Thursday, March 26, 2015

Gaining from Robert Kuok vs Lee Kuan Yew

Borrowing from the great man LKY, I try to be unsentimental about losing him. I thank him very much for making a gradual exit because that is the most selfless thing he could do for us.

Toward the end he was clearly passed his peak and some of his ideas were near their best used by date.

We must separate the man from his insights which would be a low precision compass and map for the way forward.

Looking around, reading how he had impacted so many leaders, I am amazed the world is not an even better place than we are finding it today. Clearly many sought his advice but are poor users of his wisdom.

I find Robert Kuok's response to LKY the most practical and useful.

Using his own SCMP he had this published about LKY.

Kerry Group controlling shareholder, Robert Kuok, a life-long friend of Lee, paid tribute to “a giant of a man’’.
“All of us who have known him, feel greatly distressed and saddened by his passing,’’ said Kuok, who was a schoolmate of Lee at Singapore’s Raffles College.
“Lee Kuan Yew was a giant of a man. His mind, sharp as a fine blade, was focused on pursuing his wish of establishing a just, fair and decent society. And no-one, whether friend or foe, can deny that he achieved this.
“He pursued his aim with great determination, never giving in to the many set-backs and disappointments, with all this taking a heavy toll on his health. However, he still lived to a remarkable old age and retained his mental faculties until the very end. May he rest in peace.’’
ST Li Xueying also gave us a good piece on the relationship and differing views between these two old schoolmates.

The article and many others we will come across must be adapted to be usable. Robert Kuok's differing views bring balance to the extremes in LKY. For me I prefer to borrow historical figures larger than LKY to draw lessons for us. These past high impact personalities and their work combined with what LKY had thought and done for us is one of the best ways to benefit from all of them. In this arrangement LKY is the conduit and no longer become the focus by which we can benefit from the accumulation of global wisdom across time. Many people here and I had also indulge in this myself, often analyzing LKY policies before and after his Old Guard ministers retire from Cabinet. How men like GKS, Raja and Dr. Toh brought balance to LKY's extreme views. I wished his son LHL was also able to act in that capacity, but I thank him for trying his best.

The above from Li Xueying's article.

I thought that read like some of the academic high scoring obnoxious scholars we have all come to hate. But the pragmatist in him let in nice fellows like Hon Sui Sen eh?

LKY is a complex character and you can study him up to PhD and beyond. I can only write at most 1% what is on my mind about him. 70% of my thoughts about him are contradictory and clashing. There is no profitable way to learn from the man unless you are first clear about what you want. Now if you want something else another time, you can come back and pick up something different. That's the richness of the man. That is also why two quite opposed powers the US and China they could go to him and pick up what they want, but in the end LKY used both of them to get what Singapore wants. When we lose LKY, we lose the ability to influence major powers to create the environment for our security and prosperity.

In the days ahead people will be studying LKY with earnest interest but I am afraid many of those studies are time wasters. Some will be looking for stuff to fill men and women magazines even, e.g., like how to love your wife. Others would be so impossibly ambitious as try to deconstruct the man completely. As for me, I will benefit from the rich trove he had left behind for us to consult wherever I have a clear question peculiar to Singapore that I want answers for. Yes, I would also often use him as a conduit for greater and time tested wisdom from the Greats before him. How to make insight elsewhere workable in our context.

Finally an important point from Robert Kuok.

"Politically, I did not share all his views," revealed Mr Kuok, citing as an example the benchmarking of ministerial pay to the private sector

That mistake I fear could cost us more than we imagine.

Update: 1:35 pm

I just have to update my post with this one by Viswa Sadasivan: All His Adult Life....Singapore.

You ask me, I think Mr. Sadasivan should be the ST editor than Warren Fernandez. He it not too old to do the job, a more than worthy successor to Han Fook Kwang.

My original post has 1% and only happy to make it to 2% with Mr. Sadasivan article. It also brings some balance to my 1%, which I feel it sorely lacked and kept me unhappy for the last few hours.

I just came from explaining to my daughter that LKY possess humility, but it is too time consuming to explain here. I rounded up the discussion explaining that people are queuing over night to see him the last time because even if they can't say it well enough they could feel he had always cared about this place and its people more than himself. That is the meaning of selfless in LKY life. As for Robert Kuok, he is a smart businessman who sees LKY more clearly than most. LKY was never interested to compete and be richer than him or Li Ka Shing. Yep, unlike LKY, Kuok is not a selfless man. For me, he was useful to bring out another dimension of the very complex and multi-dimensional LKY.


  1. This is another perspective, from Cherian George....we are lucky!

    1. You are most welcome, hopefully another 1% added. Truth be told, I often used this site for reflection, so it is good to add content to it. Too lazy and technically inept to maintain a blog on my own.

    2. I am worried what you sometime used his for. I hope I am clear enough. I usually write in a hurry and this blog was created for myself and family but I didn't lock it up since I didn't believe one could achieve meaningful privacy on the Internet.

    3. Not to worry, I take what I understand with eyes opened only.
      Best regards

    4. Good sharing, have you read about Robert Kuok Hock Nien notes on the past sixty years on the occasion of Kuok Group’s 60th Anniversary 10 April 2009? Check it at:

  2. After I started working, I realize salaries are the most deceptive numbers. Me and my friend earn the same official salary written on our employment contracts. But after talking to him and knowing more abt his job, I realize he receives a lot of hidden perks from his company which I don't, such as vehicle/petrol subsidies, a card which grants him movie discount (didn't know they exist b4 that ), medical/dental, childcare ...

    After all, Steve Job's salary was US$1 only.

    1. Excellent point. Sometimes people like you leave comments which I would have liked to put down and even develop further myself but didn't have the time to. Sometimes I don't know how to quickly weave them into the main post.

      Political salaries, explicit or not is a complex and controversial topic which matter greatly to our future. They are part of the basic structure which breeds the behavior. Get it wrong, we get the wrong behavior which eventually do us in. We can only imagine but not privy to us the robust debate over this topic between LKY and Robert Kuok.

  3. /// "Politically, I did not share all his views," revealed Mr Kuok, citing as an example the benchmarking of ministerial pay to the private sector . ///

    Spot on. Even a shrewd businessman is against this. I think this is the single most important strategic mistake that will cost the PAP dearly.

  4. Talking about salaries, just the other day I showed my friend a chart showing our leader salary at $1.7 mio compared to the next highest Obama at $400,000, he (who claims to be a christian) asserted that if our ministers do not receive high salaries, there will be corruption and our CPF funds will be gone. Firstly, I am not sure he is a real follower of Jesus, who is the servant of servants. Then anyone else with sound mind will know money corrupts. Besides, I wonder if a man can justify threatening his wife to submit to his tireless animalistic cravings or else he will make sexual prowls on others

    1. Anonymous says: "Anyone else with (a) sound mind will know money corrupts."

      Makes no sense to me. It seems as if you are saying that money not the person and his circumstances are responsible for corruption. I wouldn't imagine a reasonable person believing that! It is like me blaming gravity for killing my victim after I thrown him out of the window.

      Secondly, Lee isn't a Christian, his youngest brother is. Thirdly, the main aim of the push to model public sector salaries after private sector salaries is to encourage more people to enter the public sector not really to battle corruption. Lastly, can you provide a quote that Lee said that the CPF funds will be gone and what not?

      I don't really see why many commenters on this thread assert that by making pay in the public sector more like that in the private sector is going to doom the PAP. I suppose it is the resentment of seeing others being paid more than themselves at work here. Do note that if a public servant or an elected official doesn't perform well, he wouldn't be paid well and he might be fired or dismissed especially if you want to counter me by saying that the public sector would still be paid even if it performs poorly.