There was an air of excitement as the crowd mingled, chatted, and exchanged name cards over drinks. It was the first ever Distinguished Business Leaders Series in Hong Kong and Singaporeans gathered at the event were looking forward to the sharing by the speaker for the evening, Chairman of Fraser and Neave Limited (F&N), Mr Lee Hsien Yang.
The son of Singapore’s first Prime Minister, Mr Lee is no stranger to Singaporean communities abroad. As a heavyweight in the corporate world, he has accumulated a rich repository of experiences from past and current appointments. On both the personal and corporate fronts, the crowd was brimming with curiosity and anticipation as to what Mr Lee had to share.
On Lucky Numbers and Feng Shui
Starting off his speech with interesting nuggets of information on his encounters with “lucky numbers”, Mr Lee related the attempt to sell lucky telephone numbers in Australia in his days as the CEO of Singtel. During his days in the armed forces, he was also told his SAF number was extremely “lucky” because no matter the permutation of the digits, it added up to the number “8” - what’s deemed an auspicious number to the Chinese. However, he added that while he was aware of how “luck” influenced the way people behave, including those in the business world, he in fact managed his decision on cold, hard rationality. He recounted an incident where his colleagues had helpfully offered to rearrange his office for good feng shui. He agreed. But with the disclaimer that nothing should be seen to have been moved out of their place when he comes into office the next day and no corporate funds be used in the exercise.
However, Mr Lee shared he understood that cold, hard rationality does not determine all outcomes. He was lucky that his great-great-grandfather chose to come to Singapore from China, and later returned; but his great-great-grandmother chose to stay on in Singapore. Without the series of events, of which there was nothing he could possibly have controlled or influenced, he would not have been born in Singapore.
Juxtaposing his personal encounters with his experiences in the corporate world, it was clear that Mr Lee’s philosophy of life influenced the way he made business decisions. There was a fine balance in understanding how human beings are empowered by our ability to make decisions, yet recognising that there are situations beyond our control. Mr Lee shared that this philosophy could also be applied in calculating the rewards and risks in entrepreneurial ventures.
A Candid Time of Question-and-Answer
During the Q&A segment with Mr Lee, the crowd participated enthusiastically, firing questions ranging from the economic outlook of Singapore to what he does in his leisure time. When asked what keeps him up at night as the Chairman of F&N, and what may possibly keep him up at night should he be the Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr Lee paused and said, “I actually sleep quite well at night”, which evoked much laughter from the crowd. However, he continued saying it is important to switch your brain off at some point in time; explaining that compartmentalisation helps you to know what needs to be done and when it needs to be done. The attendees also grilled Mr Lee on the advantages that foreign firms had over Singapore businesses and how Singapore measured up against Hong Kong economically. When quizzed on human resource management, Mr Lee felt that a person grows and develops in capabilities, and would be hard to place a static value on an individual. The crowd was kept enthralled as Mr Lee addressed each question with candour and humour.
Warm exchanges continued during the buffet dinner that followed. Mr Lee engaged the crowd in lively banter and obliged to requests for photos with him as a memento from the event. Beyond Mr Lee’s mathematical approach of rationalising life’s issues, lies an understanding and respect to the way human beings behave.
By Magdeline Lee