Former HDB chairman Hsuan Owyang dies in California, aged 90

Mr Hsuan Owyang arrived in Singapore from Guangzhou, China, in early 1965. He was credited with helping to build Singapore Inc.
Mr Hsuan Owyang arrived in Singapore from Guangzhou, China, in early 1965. He was credited with helping to build Singapore Inc.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Mr Hsuan Owyang, who had an illustrious career in both the private and public sector, died on Aug 23 in the United States. He was 90.

A former Wall Street stockbroker, he later held a multitude of roles, including being chairman of the Housing Board (HDB), and was credited with helping to build Singapore Inc.

Previous reports had quoted Mr Owyang as saying he was "very fortunate to see it (the growth of Singapore) from Day One."

He chaired the former DBS Land before it became part of listed CapitaLand. As CapitaLand's deputy chairman, he helped to transform the company into the biggest property developer in Asia. He spent eight years there and retired on Jan 1, 2009.

CapitaLand Group president and chief executive Lim Ming Yan told The Straits Times the company is "saddened" by Mr Owyang's death.

The CapitaLand Group "benefited tremendously" from his experience in the financial sector and his knowledge of China, which helped to guide CapitaLand's expansion in the country.

Mr Owyang arrived in Singapore from Guangzhou, China, in early 1965, just months before the country gained independence. He hailed from a family with a record of public service.

His father, Mr Chi Owyang, was Singapore's ambassador to Thailand for 17 years and a co-founder of the defunct Overseas Union Bank, which was later acquired by United Overseas Bank.

The younger Mr Owyang gained public recognition, plus a Meritorious Service Medal, for his work at HDB. He served on the board for 21 years - 15 of them as chairman - until 1998.

In the early 1990s, at the request of then-Minister for Information and the Arts George Yeo, Mr Owyang chaired Singapore's Film Appeal Committee, where he reviewed censorship regulations and advocated a loosening of censorship rules.

"He carried out this task with balance, maturity and wisdom. I could not have done this on my own," Mr Yeo told The Straits Times.

He added: "As a friend, he was like an uncle to me, imparting insights from his rich experience. Years later, when he told me he was leaving Singapore to retire in California, I felt sad inside."

Mr Owyang also chaired two think tanks - the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) and the East Asian Institute - and served as pro-chancellor of Nanyang Technological University.

After he retired from CapitaLand, he moved to San Diego in California to be closer to his family.

"I have done as much as I could for the public and private sectors in Singapore," Mr Owyang reportedly said. "I have to think about the quality of my life in my remaining years."

He leaves behind his wife June, and children Sharon and Todd. A memorial service will be held on Saturday (Sept 1) in San Diego.