IPO-bound: The StarHub Story

May 29, 2015
<p>Jeannie Ong, CMO and head of IR at StarHub, recounts the story of the firm&rsquo;s 2004 listing</p>

I have been a StarHub family member since 2001. Although I only took part in my first full marathon in 2011, taking StarHub to an IPO in 2004 was very much like running the full 26 miles. Specifically, it was an arduous, grueling journey that ultimately left me giddily exhilarated with achievement.

Like a race, organizing an IPO has two main phases: preparation and hitting the road. Our legwork for the IPO began years in advance by laying the groundwork with potential investors and raising awareness of StarHub. It is never too early to start preparing as it builds credibility and smoothens the trail later.

A rather unusual challenge StarHub faced came in the form of using two banks for the IPO process. Despite both being headquartered in the same country, one bank had a very avant-garde style of working that greatly contrasted with the other’s highly conservative approach; imagine a dietician and a personal trainer holistically preparing you for your race. But we took the differences in our stride and instead leveraged each bank’s strengths: one was more adept at the logistical details while the other handled the public relations aspects with aplomb.

Just as one’s training intensifies leading up to race day, the six months prior to the IPO was absolute madness. Working with StarHub’s finance, legal and products teams internally as well as external auditors, banks and legal counsel was hectic enough; multiply that by the input from five shareholders and you can imagine the hubbub.

Anyone who is preparing for a marathon will know only too well the cacophony of well-meaning voices. Support from your colleagues—and family—is of paramount importance during the IPO process, as you strive to maintain some work-life balance while staying on top of all the various aspects of the actual listing. I lost my mum during the IPO preparation and, to be honest, getting StarHub listed was the only thing that kept me sane and gave me the strength to keep moving forward.

Then you arrive at the roadshows, which can be equally exhausting, yet fun. Prepare to fight jet lag and infrequent toilet breaks (the latter also a hazard at marathons) as you smile and charm investors. Roadshows can be both mentally and physically taxing, which is why I always say that this is not a job for the faint-hearted.

By sheer coincidence, StarHub hit the road at the same time as two competitors. In fact, we even bumped into them in the US, as we were just next to each other in a meeting room and probably presenting to the same group of investors.

What made the process more of an uphill challenge was that StarHub was listed at a time when we were in the red. That made it even tougher to convince investors we were worth backing. Indeed, we were the dark horse in Singapore’s telco industry.

At the end, however, is where it all comes together: from the enormous amount of groundwork and preparation to wearing a smile even in the face of sleep deprivation and stern-faced investors. You have to know how your company will grow. You have to believe it will grow. Then, and only then, will you have a chance of successfully convincing others it will grow. Be well prepared for the challenges and you can then focus on putting your best foot forward. The IPO is merely the start of a long marathon.

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