Control. Alternate. Delete. : Interview with the 2017 SMSA President

Sometimes, a hard reset is all that’s needed to start things on a clean slate...

batch IMG 1949Singapore - There's only one direction the latest President of the Singapore Motor Sports Association (or SMSA for short), Mr. Lee Lung Nien (or “Lung”) is prepared to look, and that’s forward. In case you haven’t realised, folks who dwell on the past do so for two reasons: recriminations and past glories, neither of which is helpful when it comes to propelling Singapore’s NSA (for National Sports Association) for motorsports into the global arena. Lung’s new Exco blends fresh blood that are specialists in their respective fields with a handful of seasoned experts from the Singapore motorsports scene, including the most recent President, Mr. Leslie Chang.

During a breakfast meeting, Lung tells us, “I see the SMSA progressing to the next level, and it can’t do anything if it works in isolation – we have to be open-minded. I bring a fresh perspective, new energy and a new direction to the table. After all, we don’t want to stop at endorsing events and issuing licenses. The whole point is to professionalise and corporatise the SMSA – in other words, it should be run like a company.” “Why?” we ask. “If not, it’ll always be the same. If it’s going to stay a club, then it will always be the same people doing the same things for the same people,” he says.

Well, within 100 days of the veteran banking professional taking the reins, there have been some rather radical proposals – the first of many in a long time we reckon – and he’s also laid down some groundwork for the SMSA to streamline and modernise processes and operations. For the former, a name and logo change have already been voted in during an EGM just a month prior to publication, and likewise the push to obtain IPC (Institution of Public Character) status for the SMSA (which means tax deductions for donors), both of which are now awaiting approval from the Registry of Societies.

batch ICE3719More importantly, Lung is also developing four pillars that are intended to propel the SMSA into the major league: Members, Events, Governance and Relationships. His banking background and current role as CEO of an international bank means he has the corporate savvy necessary to drive operational due processes and compliance safeguards, but most importantly, he’s a big petrolhead. Apart from racing in the MME and drifting, he is also an avid go-karter who was the 2015 Rotax Max Challenge Asia champion and X30 Singapore champion in the Veteran’s category, and continues to compete actively.

Apart from the type of members, the SMSA is also looking into potential barriers to entry, one of which was the tedium of manually parking and dropping a cheque at the SMSA office – everything will go online from December 2016, including ramping up the SMSA’s technology arm to get ready to go full swing in 2017. For the volunteers and committee members, there will also be proper training, development and knowledge transfers, as well as exposure to events organised by other NSAs. “We don’t want our members to just participate locally, but also in international competitions,” he tells us.
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The first high-profile event that wowed even the FIA when video footage was sent its way was the inaugural 2016 President’s Challenge Charity Sprint, a 280m drag race that saw S$200k raised from 40 competing sportscar drivers (next year it’s targeting 150!). “The FIA was very encouraging and supportive, and we’ve been asked by the FIA to help with CSR efforts on a global level by sharing SMSA’s expertise in organising such events, which lets us show the world how it’s done and helps put our name on the map.”

batch IMG 0536However, it’s not just about expensive cars, because the SMSA oversees all manner of motorsports, including go-karts and motorbikes. The key is to be inclusive and Lung looks to grow “grassroots participation” for SMSA events, instead of enforcing regulations for the sake of it; a recent example was a motorcycle gymkhana, where entry regulations were newly relaxed and a category was opened for non-SMSA members, which saw the participation rate more than triple from last year – in fact the non-member category might be extended to future events to boost participation.

As far as ‘Relationship’ is concerned, there are several parts: within the SMSA, between SMSA and the other NSAs to learn from each other’s mistakes and successes, and possibly even to work together – no it doesn’t just have to be with automotive-related partners. Lung also initiated a first round of dialogue sessions between the SMSA and industry players to determine where synergies exist to further develop motorsports. More importantly, the SMSA has started discussions with the AAS (Automobile Association of Singapore) to develop driving activities for its 80,000+ strong database.

batch IMG 20160925 191433‘Governance’ is probably the most important criteria if the SMSA is to be taken seriously on a global level. He explains, “This means proper processes and compliance controls in place to keep everything transparent, especially when it comes to handling money. Everything has to be kept at arm’s length and you can’t have conflicts of interest – to be world-class, you can’t run the risk of scandals.”

Lung concludes by saying, “We’re open to everybody who wants to help, but their agenda/interests have to be in sync with ours – it’s not about playing games. I’m just here to help SMSA’s broader agenda, which is to improve the sport and take it to a new level as a world-class global player.” PHOTOS Lee Lung Nien / David Khoo ; Lung’s Portrait by Paul Oz

This article was first published in TGS #57

David Khoo
Author: David Khoo
David is a big petrolhead who has been dabbling in the car trade since 2001 and currently oversees Top Gear Singapore. His stories often take an eclectic slant from the predictable, and he's able to craft a compelling read that lets you see the cars (often old!) in a new light.