NTUC Fairprice: Mr Seah Kian Peng – A Leader In Tune with the Nation’s Heartbeat
As the CEO of the National Trade Union Cooperation (NTUC)’s supermarket and retail chain, FairPrice, Seah Kian Peng helms a brand that is just about the byword for “supermarket” among locals. Since its inception in 1973, the social enterprise has quickly and firmly become an integral part of Singapore’s national identity, stemming from its foundational mission to moderate the day-to-day cost of living for Singaporeans.
Kian Peng has been with FairPrice for 16-odd years, and under his strong leadership, the FairPrice cooperative has grown to become the local industry player, with close to 300 stores around the island, in 8 different retail formats including convenience stores, hypermarts and a warehouse outlet mall. Through constant transformation, competitive positioning and a strong, consistent brand, the nearly half-a-century old retailer is staying fresh, relevant and compelling to the notoriously fickle shoppers of today.
“We celebrate and embrace diversity in our team, whether it is in terms of background, expertise, experience, gender, age or ability; but it is very important that the whole team, especially our leadership team, understand the values that FairPrice subscribes to.”
“A purely online format—at least in its current model—is not sustainable,” according to Kian Peng, in reference to new-age online competitors entering the local groceries market. “The answer will lie somewhere in the middle, and FairPrice is in a good position to provide that, with our wide footprint.” FairPrice’s multi-format system effectively penetrates the entire social strata; by embracing technology in its stores and back-end spaces, it provides the convenience, experience and attractive value proposition that are top priorities for consumers. But Kian Peng is aware that wooing the modern consumers also takes more than achieving traditional business goals. “Everyone, especially the younger generation, wants to know how we do our business, how we treat our staff, and if we care about the environment and community,” he says.
FairPrice’s strong Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) practice is in fact, firmly woven into the social fabric of the nation. It has made longstanding efforts in quality and responsible retailing, environmental sustainability as well as community work and partnerships. These across-the-board investments include house brand product reformulations and nutritional labelling to provide shoppers with healthier and more informed food choices, plastic bag and food wastage reduction schemes, donation and voucher programmes for the needy, as well as measures to aid and support its staff and local SME suppliers, both financially and socially.
“We celebrate and embrace diversity in our team, whether it is in terms of background, expertise, experience, gender, age or ability,” Kian Peng says. “But it is very important that the whole team, especially our leadership team, understand the values that FairPrice subscribes to. We conduct our business with purpose and everything we do must be in line with our social mission and CSR pillars.”
A leader who blends both a formal and informal style of management, Kian Peng frequently speaks with staff at all levels and even receives direct feedback from employees through social media channels. Yet he recognises that “an organisation no matter how small or large, cannot depend on a single person”. With the foresight and fairness of a good leader, he is a known proponent of entrusting and empowering the staff around him, an exemplary practice he brushes off by modestly stating that “one must know that you don’t know everything, so make use of all your experts—within the organisation and beyond.”
This interview is part of Influential Brands® Top CEO of the Year series, which recognises and profiles a select group of CEOs who are exemplary in 5 areas; Brand Leadership, Brand Expansion, Financial Performance, Innovation and Personal Integrity.