MNCs laud business-friendly policies

Corporate leaders voice confidence and commitment to Singapore

A visionary leader, an exemplary statesman and a strategic thinker.

Tributes for Mr Lee Kuan Yew continued to pour in as head honchos of multinational corporations (MNCs) sent their condolences. Many lauded him for transforming Singapore into a prosperous metropolis, with a far-sighted plan to modernise the country through urban industrialisation.

"Singapore's founding Prime Minister, Mr Lee, was a visionary leader whose life's work laid the foundation of what Singapore is today; a thriving global city with people who are talented, hardworking and diligent," said Rolls- Royce chief executive officer John Rishton.

Mr Lee made the decision to open up Singapore's economy to foreign companies in the 1960s, at a time in the post-colonial era when there was widespread suspicion over the exploitation of local resources.

Such fears were not well founded as large-scale capital investments by MNCs contributed to providing employment to citizens, while the companies themselves also achieved success.

Companies were willing to sink their money into Singapore, in large part because of the pro-business policies put in place by Mr Lee and his team, noted the executives.

Procter & Gamble chief A. G. Lafley highlighted Mr Lee's emphasis on building long-term partnerships with corporations.

"He made Singapore into a global economic power, and a great place for international companies to invest and conduct business."

IBM chief executive Ginni Rometty also spoke of the business-friendly policies Mr Lee institutionalised, such as having an open market, ensuring free trade and putting in place a clean and efficient government.

"Mr Lee passed this legacy to his successors, which is why Singapore continues to flourish as it approaches the 50th anniversary of its independence."

Firms took the opportunity to reaffirm their commitment to the Republic and express their confidence in its economy.

Mr Anshu Jain, co-chief executive officer of German banking giant Deutsche Bank, attended the wake yesterday.

He said: "Mr Lee was a visionary global leader who, through his inspiring lifelong commitment to the economic development of Singapore and the welfare of its citizens, leaves behind a towering achievement - that of a dynamic and prosperous country with an assured future."

MasterCard chief executive Ajay Banga also weighed in, saying: "MasterCard believes that the infrastructure and business climate in Singapore are very business friendly and, going forward, is committed to continue to invest significantly in Singapore as a country and as a regional hub."

The outpouring of tributes by global corporate leaders underscores the impact Mr Lee had on the business community and the level of respect they had for him, said Economic Development Board (EDB) chairman Beh Swan Gin. Recounting the meetings that Mr Lee held with top business leaders, Dr Beh observed that many wanted to tap Mr Lee's views on financial and geopolitical matters.

"All these CEOs, each time they were sitting there - either as a note-taker or in those roundtables - they were all like schoolboys, they all listened with rapt attention," said Dr Beh.

Aside from being a highly regarded statesman, he said, Mr Lee was also a remarkable salesman in pushing the corporate interests of the nation.

"For many EDB officers, we would remember Mr Lee as a passionate supporter of the work that we do. He helped us market Singapore," he said.

"In fact, I would say that the opportunity of CEOs to meet him often made the difference in their decision-making about whether or not to make an investment in Singapore."

A lasting legacy that Mr Lee left to EDB, noted Dr Beh, was his pragmatism in dealing with various issues.

Even as the EDB paints a bold economic vision for the nation, it stands ready to fine-tune its strategies if the operating environment changes - an approach that reflects Mr Lee's own outlook.

"This mix of clarity and purposefulness of what we are doing for the long term, with this ability to be nimble and to adapt to changing circumstances, I think this combination is actually a very powerful one.

"I believe that this does reflect Mr Lee himself and this certainly has made a difference to our ability to operate as an economic development agency."