Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

Remembering Lee Kuan Yew: He was a master teacher

Lim Siong Guan, 68, group president of GIC, was Mr Lee Kuan Yew's principal private secretary (1978-1981) and head of the Singapore Civil Service (1999 to 2005)

"My most direct contact with Mr Lee Kuan Yew was as his first-ever principal private secretary.

He was a master teacher to me. He had me sit in on all his meetings other than the political ones, just to listen and learn from the exposure, even though the conversations often had nothing to do with any particular topic he wanted me to work on.

From Mr Lee, I learnt the principles of governance which undergirded the transformation of Singapore, from the early days of self-government in 1959 and subsequent independence in 1965 to a modern metropolis.

I learnt that building a nation is not the same as building a city. A city may be plans and concrete structures, but a nation is people with hopes and aspirations who somehow have to be persuaded to function together for a worthy future for all.

And I learnt from Mr Lee that a leader not only needs to have clarity of views and single-mindedness of purpose, but also a tremendous capacity for communication, where complex problems are brought down to what the man-in-the- street can identify with.

From him and Dr Goh Keng Swee, I learnt always to look out for talent and to do whatever I could to bring people up to their potential. And I learnt a relentless drive for excellence, to be the best we can be in everything we do.

For Singapore, unlike for so many other countries, survival and success are two sides of the same coin. Singapore must seek to have as many friends as possible but, as Mr Lee would often emphasise, never forget that no one owes us a living and we must ourselves defend Singapore: no one else is responsible for our security.

These are deep lessons on leadership and governance which have been infused in my soul. The drive to be exceptional in the way we think is not an option; it is destiny for Singapore."

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