Executive Summary 

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The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was formed in 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand to promote regional stability and political and economic cooperation. Over the next 32 years, Brunei (1984), Vietnam (1995), Laos (1997), Burma (1997) and Cambodia (1999) joined as full-time members. With a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of about US$3 trillion, ASEAN is an economy equivalent to the U.K. or 15% of the European Union. From 2000 to 2018, ASEAN’s economy grew steadily at an impressive average of 5.3% year over year.1

Amid this growth, twin forces in the form of changing demographics and digitization have shaped new industries and challenged legacy business models across the region. Successful ASEAN companies are responding to these forces by finding new and different ways to serve the needs of an aspirational and digitally savvy population. These companies have strategically transformed to ensure resilience against disruptive change in their core business while simultaneously pursuing new growth opportunities that smartly leverage core capabilities. As a result, these companies are better positioned for the future. Innosight calls this approach to both repositioning today while creating tomorrow “dual transformation.”

This report spotlights three categories of companies undertaking transformation, five success stories dubbed “transformation champions,” two airlines making the right moves but nevertheless succumbing to the industrywide shock of COVID-19 and eight high-potential “future champions.”

Five Transformation Champions 

Five companies have undertaken successful transformation in the past 15 years and, as a result, have outperformed their respective market indexes. They are, in alphabetical order:

This traditional regional bank transformed into a global digital platform company, around a cultural vision of a “28,000-person startup.”



This postal services provider, commonly abbreviated as SingPost, diversified and transformed into a postal, logistics and property services provider.




This telecommunications company, known commonly as Singtel, created new businesses in cybersecurity, payments and digital advertising.

This hospital operator ventured into senior care, managed services and software development businesses.



A traditional out-of-home media company, VGI transformed into an integrated offline-to-online solutions provider with an ecosystem of advertising, payment and logistics platforms.



Three Key Themes from the Champions

1. They are successful at dual transformation

Consider the regional telecommunications giant Singtel’s decade long efforts around two simultaneous and fundamental transformations. The first, to digitize its core operations around the delivery of data, replacing voice and text messaging. The second, to scale a portfolio of new growth digital businesses in areas where its unique assets create competitive advantages, such as mobile advertising and cybersecurity.

2. They are harnessing fintech-enabled business models

Consider the efforts of the Singaporean DBS Bank (DBS). More than half its customers undertake their banking predominantly through its digital channels. For DBS, these digital customers are twice as profitable as traditional customers. DBS has also successfully launched digibank, a mobile-led, digital-only bank, in both India and Indonesia. DBS has not stopped there; in 2017, it launched the world’s largest application protocol interface (API) platform allowing partners across industries to integrate DBS’ banking capabilities into their systems.

3. They are governed by long-serving leadership

Consider Thailand’s VGI, established in 1998 by KavinKanjanapas, who today serves as chairman of the executive committee. Kavin Kanjanapasalso serves as the chief executive officer (CEO) of VGI’s parent company, BTS Group Holdings Public Company Limited (BTS Group or BTS). His father, Keeree Kanjanapas, founded BTS Group in 1968 and serves as its chairman today. Their long-sighted vision and governance guided VGI’s transformation from a traditional out-of-home advertising company into an integrated media services provider.

Transformations Temporarily Grounded

We began our research into more than 600 publicly listed ASEAN companies in late 2019. By early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic had made its way from China to ASEAN. At the time of writing this report, it is evident this period of profound uncertainty is, and will continue to, negatively impact many ASEAN businesses and roil financial markets. These types of global crises, which in the 21st century include the dot-com bubble (2001-02) and the global financial crisis (2007-09), inevitably increase the number of companies struggling to remain solvent. However, there is a silver lining for companies that built resilience and identified growth opportunities in advance of this market shock. They have a chance to innovate in the downturn and create growth through the upturn.

We believe the five ASEAN transformation champions outlined in this report are on fundamentally stronger footing in navigating this period of profound uncertainty because of their efforts over the past 15 years to reposition for resilience and diversify around unique capabilities. The airline industry is experiencing the full force of this economic downturn with bailouts happening in some form or another around the world. Our research identified two ASEAN airlines, Singapore Airlines and AirAsia, that made pre-COVID-19 moves to create resilience in the core through digitization while in parallel seeking to diversify revenue away from airfares. We recognize these efforts fall far short of offsetting the devastating impact of having almost an entire fleet on the ground. However, having adopted a dual transformation approach affords each a glimmer of a silver lining against the downturn of COVID-19.


These were the words bellowed in 2009 by a Singaporean taxi driver in response to Paul Cobban’srequest for a ride to DBS’ headquarters for his first day at the bank. Paul is the chief data and transformation officer of DBS. Back in 2009, these words were justified. DBS had the lowest customer satisfaction scores of any bank in Singapore. Fast forward a decade, and these words have lost all meaning. In 2019, DBS became the first bank in the world to simultaneously hold the titles of “Bank of the Year” (The Banker), “Best Bank in the World” (Global Finance) and “World’s Best Bank” (Euromoney).

This report spotlights the DBS story and the stories of two more ASEAN transformation champions from Singapore and two from Thailand. Each profile outlines how these companies turned disruptive threats into transformation opportunities.

ASEAN and its business characteristics

Founded in 1967, ASEAN today encompasses ten countries: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The economies of these member countries are at vastly different stages of development; for instance, Singapore’s GDP per capita is approximately 50 times thatof Myanmar and 25 times that of Laos.2

As set out in the ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint 2025, its member countries aim to develop a highly integrated and cohesive economy.3 ASEAN has dramatically outpaced the rest of the world on GDP growth per capita since the late 1970s, with average annual real gains of more than 5%.4

Further, a growing middle class and digitization has led to a vibrant startup ecosystem across the region: ASEAN’s 11 unicorns had a combined market valuation of US$44 billion in 2020.5

Despite the success to date, the needs of its increasingly urbanized and aspirational population are continuously evolving. The region is home to the world’s fastest-growing population of internet users, with more than 125,000 new users forecast to come online every day through the year 2020.6 These forces are fueling new digital businesses, which in turn are challenging legacy incumbent business models.

Approach to identify ASEAN transformation champions

We analyzed 623 publicly listed companies across ASEAN markets and assessed their transformation efforts and outcomes. This resulted in a shortlist of 51 companies on which we conducted detailed qualitative and quantitative research to understand the dynamics of each transformation. Following a methodology used in other Innosight research reports, a team scrutinized these companies according to the degree to which they had repositioned their core business while also creating new growth businesses and the company’s financial performance since the year of transformation.7 This resulted in the identification of our ASEAN transformation champions.

Seven companies crossed our screen. We removed two airlines that have seen their efforts grounded due to the COVID-19 crisis (see Dual Transformation in Airlines for more) to arrive at our five transformation champions. They are, in alphabetical order:

  • DBS Bank (Singapore):A traditional regional bank, DBS transformed into a global digital platform company, around a cultural vision of a “28,000-person startup.
  • SingPost (Singapore):This postal services provider diversified and transformed into a postal, logistics and property services provider.
  • Singtel (Singapore):This telecommunication company launched new businesses in cybersecurity, payments and digital advertising.
  • Thonburi Healthcare Group (Thailand):This hospital operator ventured into senior care, managed services and software development businesses.
  • VGI (Thailand):A traditional out-of-home media company, VGI transformed into an integrated offline-to-online solutions provider with an ecosystem of advertising, payment and logistics platforms.

Each champion has outperformed its broader market. Total shareholder return (TSR) delivered by VGI, for instance, is three times that of the Bangkok Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) Index since it began its transformation in 2016. Another example is DBS: The bank has delivered TSR four times higher than Singapore’s Straits Times Index from 2013 through 2019.

Dual Transformation in Airlines

We noted the transformation efforts of two regional airlines in our research: Singapore Airlines and AirAsia. Both were on our radar for their efforts to digitize all aspects of their core airline operations while in parallel seeking to turn unique customer and loyalty data assets into new revenue streams. These attempts to diversify their revenue base away from seat fares offer something of a silver lining against the downturn of COVID-19, but not nearly enough to offset the devastating impact of grounding practically their entire fleets for months.

Singapore Airlines has adopted the Qantas playbook (See our report Australia’s Transformation Champions for details on the Qantas story). It is leveraging its KrisFlyer loyalty program to build an e-commerce business, a digital wallet business, and a hotel and car rental business. With the introduction of these businesses, miles redemption on non-airline partners saw a year-over-year increase of 42% in fiscal year 2018-2019. In response to COVID-19, Singapore Airlines has focused efforts on promoting its e-commerce business, KrisShop. However, at the time of writing this report, 96% of Singapore Airlines’ fleet capacity has been grounded, a staggering figure that cannot be recouped by a still-emerging e-commerce business.8

AirAsia,the Malaysian budget carrier, is transforming into a digital corporation centered around travel and lifestyle through its venture arm, which has similar tones to the U.K.’s Virgin Group. AirAsia is targeting a contribution of approximately 60% of total revenue from its non-airline businesses in the next five years, up from the current contribution of 20%. It too has grounded most of its fleet and is therefore pushing its logistics and e-commerce businesses.9

These efforts provide welcome alternate revenue streams during COVID-19; however, they cannot come close to offsetting the existential impact of the crisis. However, if Singapore Airlines and AirAsia continue this journey and push beyond offerings that are inherently tied to “miles in the air,” then the next crisis could find these two airlines increasingly diverse, resilient and ready.

Three Transformation Themes

Analysis of the transformation efforts of the five champions identified three common themes:

1. Transformation champions are successful at pursuing dual transformation.

Each champion pursued a specific approach to innovation known as dual transformation. By undertaking the transformation, they:

  • Repositioned their existing business for resilience (Transformation A).
  • Created new growth engine businesses (Transformation B).

Let us consider the transformation story of Singtel, ASEAN’s largest telecommunications company. In 2010, Singtel found itself face to face with a disruptive threat as its core voice business dwindled against a surge in mobile data that enabled different ways for people to communicate. Singtel tackled this threat head-on with a decision to pursue dual transformation. Transformation A has involved numerous efforts to shift focus from voice to data and digitize. For Transformation B, Singtel has acquired and scaled a portfolio of digital businesses in areas such as mobile marketing and enterprise cybersecurity. The underlying capabilities that link these efforts to create competitive advantage include aspects of its deep customer connections and touch points, presence across multiple ecosystems, and unique data such as location data.

Singtel had announced plans to spend US$1.6 billion acquiring companies specializing in relevant digital businesses.

During the period 2015-2019, Singtel’s core business revenue shrunk as consumers continued to shift from voice to data, and pricing competition grew. However, two years earlier in 2013, Singtel had announced plans to spend US$1.6 billion acquiring companies specializing in relevant digital businesses.10 As a result of this move, Singtel partially offset this decline through strong growth in its Group Digital Life unit, which grew at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 37% through its digital marketing and data analytics businesses.11

It is important to note Transformation B typically requires a portfolio approach, as some efforts to create new growth engines invariably fail. A case in point is Singtel’s recent decision to liquidate its over-the-top (OTT) video business Hooq given persistent consumer pricing sensitivities set against the costs of content.

In 2004, a similar wave of disruption washed over SingPost, resulting in a sharp decline in its core mailing business. SingPost responded by launching new growth efforts in logistics and e-commerce fulfillment services. In parallel, it doubled down on improving operational efficiency of its core mailing business. The company saw its revenue grow at 8.4% CAGR from 2004 to 2019, and by fiscal year 2019-20, its new business efforts were contributing 44% to its overall revenue.12 An example from Thailand is Thonburi Healthcare Group (THG). In 2014, the group realized its core general hospital business was reaching saturation in Thailand. At the same time, Thailand’s healthcare needs are shifting as its population ages. THG therefore decided to act and reposition its core business by launching home-based healthcare. In parallel, it has invested US$110 million to launch an assisted living real-estate business.13 It has bolstered this with additional new growth initiatives that include hospital management services and software development for hospitals. In 2019, THG’s new growth businesses contributed approximately US$30 million (11% of the overall business) to the group’s overall revenue.14


2. Transformation champions are harnessing fintech-enabled business models.

ASEAN’s payments landscape has leaped from being one of the world’s most paper-based and cash-centric to an advanced cashless society. This is being enabled by a fintech revolution using disruptive technologies to turn cumbersome financial processes into simple, affordable and accessible payment solutions. A legion of increasingly progressive and tech-savvy consumers is rapidly adopting these solutions.

Several champions are capitalizing on this trend by introducing fintech-driven business models. Consider VGI’s 2016 joint venture with the Line messaging app to launch Rabbit Line Pay, an integrated e-wallet for online and offline payments. By 2019, Rabbit Line Pay had grown to serve more than 5.5 million users, representing a more than 80% year-over-year increase in user base.15 In Singapore, Singtel partnered with Standard Chartered Bank in 2014 to launch Dash, a mobile banking platform. Singtel has since focused on growing Dash into a provider of a host of financial services, including payments and remittances. In 2018, Singtel launched Via, its cross-border mobile payments alliance, to allow mobile payments through local wallets across Singapore and Thailand. Its latest move is a 2019 consortium bid with Grab for a full digital banking license in Singapore. It appears Singtel is doubling down on establishing a presence in the financial services sector as its core telecommunications offering continues to fight against commoditization.

Overall, DBS’ digital customers are now 52% of total customers versus 33% in 2015, and are twice as profitable as traditional customers.

Unsurprisingly, financial services incumbents are fighting back against these encroachments into the banking arena. Consider DBS, which launched its mobile-led, digital-only bank, digibank, in India in 2016 and Indonesia in 2017. By 2019, digibank had scaled to 3.25 million customers for everyday banking transactions from payments to investments. Overall, DBS’ digital customers are now 52% of total customers, versus 33% in 2015, and are twice as profitable as traditional customers. Further, DBS launched the world’s largest application protocol interface (API) platform in 2017, allowing financial and retail partners to invisibly integrate DBS’ capabilities into their systems. By 2019, more than 400 partners were connected to DBS through its API platform.16


3. Transformation champions are governed by long-serving leadership.

The research behind the world’s Top 100 CEO list published by Harvard Business Review (HBR) revealed in 2019 that, on average, the top 100 CEOs have held their positions for 15 years. This is more than twice the average tenure of an S&P 500 CEO.17 These seasoned CEOs leverage deep institutional knowledge sharpened by seeing through the peaks and troughs of business cycles. As a result, they have invariably gained the trust of their boards and are adept at managing their stakeholders. These characteristics and experiences enable them to demonstrate the four leadership traits required for successful dual transformation.18 These are the:

  1. Courage to take resources from the core business to build new businesses.
  2. Clarity to focus on a select few strategic opportunities.
  3. Curiosity to explore and find new paths through well-thought-out experiments with the goal to “test and learn” even amid failures and setbacks.
  4. Conviction to persevere in the face of predictable crises.

Consider Piyush Gupta, DBS’ much-lauded CEO. Gupta has guided DBS’ transformation into a technology-driven digital bank since he took the helm in 2009, some 11 years ago. A courageous decision Gupta and his team made was to reframe DBS’ competitive set from compliance-focused banks to entrepreneurially minded tech companies. DBS decided to begin comparing itself to Google, Amazon, Netflix, Apple, LinkedIn (which was subsequently acquired by Microsoft) and Facebook. It didn’t pick those companies haphazardly. If you put DBS between Netflix and Apple, it forms the acronym GANDALF, the long-bearded wizard from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series.

This created the clarity to fundamentally flip DBS’ approach to technology. In 2009, almost all of its operations were outsourced. By the end of 2017, DBS controlled 85% of its resources.19 It also had moved two-thirds of its applications to the cloud to provide greater flexibility. The curiosity that led Gupta and his team to visit companies like Netflix also played a pivotal role in its transformation. Adrian Cockcroft, then a development leader from Netflix (as of the writing of this report at Amazon Web Services), described to them how another bank had visited Netflix and had bemoaned the fact that Netflix clearly had an advantage in attracting young, talented engineers. Cockcroft made two observations. First, he told the bank that the average Netflix engineer was 40 years old. Second, he noted that he had hired a good proportion from banks and had simply “gotten out of their way.” DBS took inspiration from this to drive an organization wide culture change effort, without which, Paul Cobbanhas noted, DBS could never have achieved its business transformation.20 Gupta’s achievements have seen him listed in the aforementioned HBR 2019 Top 100 CEOs in the world. During his tenure, DBS has delivered 159% TSR, well over double the 62% return of Singapore’s Straits Time Index.21

Similarly, at Singtel, Chua Sock Koonghas been group CEO since 2007. Chua has led Singtel’s transformation from pure-play telecommunications to a digital services business since it was first announced in 2010.22 It took courage for Singtel to allocate US$1.6 billion in 2013 to fund its transformation efforts.23 Singtel chairman Simon Israel has noted this figure was arrived at because it was meaningful enough to signal intentions, but not so meaningful that if they failed it could sink the company. Singtel’s transformation journey has not been without its challenges, yet Chua’s conviction to preserve has seen Singtel deliver 89% TSR the past decade, compared with a 62% return for Singapore’s Straits Time Index.24

Switching focus to the Thai champions, we find a similar story. Dr. Boon Vanasinfounded Thonburi Healthcare Group in 1976 and serves as chairman today some 44 years later. VGI Chairman of the Executive Committee KavinKanjanapasfounded the company in 1998 as the out-of-home advertising arm of BTS Group Holdings, which was in turn founded in 1968 by his father, KeereeKanjanapas, who still serves as BTS Group chairman today. VGI’s first contract was to manage the advertising spaces and commercial areas across the BTS Group train network.

In 2016, as online and social media became primary channels for customer engagement, VGI took over Rabbit Group (Rabbit), a smart card/e-payments business within BTS Group. With Rabbit’s takeover, VGI gained an enormous repository of mass transit data enabling advertisersto better target advertising. This data also enabled VGI to experiment with new offerings such as location-based services and data-driven predictions on future consumer spending, invaluable for advertisers.

The confidence created through this curiosity to experiment led to a US$173 million acquisition in 2018 of a 23% stake in Kerry Express, a successful Thai e-commerce fulfillment provider.25 This was a key step on VGI’s transformation into an integrated provider of media services. VGI’s most recent results show revenue more than 1,000 times higher than the US$150,000 seed capital Kavin invested to get VGI off the ground.26 An impressive outcome and testament to the importance of long-sighted and long-standing leadership.


Future Champions


The emergent characteristics of most ASEAN markets means the headroom to expand the core operations of many companies has been readily available for years. This leads to a broad observation that the overall number of dual transformation efforts evident in ASEAN is lower when compared with our global transformation research and market-specific studies in mature markets like Australia and Germany. For this reason, we have decided to also highlight eight ASEAN companies in the initial stages of dual transformation.

While the success of these future champions is far from certain, their intent and potential to be future champions is noteworthy. They are, in alphabetical order:

ABS-CBN (Philippines)

Industry: Media
Beginning of Transformation: 2015
Revenue: US$765 million

Seeds of transformation: Currently navigating political challenges around its core broadcast business but has laid the foundations for revenues outside broadcast. This includes investing in related physical experiences, including a theme park (KidZania franchise) and studio. In parallel, it has repositioned the broadcast business by undertaking digital transformation.

What to watch for: Can premium physical experiences sufficiently scale given constrained consumer spending power and limited availability of content and characters?

Axiata Group (Malaysia)

Industry: Telecommunications
Beginning of Transformation: 2014
Revenue: US$5.7 billion

Seeds of transformation: Launched digital businesses in three core verticals: financial services (Boost), marketing (Ada) and an API platform (Apigate). Since launching, each has shown promising user adoption and revenue growth rates.

What to watch for: Can each digital business sustain early growth and achieve sustainable profitability in competitive spaces? In parallel, can the core business demonstrate resilience during increased market consolidation and the economic challenges of a 5G rollout?

Central Group (Thailand)

Industry: Retail, real estate, merchandising
Beginning of Transformation: 2017
Revenue: US$7.4 billion (retail business)

Seeds of transformation: Ambitions to become a market leader in digital-lifestyle platforms. Recently created a US$500 million joint venture with China’s JD.com for the development of e-commerce, logistics and e-finance businesses.27

What to watch for: Can the e-commerce platform and associated services effectively scale given the potential for confusion or conflict with established brick-and-mortar businesses?

Kasikorn Bank (Thailand)

Industry: Financial services
Beginning of Transformation: 2019
Revenue: US$4.2 billion

Seeds of transformation: Established two companies, the first with a stated ambition to create Thailand’s first fintech unicorn (Kasikorn X) and the second in Shenzhen (KaitaiTech), to develop technology and foster partnerships in China. In parallel, efforts are underway to reposition its K Plus phone application as a “lifestyle platform” offering e-commerce, payments and lending services.

What to watch for: Can a sufficiently differentiated value proposition be found across fintech and e-commerce offerings, noting these are the same or similar areas of focus as Siam Commercial Bank?

Siam Commercial Bank (Thailand)

Industry: Financial services
Beginning of Transformation: 2016
Revenue: US$4.3 billion

Seeds of transformation: Fueling Transformation B by combining the capabilities of three group entities (Digital Ventures, SCB Abacus and SCB 10X) to reposition the bank as a technology player. In parallel, undertaking a digital transformation program to create new digital customer experiences.

What to watch for: Can efforts to invest in and build technology capabilities and solutions find sustainable and scalable business models, noting the competition with startups and incumbents such as Kasikorn Bank —and will these efforts get executive time and energy given an ambitious core digital transformation program?

UnionBank of the Philippines (Philippines)

Industry: Financial services
Beginning of Transformation: 2015
Revenue: US$686 million

Seeds of transformation: Launched UBX, a Transformation B effort to build products for financial institutions in the micro, small and medium enterprises segments while in parallel undertaking Transformation A to launch fully digital branches and online and mobile banking.

What to watch for: Can UBX successfully commercialize and scale these products while investing significant energy on core digitization?

Razer (Singapore)

Industry: Gaming
Beginning of Transformation: 2018
Revenue: US$712 million

Seeds of transformation: Created a fintech arm to promote digital payments and increase financial inclusivity for youth across emerging markets. Razer Fintech has applied for a digital full bank license in Singapore to establish a youth bank. Has also ventured into hardware for cloud gaming, virtual payments and esports sponsorship.

What to watch for: Can its millennial brand create leverage, and can its gaming user base, a significant proportion of whom are young underbanked users in emerging markets, be monetized? Early signals are promising, with a 50% year-over-year growth in Razer Fintech’s total payment value to US$2.1 billion in 2019.28

Sea Group (Singapore)

Industry: Gaming
Beginning of Transformation: 2014
Revenue: US$2.1 billion

Seeds of transformation: Made moves from gaming into payments with SeaMoney(formerly AirPay) and subsequently leveraged its digital entertainment expertise to launch a social-first, highly engaging e-commerce platform, Shopee. In parallel, it has ventured into game publishing and self-published Free Fire, the world’s most downloaded mobile game of 2019.

What to watch for: Can Sea Group turn a loss-making e-commerce business profitable, meaningfully differentiate it through engaging digital experiences and make localization a sustainable competitive advantage in its battles against deep-pocketed regional competitors?


The future champions closely follow the three themes of our ASEAN transformation champions.

1. Dual transformation:

All eight are pursuing a dual transformation approach with simultaneous efforts to reinvent today while in parallel creating new growth engines in spaces they possess strategic advantages.

2. Fintech-enabled business models:

Seven of the eight (ABS-CBN is the exception) are leveraging fintech in some way, with efforts ranging from digital-only banks to e-wallet platforms and “bank-in-a-box” solutions.

3. Long-serving Leadership:

Almost all of these companies are led by long-tenured senior leaders or leaders who have recently taken the baton from a long-tenured predecessor. For example, ABS-CBN group’s current Chairman Emeritus Eugenio Lopez III previously served as CEO of the group from 1996 to 2012. Another example is Banthoon Lamsam, who served as Kasikorn Bank’s CEO for a period of 28 years before recently stepping down this year. And both former unicorns, Razer and Sea Group, are led by their founding CEOs, Min-Liang Tan and Forrest Li, who have served for 15 years and 11 years respectively.

While it is too early to tell whether they will become our next champions, these attributes appear to push the odds in their favor.


There is a popular saying, generally attributed as a Chinese proverb, that says:

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

Companies seeing signs of disruptive change should act before they need to. Further, hope is not lost for companies that have been caught flat-footed by the COVID-19 crisis. Many great companies were founded during downturns. IBM started in the panic of 1896; Disney started just before the Great Depression in 1923; Burger King, during the V-shaped recession in 1953; Microsoft, during economic stagnation in 1975; and Airbnb, during the global financial crisis of 2008. Also, one ASEAN transformation champion, Singtel, began its transformation journey coming out of the global financial crisis in 2010.

The key to corporate longevity is the ability to continuously reinvent today while planting the trees that create tomorrow. A recessionary environment can help companies to make overdue hard choices while also creating opportunities to plant trees due to lower commodity prices, cost-conscious customers ready for disruptive new products or services, and increased availability of talent.

As leaders reassess strategies and priorities for a post-COVID-19 environment, a dual transformation approach helps disaggregate the challenge of securing today (Transformation A) while planting the seeds of innovation in the downturn to create tomorrow’s business (Transformation B). Strategically diversified companies with twin growth engines are more resistant, ensuring a greater readiness for the next global shock. Each of the five ASEAN transformation champions spotlighted in this report has managed to do this, and the eight future champions have started their journeys. We believe all forward-thinking ASEAN organizations should take inspiration from these stories to build resilience in their core businesses while simultaneously turning disruptive threats into opportunity by planting trees now.


“Transformation is infinite, and it’s an ongoing process. We are setting bolder goals and continuously reinventing ourselves.”

—Paul Cobban, Chief Data and Transformation Officer, DBS Bank

The fictional character from The Lord of the Ringsbecame the rallying call for transformation at DBS. The first letters of Google, Amazon, Netflix, Apple, LinkedIn and Facebook together spell GANALF. DBS aspired to provide the missing “D” by transforming itself into a technology company.

For DBS Bank, the decision to transform stemmed from a fundamental realization that, with the advent of new fintech players, incumbents would have to pursue digitization in order to survive.

DBS’ digital transformation strategy has been centered on three core principles. First, that the bank had to be digital to the core and not just apply “digital lipstick.” This meant reimagining its legacy technology architecture to make it API-based. Second, it focused on embedding itself in the customer journey. The final principle was to transform its culture. Acting on these principles has enabled DBS to deliver on its transformation strategy.

In 2019, its digital banking platform, digibank, was used by 3.25 million customers for everyday transactions such as payments and investments. DBS’ digital customers are now 52% of its total customers, versus 33% in 2015, and are twice as profitable as traditional customers.29

DBS launched the world’s largest application protocol interface (API) platform in 2017, where financial and retail partners could invisibly integrate DBS’ capabilities into their systems. By 2019, more than 400 partners were connected to DBS through its API platform.30

DBS has also made progress to become increasingly data-driven, with the bank running more than 150 projects leveraging advanced analytics.

DBS has come a long way since it first started its transformation journey. In 2019, it became the first bank in the world to simultaneously hold three prestigious titles. They are “Bank of the Year” (The Banker), “Best Bank in the World” (Global Finance) and “World’s Best Bank” (Euromoney).31

“SingPost embarked on transformation years ago to future proof our business, and in recent times, we are ensuring that our people are well equipped to embrace change. Our focus will continue to beon transformation, riding on disruptions within the industry and connecting communities in this digital age.”

—Paul Coutts, CEO, SingPost

Digitization has completely transformed the way we communicate. Email has replaced letter writing, and companies now prefer communicating electronically with their customers instead of sending pamphlets.

For a postal services provider, this spells one word —disruption. To counter this disruption in its core business, Singapore Post (SingPost) transformed itself from a mail carrier to a logistics and e-commerce fulfillment services provider. SingPostleveraged its logistics and operational capabilities to launch a full suite of services for e-commerce businesses, including front-end web management, warehousing and fulfillment, last-mile delivery, international freight forwarding and digital marketing.

It pursued its new growth business through strategic acquisitions (QuantiumSolutions; 2009) along with organic investments (US$140 million for an e-commerce logistics hub).32,33

Since launching, SingPost’snew business efforts have borne fruit with 38% of overall revenue coming from its logistics business (including e-commerce) and 6% from its property business (comprising commercial property rental and self-storage services) in fiscal year 2019-20.

In parallel to the new growth initiatives, in its core business operations of postal services, SingPostfocused on operational efficiency through post and parcel integration, self-drop boxes, and delivery tracking. It has also launched new services such as bill payments and mailroom management services. In recent years, SingPosthas doubled down on digitization of its postal business by introducing initiatives such as automated self-service post offices and digital sales advisory services.

Since undergoing this transformation, SingPosthas gone through several challenges, including a sudden departure of the CEO in 2016 and the 2019 bankruptcy of its U.S.-based e-commerce subsidiaries. While it has outperformed notable peers in mature high-GDP markets like Japan (Japan Post), the U.K. (Royal Mail) and the Netherlands (PostNL), it still lags the likes of Deutsche Post DHL, whose growth template it aspires to adapt.34 Over the period of 2004-2019, an investment of US$10,000 in SingPostwould have yielded 37% higher returns than the same investment in a basket of its global peers**. Per CEO Paul Coutts, “SingPostis well-positioned to capitalize on the ASEAN region’s booming e-commerce market.35

“Instead of being disrupted into obsolescence by shifting technological trends, Singtel is embracing change and transforming itself into a digital technology company.”

—Chua Sock Koong, CEO, Singtel

Incumbent telecommunications players around the world are confronting the disruption of their core business model from over-the-top challengers such as Viber and WhatsApp.

In 2010, Southeast Asia’s largest mobile provider, Singtel, found itself face to face with this threat as its core voice volumes began to decline.

Singtel decided to tackle this threat head-on with a bold decision to pursue dual transformation. For the core business, this meant a shift from voice to data alongside a digitization program. In parallel, it leveraged existing assets and strengths in scale, connectivity and data to build new digital businesses.

To pursue and discover new growth, Singtel launched an independent venture capital company called Innov8 and created a new division named Group Digital Life.

By 2019, the core of Group Digital Life consisted of digital marketing (through the acquisition of Amobee in 2012 and Videologyin 2018) and data analytics (through the launch of DataSparkin 2014). In addition, through Innov8, Singtel has continued to invest in startups such as the 2018 investment in Halodoc, an Indonesian telehealth platform.

Another key acquisition has been that of the cybersecurity firm Trustwave in 2015. Singtel further expanded its enterprise infocommunicationsand technology (ICT) services to include cloud, internet of things, cybersecurity and smart city solutions.

In its core business, Singtel’s focus has been on digital transformation and network expansion. Its range of core services includes mobile, pay TV, fixed broadband and voice, as well as equipment sales.

Key to Singtel’s results has been an openness to change despite success. As group CEO Chua Sock Koongsaid:

The most important thing is to be open to new ideas. If you are successful in what you have been doing, it is sometimes even more difficult to want to change. In our case, if we were not open to new ideas, such as going overseas or creating new digital businesses, we’d be a lot smaller than we are today.36


“The general hospital business has started to reach saturation in Thailand. The industry has to look for new business opportunities, such as specialized hospital and wellbeing services for senior citizens.”

—Dr. Tanatip Suppradit, CEO, Thonburi Healthcare Group

Thailand is in the midst of a major demographic change. Falling population mortality and fertility levels are resulting in an aged society, with one-fifth of its overall population expected to be elderly by 2021.37

ASEAN culture has traditionally involved family-supported aged care. However, with an increasing trend of nuclear families, private healthcare services for the aged are on the rise. On the back of this trend, the Thonburi Healthcare Group (THG) aims to transform itself to become a major player in aged care services.

Founded in 1976, Thonburi Healthcare Group operates hospitals and specialty centers within Thailand as well as in collaboration with local partners within Asia. In 2014, the company set up a subsidiary called Premiere Home Health Care Co. Ltd. (now Thonburi Wellbeing Co. Ltd.), to build a stand-alone elderly care facility. The company invested US$110 million and launched its project titled JinWellbeing County to create an assisted living residential complex for the elderly.38

By 2019, the group was ready to sell 500 out of a total 1,380 residential units, with an average price of US$155,000.39 The project also includes the Thonburi BuranaHospital —a dedicated hospital for elderly care as well as a wellness institute. Along similar lines, THG also launched a second senior care and living residential project called Thonburi Health Village.

In parallel, THG has repositioned its core healthcare offering by launching home-based healthcare as a service. The company also acquired Modular Software Expertise Co. Ltd. to offer software for hospital management as a service. The company offers management and consulting services for hospitals, primarily in Thailand and Southeast Asia. In 2019, THG earned a revenue of US$14.7 million from its hospital management business.40

With its new growth efforts in aged care, home-based healthcare and managed services, Thonburi Healthcare Group has successfully transformed itself from a pure-play hospitals operator to an integrated healthcare solutions provider.

“VGI’s belief is to be a pioneering solution provider for tomorrow where the consumer’s offline journey intertwines with the online world. And one would not be complete without the other.”

—Kavin Kanjanapas, Chairman of the Executive Committee, VGI

VGI is the media and advertising arm of BTS Group, which is also the majority shareholder of the Bangkok Mass Transit System. It started out as a traditional out-of-home advertising services provider, mainly in transit media. It was granted an exclusive 30-year license from BTS to manage the advertising spaces and commercial areas across the BTS network.

In 2015, VGI faced growth challenges in its core out-of-home advertising business, with evolving consumer preferences and the emergence of new competitors. Online and social media were quickly becoming the primary channel for customer engagement.

A year later, VGI acquired Rabbit Group (an e-payments business and a subsidiary of BTS Group) with a goal to transform itself into an integrated offline-to-online provider of advertising services. Rabbit Group’s payment card at the time had an extensive user base, which has further grown to 11 million in 2019.42

Rabbit has further expanded its payment business by jointly launching a mobile payment platform (Rabbit Line Pay) with Line Corporation, which serves more than 5.5 million users.43VGI aimed to leverage this extensive repository of consumer data on top of its own out-of-home media platform to launch solutions.

An example offline-to-online solution in action involves showcasing the same ad to commuters on their social media profile as the ones they see when they walk past the turnstile.

In 2018, in order to establish an offline-to-online ecosystem, VGI ventured into the logistics business, through an investment in Kerry Express (Thailand-based parcel delivery services). With strong growth in the e-commerce sector, VGI aims to leverage Kerry Express’ network to connect brands with customers through advertisements on parcels, delivery trucks and distribution centers.

Finally, VGI has repositioned its core out-of-home business by pushing efforts in digital (LED screens) and AI-driven intelligent advertising. Through strategic acquisitions in complementary areas of e-commerce, payments and digital advertising, VGI has successfully transformed into an integrated media services provider.


Scott Anthony 2017 - 400 x 400Scott Anthony, a senior partner at Innosight. Read Scott’s full biography.





Andy Parker - 2017- 400 x 400Andy Parker is a partner at Innosight. Read Andy’s full biography.





Utsav Bhatt, Senior Associate, Singapore

Utsav Bhatt is a manager at Innosight. Read Utsav’s full biography.





Aayush Surana is an associate at Innosight. Read Aayush’s full biography.





Teng Yang (TY) TangTY Tang is an associate at Innosight. Read TY’s full biography.





The strategy and innovation business of global consultancy Huron, Innosight empowers forward-thinking organizations to navigate disruptive change and own the future. The leading authority on disruptive innovation and strategic transformation, the firm collaborates with clients across a range of industries to create growth strategies, build innovation capabilities and accelerate new growth initiatives.

Senior Partner Scott Anthony, who is based in Singapore, is the lead author of the seminal book Dual Transformation: How to Reposition Today’s Business While Creating the Future, which underscores Innosight’s philosophies.

Innosight has a focus on the ASEAN market and helping ASEAN organizations undertake dual transformation. This report is part of Innosight’s Transformation series of reports, which chronicles companies leading strategic transformations.

RESEARCH methodology

We began the process by identifying the top 100 companies on ASEAN [59] indexes by market capitalization to arrive at a list of 623 companies. This was followed by thorough qualitative research on each of the 623 companies to shortlist 51 companies that had made a clear commitment to strategic transformation.

In the final phase, we reviewed each shortlisted company against the following metrics:

  1. The degree to which it had repositioned its core business
  2. The degree to which the firm had developed meaningful new businesses
  3. Financials (revenue growth, net income growth and total shareholder return)

Companies that had achieved growth in only adjacent spaces without a significantly different business model were removed from the sample to arrive at the final five firms.

End Notes

  1. ASEAN Key Figures 2019. The ASEAN Secretariat, October 2019. https://www.aseanstats.org/wpcontent/uploads/2019/11/ASEAN_Key_Figures_2019.pdf.
  2. ASEAN Key Figures 2019.
  3. ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint 2025. The ASEAN Secretariat, November 2015. https://www.asean.org/storage/2016/03/AECBP_2025r_FINAL.pdf.
  4. “9 Things You Need to Know About ASEAN.” Deutsche Bank, April 16, 2019. https://www.db.com/newsroom_news/2019/9-things-you-need-to-know-about-asean-en-11469.htm.
  5. “What Is a Unicorn Startup?” CB Insights, April 2020. https://www.cbinsights.com/research-unicorn-companies.
  6. Mahmood, IshtiaqP. “7 Key Challenges for the Future of ASEAN —and How to Solve Them.” World Economic Forum, August 29, 2018. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/08/7-challenges-to-business-in-the-asean-region-and-how-to-solve-them/.
  7. See the About Innosight and Research Methodology sections later in the report for details.
  8. Kaur, Karamjitand Yong, Clement. “SIA Cuts 96% of Capacity as Virus Hammers Industry.” The Straits Times, March 24, 2020. https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/sia-cuts-96-of-capacity-as-virus-hammers-industry.
  9. Yusof, Ayisy. “AirAsia Sees Non-Airline Segment as Top Earner.” New Straits Times, December 8, 2019. https://www.nst.com.my/business/2019/12/546214/airasia-sees-non-airline-segment-top-earner.
  10. Ho, Victoria. “Singapore’s SingTel Wants to Pump Another $1.6B Into Startup Investments.” TechCrunch, May 15, 2013. https://techcrunch.com/2013/05/15/singapore-telco-singtel-to-invest-1-6b-over-next-three-years-in-startups/.
  11. Innosight analysis of Singtel’s annual reports from 2015 to 2019.
  12. S&P Capital IQ; Innosight analysis.
  13. Apisitniran, Lamonphet. “THG Banking on B3.7bn Retirement Home Project.” Bangkok Post, July 23, 2019. https://www.bangkokpost.com/business/1717067/thg-banking-on-b3-7bn-retirement-home-project.
  14. “Thonburi Healthcare Group Annual Report 2019.” Thonburi Healthcare Group. https://thg.listedcompany.com/misc/flipbook/index.html?id=130581.
  15. “VGI Annual Report, 2018/19.” VGI Global Media Public Company Limited. http://vgi.listedcompany.com/misc/AR/ar2018-en.html.
  16. “DBS Group Holdings Ltd | Annual Report 2019: Pursuing the Greater Good.” DBS Group Holdings Ltd. https://www.dbs.com/annualreports/2019/index.html?pid=sg-group-pweb-investors-cardtiles-pursuing-the-greater-good.
  17. The CEO 100, 2019 Edition.” Harvard Business Review, November-December 2019. https://hbr.org/2019/11/the-ceo-100-2019-edition.
  18. The four leadership traits are covered in detail in Innosight’sbook on dual transformation. (Anthony, Scott D., Gilbert, Clark G., and Johnson, Mark W. Dual Transformation: How to Reposition Today’s Business While Creating the Future. Harvard Business Review Press, 2017.)
  19. “DBS Group Holdings Ltd Annual Report 2017.” DBS Group Holdings Ltd. https://www.dbs.com/annualreports/2017/pdfs/DBS-AR17-full.pdf.
  20. You can learn more about DBS’ efforts to build new habits and routines in a co-authored article. (Anthony, Scott D., Cobban, Paul, Nair, Rahul T., and Painchaud, Natalie. “Breaking Down the Barriers to Innovation.” Harvard Business Review, November-December 2019. https://hbr.org/2019/11/breaking-down-the-barriers-to-innovation.)
  21. Innosight analysis, Datastream.
  22. Singtel’s story is detailed in chapters 3 and 7 of Innosight’s book on dual transformation. (Anthony, et al. Dual Transformation.)
  23. Ho, Victoria. “Singapore’s SingTel Wants to Pump Another $1.6B Into Startup Investments.” TechCrunch, May 15, 2013. https://techcrunch.com/2013/05/15/singapore-telco-singtel-to-invest-1-6b-over-next-three-years-in-startups/.
  24. Innosight analysis, Datastream.
  25. “VGI Global Buys Into Kerry Express.” The Nation Thailand, April 24, 2018. https://www.nationthailand.com/Corporate/30343863.
  26. “VGI Annual Report, 2018/19.” VGI Global Media Public Company Limited. http://vgi.listedcompany.com/misc/AR/ar2018-en.html.
  27. Setboonsarng, Chayut. “JD.com, Thai retailer Central Group Form $500 Million E-Commerce JV.” Reuters, September 14, 2017. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-jd-com-centralgroup/jd-com-thai-retailer-central-group-form-500-million-e-commerce-jv-idUSKCN1BQ0A1.
  28. “Razer Announces 2019 Full Year Financial Results.” Razer Inc, March 24, 2020. https://doc.irasia.com/listco/hk/razer/annual/2019/respress.pdf.
  29. DBS Annual Report 2019
  30. DBS Annual Report 2019
  31. DBS Annual Report 2019
  32. Singapore Post News Release
  33. SingPost Press Release
  34. CNBC
  35. Business Times
  36. As mentioned in the book Dual Transformation by Scott D. Anthony, Mark W. Johnson, Clark Gilbert, 2017.
  37. China Daily
  38. Bangkok Post
  39. Bangkok Post
  40. Thonburi Healthcare Group Annual Report 2019

x42. VGI Annual Report 2018/19

** Innosight Analysis | Deutsche Post, PostNL, Austria Post, Belgian Post, Royal Mail, Japan Post (respective market index returns were considered for the years these companies were not listed between 2004-2019)

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