𝐈𝐧 𝐑𝐞𝐦𝐞𝐦𝐛𝐫𝐚𝐧𝐜𝐞 𝐨𝐟 𝐃𝐫 𝐆𝐨𝐡 𝐊𝐞𝐧𝐠 𝐒𝐰𝐞𝐞 𝐨𝐧 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐄𝐥𝐞𝐯𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐡 𝐀𝐧𝐧𝐢𝐯𝐞𝐫𝐬𝐚𝐫𝐲 𝐨𝐟 𝐇𝐢𝐬 𝐏𝐚𝐬𝐬𝐢𝐧𝐠
through Leong Mun Wai
I knew Dr Goh when I was still a child under his Cantonese name (Ng Heng Shue) as a member of Parliament for Kreta Ayer, the constituency to which Chinatown belonged at the time. My dad told me he had a PhD in economics and that sounded great to me even though I didn’t know what economics was and what this man was really doing for Singapore. However, my little brain has a good memory to store vital information. So when I chose my combination of subjects for my pre-university course (the old form of college) in 1976, I quickly included economics as one of the subjects because I thought that following Dr. Goh would not couldn’t be wrong.
My respect for Dr Goh grew over the years as I went from an economics student to a fund manager at GIC and then to a senior financial executive at global investment banks. When I was studying economics in Tokyo, my Japanese classmates and friends constantly asked me about Singapore, so I started to read more. The more I read, the more I took inspiration from Dr Goh as Singapore’s tireless socio-economic architect.
I was fortunate enough to see him in action when I joined the GIC a few months before his full retirement from the public service, although I did not have the chance to work with him.
This was my intriguing “relationship” with Dr. Goh, just a glimpse of him; Still, there seems to be a cosmic medium between us, for me to relate what I’m doing on a small scale to the big job he’s done for Singapore.
My respect for Dr. Goh grew even more when I took on a leadership role at one of our major local brokers. I had led the brokerage firm through the Asian currency crisis and then transformed it, first to scale through mergers and acquisitions and second, by changing its business model, introducing e-commerce and wealth management to the introducing sales force that was resistant to change. .
Through this six years of change management experience, I discovered the secrets of leadership and management from Dr. Goh.
First, a strategic mind and the courage to change the paradigm
Many business leaders try to use the same old rulebook. Hence the cliché, “if it ain’t broke, why change it?” However, when you want to reach the next level of excellence, you must have the courage to venture into uncharted territory.
Dr. Goh did this in 1961 when he implemented the first state development plan (1961-1965) in 1961. The total development amount was $ 871 million. In accordance with its prudent financial management principles, $ 360 million from the sale of state assets was used to build HDB apartments and other social infrastructure; and $ 511 million that was borrowed was used to build Jurong Town and other economic infrastructure of an industrial zone, as these are investments that will generate clear economic benefits.
As a revolutionary plan is often viewed as risky by conventional thought, and many officials who do not want to step out of their comfort zone would resist it, Dr. Goh’s plans have met with a host of resistance and skepticism.
However, although it was nicknamed “Goh’s Folly” at first, Jurong Town was established in 1968 when 150 factories were successfully operating there. The rest was history.
Second, a set of strong values and principles
Dr Goh believes government should feed the private sector but never lead it. According to him, “… .. the free enterprise system, properly maintained and skillfully managed, can serve as a powerful and versatile instrument of economic growth. (However) One of the tragic illusions that many third world countries harbor is the idea that politicians and public officials can successfully perform corporate functions… ”. 1
Third, a curious mind and common sense.
Dr Goh looked at every issue and policy in detail from many angles, but he made sure that the findings were set the right way.
In a large GIC meeting with him, a Western expert spoke for an hour about how portfolio insurance techniques could be applied to the management of our sovereign assets before Dr Goh asked a simple question. common sense: “Are you sure the insurance mechanism will work when there is a systemic collapse” and this guy became speechless.
Fourth, pay attention to the details
Dr. Goh was a diligent manager who paid attention to detail. He does not micro-manage but checks very closely the progress of the various projects. He believes in the management cliché, “anything that is not verified will not get done”.
This “detail-oriented” attitude will also affect the quality of the people who work with him. If someone doesn’t have the ability and the attitude, they wouldn’t dare join Dr. Goh’s team. Therefore, Dr Goh always has the best and most committed people around him.
Fifth, a lifelong learning mindset
Dr Goh was known to be an avid and voracious reader. He read good publications on many topics – world affairs, history, military technology, education, classical music and many more.
Every time he started to build an aspect of Singapore, and that spanned from finance, industrialization, banking system, SAF and national service, education and GIC, to none name that the main ones, he learned a lot on his own first. And after deciding what to do, he will appoint competent Singaporeans to lead the initiative.
So what will Dr Goh think of the state of socio-economic affairs in Singapore today? From his leadership style and guiding principles and the many speeches he has given, we can understand the following… ..
First, he would not accept foreigners making up 40% of our total workforce and population.
As early as 1972 he said: “Last year we had to import over 40,000 workers from Malaysia. This year the figure is probably around 60,000 people. And we will continue to need it if we continue to grow rapidly…. The question we must answer sooner or later is: “When do we stop growing?” …… Due to our limited area, industrial expansion coupled with population expansion concomitant with the importation of foreign labor and new citizens, will result in overpopulation to increasing limits. more uncomfortable. “4
He even warned the numbers of tourists. “…. can we keep increasing (number of tourists) forever? …. sooner or later, as the Singaporean realizes that he is overwhelmed with foreign visitors in places available for recreation and relaxation, he will wonder if this is all really a good deal. What I am proposing is that we should take a close look at the long term problems that will result from limited space, slow population growth and the needs of our own citizens when they have to compete with demands. foreign visitors. 5
Second, it would focus more on the Singaporean core.
He believes that “we must not lose sight of the main objective – that is, to ensure that our only natural resource, the productive work of the brain and the muscles, is used to the maximum.” 6 Interestingly, he also mentioned muscles and I think it’s just as good to attract some Singaporeans as construction workers as long as they are well paid and have the opportunity to progress. This compares to the current unhealthy situation where we cannot close our borders to push back the health risk of Covid-19 because we are completely dependent on foreign work permit holders to carry out the construction work.
Third, it would be more supportive of an entrepreneurial economy.
“Dr. Goh was a strong supporter of the free enterprise system. This is why the government does not manage the companies in which it has co-invested. Instead, he creates Temasek Holdings to take over the ownership and management of start-up public companies. According to Dr Goh, the government, as a policy maker, should not be a shareholder in the companies it has started. Dr Goh was of the opinion that the Government should only provide the necessary support…. “7
How I wish Dr Goh was always there to advise us on how to tackle the current issues of low productivity growth, shortage of innovation and entrepreneurship, difficulties for Temasek-related companies, escalating health costs and social inequalities.
What will be Dr Goh’s advice on how to transform Singapore into a digital economy led by highly skilled, financially secure and motivated Singaporeans with the help of a much smaller pool of foreign talent.
However, I can also feel what he is going to say, “Don’t worry, you can do it because Kuan Yew and we have established a solid foundation for you, don’t waste opportunities by doing nothing or doing nothing. same old thing over and over again.
Dr Goh, we will not let you down and you will be in the hearts and minds of Singaporeans forever.
For the country, for the people.
Leong Mun Wai’s Facebook post