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Lee Kuan Yew’s Legacy In Corporate SG Lives On
Aspire, Investments | 25 March 2015
By: Vance Wong
Articles (74) Profile

In memory of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's founding father: 1923-2015.

As Singapore mourns the loss of one of its founding fathers, we look back on how the country’s first Prime Minister left a lasting imprint on Singapore’s corporate environment.

The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s impact on companies in Singapore cannot be quantified, let alone penned down in a short article as this. But in the interest of sharing his legacy, we have picked out three listed companies that have felt the personal touch of our beloved former Prime Minister.

SIA – Taking On The Pilot Union

Back in December 2003, Mr Lee (then Senior Minister) sent a warning to the pilots union of SIA (Singapore Airlines) when they were posing a threat to Singapore’s “aviation and tourism-related businesses.”

The initial response from the public was not very approving of Mr Lee’s decision to step in because the Singapore government had agreed not to interfere with businesses. However, Mr Lee’s involvement undoubtedly resolved the matter fast enough to justify the decision.

“If we sit back and do nothing and allow this to escalate and test the wills, then it is going to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in one two, three months of nastiness. We are not going to have that,” Mr Lee said in a statement by Straits Times.

This intervention in SIA’s history would likely survive the test of time, especially his reminder that Singapore Changi Airport’s prized reputation as a world-class aviation service provider is at stake. From a corporate perspective, Mr Lee helped mitigate the possible losses that SIA would have incurred if the company acceded to the pilots’ demands.

Protecting SPH – A Double Edged Sword

It is not a surprise to anyone that the Singapore press practices self-censorship. However, there were editors and journalists who attempted to challenge the system, like former editor-in-chief of The Straits Times (ST) Cheong Yip Seng.

He wrote a book, OB Markers: My Straits Times Story, a first time where a “Singapore editor has gone to print with an insider’s take on how the republic’s first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew systematically controlled the press with draconian laws and protected it with anti-competition barriers.”

As expected, the veteran journalist was confronted by Mr Lee and according to Mr Cheong, Mr Lee was about to “break his neck” if he went ahead to publish without necessary cuts.

From a corporate perspective, Mr Lee’s protection of the media landscape of Singapore was a double edged sword. The lack of competition allowed media companies to blossom and get entrenched.

At the same time however, the absence of foreign competitors meant that Singapore’s mainstream media did not mature in order to compete on a global stage.

Revitalisation Plan Boosted CES

The current Pinnacle@Duxton estate that comprises seven 50-storey blocks and housing 1,848 units was previously known as Duxton Plains before a plan for “estate renewal as part of an island-wide strategy to revitalise aged sections of the city centre.”

It was an initiative announced by Mr Lee (then Senior Minister) in 2001 and was completed in 2009. The architecture of the estate was designed by a local architecture studio, selected by a panel of local and international judges at its international architectural design competition.

The initial launch alone received almost five thousand applications within four months and contractor bids were called. Chip Eng Seng Corporation won the bid and had the honour of building Pinnacle@Duxton, which was also Singapore’s first estate of 50-storey blocks.

While Mr Lee did not personally pick Chip Eng Seng as the contractor, the latter managed to be a beneficiary of the prestigious initiative that was spearheaded by the founding father of Singapore.

Lee’s Hardball Tactics

Despite his hardball tactics both in the corporate realm and in the political realm, Mr Lee stood by his tactics. “I did some sharp and hard things to get things right. Maybe some people disapproved of it. At the end of the day, what have I got? A successful Singapore. What have I given up? My life.”

With a Communications background, Vance has the passion to write with a purpose - to provide content supported with substantial evidence to vested readers.

Please click here for more information about this author.

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