia-Pacific in gender equality for physical security (including sex ratio at birth, child marriage and violence against women). It also does considerably well in gender equality for services and enablers, including meeting unmet needs for family planning, maternal mortality, education and digital inclusion.


About Martin Roll


Martin Roll is the founder and CEO of Martin Roll Company and brings with him more than 25 years of C-suite counselling experience.

He is very experienced in engaging and advising clients at all management levels from business owners and C-suite leaders to functional staff across multiple industries and diverse cultures. He is an advisor to several global boards and prominent business families.

He is a highly accomplished keynote speaker at global conferences, an experienced conference moderator and executive workshop facilitator.

He teaches MBA, EMBA and Executive Education programs at Nanyang Business School (Singapore), and is a frequent guest lecturer at INSEAD Business School, ESSEC and other leading global business schools. Martin Roll has been a Senior Advisor to McKinsey & Company.

Martin Roll is a member of the global Advisory Council of Welspun Group (Mumbai) and a Senior Advisor to Cocoon Capital (Singapore).

He is a Distinguished Fellow and an Entrepreneur in Residence at INSEAD.

Martin Roll is a business columnist with INSEAD Knowledge, a prolific management writer, and a regular commentator in global media. Martin Roll holds an MBA from INSEAD.

Martin Roll is the author of global bestseller “Asian Brand Strategy” (2015) and co-author of “The Future of Branding” (2016). New books in pipeline: How Successful Leaders Raise the Bar (2019), and Strategy for Family Businesses (2019).

Martin Roll has lived in Asia for two decades and serve clients on all continents.

Management specialties: Leadership, Strategy, Innovation, Change & Transformations, Digital Transformation, Branding, Marketing, Business Family Transformation & Transition, Business Coaching, C-level Mentoring, Business Consulting, Asia, China & Emerging Markets.