Sunday e-mails from a boss to his staff: Fifth book launched

Mr Liew Mun Leong (left), chairman of Changi Airport Group and Surbana Jurong, presenting a box set of his books to Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat after the book launch at the National Library yesterday.
Mr Liew Mun Leong (left), chairman of Changi Airport Group and Surbana Jurong, presenting a box set of his books to Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat after the book launch at the National Library yesterday.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

As chief executive officer of the then Singapore Institute of Standards and Industrial Research, Mr Liew Mun Leong once told his staff at a meeting that he had been given three years to test out his plan to make the organisation a self-financing statutory board.

He said that if the plan failed, he would assume personal responsibility and resign as CEO. But a question from a staff member surprised him: "CEO, you are smart. You could jump ship if your plan fails. But what happens to us?"

"I was quite taken aback by this sentiment, but I assured the audience that I had full confidence that the self-financing plan would work," he recounted in an e-mail on March 11 this year.

His time at the organisation was where he cut his teeth in leadership, using principles such as being sincere and authentic, assuming responsibility and having courage, he wrote in the e-mail.

This was among the stories, observations and reflections shared by Mr Liew, who is now chairman of Changi Airport Group and Surbana Jurong, in weekly Sunday e-mails to his staff for the past 20 years.

His messages from the past two years have been compiled and published as the fifth volume in the Sunday Emails series, titled Sunday Emails From A Chairman - 20th Anniversary Edition.

Cultivating a spirit of leadership was one of three themes from the book that Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said resonated with him.

STAYING ON THE SAME PAGE

I wanted to share with them what was happening to the company, the industry's landscape both locally and globally, as well as the threats, opportunities, challenges and competition which we had to face together.

MR LIEW MUN LEONG, on spending his Sundays writing e-mails to his colleagues as a way of communicating closely with them, especially during times of crises in the business world.

Good leadership is key at all levels, whether in the private, public or people sectors, Mr Heng said at the book launch yesterday.

"As our challenges become more complex, the Government will not have all the answers. We need to harness the diverse strengths of our society, through leaders at different levels in different parts of our society," he said.

"With good leadership, we can secure Singapore's future as one people. We will be united by a sense of common purpose to galvanise whole-of-nation, whole-of-society efforts to take Singapore forward."

Mr Heng, who was guest of honour at the event at the National Library, also highlighted two other themes from the book - engaging and developing people, as well as embracing lifelong learning.

Mr Liew, 72, said he was motivated to spend Sundays writing e-mails to his colleagues as a way of communicating closely with them, especially during times of crisis in the business world. For example, after Pidemco Land - which he was heading - merged with DBS Land to form CapitaLand in 2000, the merged company was hit by a series of global "perfect storms", such as the Internet bubble bursting, the Sept 11 terrorist attacks, the Iraq War and the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak.

"I wanted to share with them what was happening to the company, the industry's landscape both locally and globally, as well as the threats, opportunities, challenges and competition which we had to face together," he told some 150 guests, including senior civil servants, foreign dignitaries and staff from Changi Airport Group and Surbana Jurong.

Mr Liew said he will continue writing his e-mails as long as he has the energy to because it has become a cherished hobby, even though each e-mail may take up to five or six hours to write.

He believes the public will find the content useful as well. "Most of the subjects are more lessons for management, leadership and self-development, which are not just for staff but for everybody," he said.

Sunday Emails From A Chairman - 20th Anniversary Edition is priced at $29.90 and is available for sale at all major bookshops. Royalties from the sale of the book will be donated to Temasek Foundation Nurtures to support programmes focusing on education and professional development.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2018, with the headline 'Sunday e-mails from a boss to his staff: Fifth book launched'. Print Edition | Subscribe