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Fact file

From Forum Page contributor to Straits Times editor

Arriving in a slump-hit Britain in 1972, Han Fook Kwang was in the grip of "a big cultural shock".

The 63-year-old, who grew up in a Joo Chiat coffee shop, says: "It was my first time out of Singapore, so to go to this strange place and then spend the next three years there... In those days, we didn't go back home. We couldn't afford it."

He was in the grey-washed industrial city of Leeds on a Colombo Plan scholarship to do mechanical engineering at the University of Leeds.

He put up in a hostel, where he would pore through "a whole array" of British newspapers delivered there every day. "It was quite an experience reading British newspapers and, of course, the newspaper scene there is lively and competitive," he says.

He never did work as a mechanical engineer in the end, choosing to serve his scholarship bond at the Economic Development Board instead.

While he was there, the Government was scouting for promising young Singaporeans for its Administrative Service and he signed on.

During his nine-year career there, he secured a master's in public administration from Harvard University and his eloquent letters to The Straits Times (ST) Forum page set him apart from his fellow civil servants.

That led ST to offer him a job, which he took up in February 1989, writing his first columns under the banner Thinking Aloud.

Then he was asked by Singapore Press Holdings executive chairman Lim Kim San and ST editor-in-chief Cheong Yip Seng to collaborate with founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew on his first book, Lee Kuan Yew: The Man And His Ideas.

He co-wrote the book with his colleagues Warren Fernandez and Sumiko Tan. It has sold close to 100,000 copies since its launch in 1998.

He and a few other newsroom colleagues later worked on two other books with Mr Lee: Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going (2011) and One Man's View Of The World (2013).

The married father of three became ST's political editor in 1995. In 2002, he was made ST editor and he became its managing editor in 2012. He is now its editor-at-large.

Han believes the role of a newspaper writer is to "get to the heart of the matter" for readers and, once he starts on a column, the writing flows.

"The hardest part," he says, "is thinking through the issues, what is that insight that you want to offer to your readers."

He usually "knocks something out" in the evening, sleeps on it and then spends a few hours the next day polishing his original draft.

He says of column-writing, which he returned to in August 2012: "You're not doing a PhD thesis, you're just doing a little piece. So you have to decide what sort of angle or insight you want to bring to the discussion.

"And once you've thought through that, the writing itself is relatively straightforward."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 26, 2016, with the headline 'From Forum Page contributor to Straits Times editor'. Print Edition | Subscribe