Ray Schuster, Founder, The Hoffman Agency Singapore

The first few months of my work in Singapore in 1996 were complicated because I had to leave the country every 60 days to have my passport re-stamped as a visitor. In addition to a few out-of-country business trips, and one trip home, that meant a couple of one-night sojourns on a ferry to a nearby Indonesian resort island.

The rub was that without a Singapore business license for Hoffman Asia Pacific, I wasn’t eligible for a work pass. In pursuit of that license I’d spent countless hours in Singapore government offices, taking “next” numbers and dutifully watching the electronic displays for mine. I didn’t want to miss my turn to be assured again that the wheels were turning and the license was imminent. I usually left with more paperwork and another appointment date.

If the government agency with the licensing authority had been a Hoffman AP client and billed an hourly rate, the new enterprise would have been in the black in the first two months. Alas … our needs, their rules.

As the process crawled along, the hang-up was revealed to be a lack of understanding on the part of the licensing officials: How does this unknown “public relations” agency from San Jose, California, fit in Singapore? With an American in charge, on top of that?

Our argument was clear and persuasive (to us). Not only did we have an actual office (with desks, etc.), but we had Singapore clients and Singapore employees. We had presence and purpose and goodness!

Then, like tectonic plates, the business license hurdle began to rub against my work permit hurdle. Returning to Singapore from one of those passport-stamp visits to an Indonesian island, I was politely asked by an immigration officer to step into a side office for a chat. Based on the number of revisit stamps on my passport in a limited amount of time, the system was losing patience with me.

Immigration gave me 30 days to prove I was as an exec of a U.S. company with a license, or leave the country. “But, but …” didn’t go far with the friendly but firm officials.

It was time for some fair and honest political infighting. It started by asking around and learning the name of an official in the business-licensing group. I was assured that this individual could help. I made an appointment with him. With no more than that to go on, I asked Lou to fly over and join me in our final appeal. I had one week left of my 30-day notice, and a 747 back to California was staring me in the face. I don’t remember if I had alerted the staff to the dilemma. I hope so.

The quick story of the outcome is that Lou and I met with the official, told our story and received assurance that a permit was forthcoming. In the official’s words, he would “bulldoze” it through. And he did.

With that, I became a valid expat doing valid work. Then I had the confidence to keep working without a cloud over my head.

I probably never worked harder, with more enthusiasm and less experience. On-the-job-training was more than a cliché, and with the help of local staff and Lou’s support and coaching and his “metrics” focus, the business took shape. I got into routines with my newly assured permanence.

I’d normally work until 7 p.m. and enjoy the cooling sunset on the walk to the subway, with an occasional stop at a pub operated by Aussies to have a mug of cold Aussie beer. The friendly bartender came to call me “one-beer Ray.”

One day after the permitting/work permit adventure, I proudly told the Aussie barkeep I was “one-beer Ray” who was going to be around a while. He gave me one on the house.