SINGAPORE (Nov 30): David Gerald, president and CEO of the Securities Investors Association (Singapore), or SIAS, was a legal officer in the Ministry of Manpower between 1974 and 1977, at a time when union strife was still a concern.

“In the 1950s and 1960s, [workers were on the] streets, burning buses,” Gerald says. “What the government decided was, we are not going to have this Western style [activism]; we are going to have it Singapore style. Let’s all sit down, drink tea and discuss issues like decent human beings. Let’s come up with a win-win solution.”

The result was the “tripartism” that Singapore held out as being one of its competitive advantages in attracting foreign investment. “The unions needed to ensure [reasonable] conditions of service. [But] the investors who came to do business here, build factories here and create employment here, cannot be allowed to be bullied by a strong union,” Gerald explains.

This is the same way Gerald sees the role of SIAS in the local market. “We work in a tripartite manner,” he says. Regulators such as MAS and SGX set market rules; the boards of public companies make decisions on how to use the capital of shareholders; and SIAS helps keep investors informed and supportive.

Gerald says his “decent gentlemanly approach” to activism gets more positive results than the confrontational and hectoring attitude of some investors. “Their notion of activism is different from ours,” he says. “It is important to discuss and convince [the company’s board and management] of the need to respond to shareholders’ aspirations,” he adds.

Now, companies are seeking out Gerald to help them communicate their point of view to the market. “Companies are calling me and asking: ‘Can we have a meeting because this is likely to end up in a dispute or a problem?’” he says. The way Gerald sees it, working with the companies to educate investors will ultimately be good for the local stock market. “I can stand with [minority shareholders], shouting and shouting. But I would not know what is happening.”

To learn more about Gerald, SIAS and his "gentlemanly approach to activism", login to read the story ‘Gentleman’ activist’ in The Edge Singapore (Issue 859, week of Dec 3), Or subscribe here.