MOST Singaporeans are satisfied with being competent at what they do, with few actually striving to be exceptional. This, said Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, is a challenge the country will need to overcome.

He was speaking to student leaders from Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) at a breakfast meeting where they had a chance to talk to 10 chief executive officers of companies here. The CEOs included Far East Organization's Philip Ng, StarHub's Tan Tong Hai and UPP Holdings' Koh Kim Huat.

Addressing an audience including entrepreneurs, 80 students and staff at the Orchard Hotel, the minister said: 'We are always in danger in Singapore of mistaking excellence for competence.

'Most people in Singapore are happy to be competent, above average rather than exceptional.'

He said there are 'not that many people in Singapore who really want to be extremely good at what they are doing', and added that this sort of attitude may result in Singaporeans losing out to those who survive in countries plagued by problems such as poverty and corruption.

The minister called on his audience to push for excellence in their chosen area and said: 'We shouldn't be afraid of being different and wanting to make a difference.'

Competence 'not enough'