Leadership Dialogue with Lim Siong Guan, Group President of GIC

Lim Siong Guan

[ Mr Lim Siong Guan in the middle, flanked by Alvin and John ]

Bleary-eyed and still sleepy, I made my way to the National Library this morning, arriving at the building at approximately 8.15am. Good grief! I shouldn’t have been awake at 6am, but since I’d received a ticket for a leadership dialogue with Mr Lim Siong Guan (who is he?) from my blogging student, I decided to show up and learn something new. It was probably the best decision I made today, and after the event, I even purchased a book authored by Mr Lim. He used to work closely with Mr Lee Kuan Yew, and is currently the Group President of GIC, which manages over US$100 billion in assets. As you’ve probably guessed by now, Mr Lim definitely has a thing or two to share with us, even IF it was early in the morning on a Saturday! 😀

Some background info. regarding the gentleman first:

Mr Lim has had an illustrious career in the civil service. Before heading GIC, Mr Lim was Chairman of the Singapore Economic Development Board from Oct 2006 to June 2009, Head of the Singapore Civil Service from Sept 1999 to Mar 2005, first Principal Private Secretary to Singapore’s founding Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, from May 1978 to June 1981, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Finance. And oh, he did so well in his studies that he was awarded the President’s Scholarship too!

Here are the highlights of the leadership dialogue this morning:

  1. The majority of our current jobs will no longer exist in 10 or 20 years’ time, thanks to technology. With our set of values as our compass, we have to constantly be at the forefront of this change because #2 is a precarious position to be in. If your job doesn’t require you to exercise judgement, does not require your wisdom, insights or instinct, you can be replaced by a computer.
  2. According to Mr Lim, Mr Lee Kuan Yew was “completely paranoid about the survival and success of Singapore”. From being convinced, back in 1959, that Singapore would not be able to survive on its own and required merger with Malaya, to being determined, in 1965, that we would not “crawl back to Malaysia”, Mr Lee was adamant that no one owes Singapore a living and we would have to figure out our own way, without asking any country for aid or handouts. On his first day of work, Mr Lim was told by LKY to “never look down on the ground” and to always look (foreign) officials in the eye.
  3. Singapore succeeded because of the Singapore BRAND – it was trustworthiness and how we always delivered on our promises. The young people of today need to keep up this ‘spirit’ of wanting to fight, never giving up, being responsive and flexible, and in honoring their word.
  4. When faced with corruption, insist on having a 5* business. Serve customers who are willing to pay for quality, reliability, excellence and trustworthiness. Don’t make yours a 1* business which gives bribes in order to get business.
  5. There are 3 big problems with today’s world: Lack of leadership, Lack of ideas, and the Rise of Relativist Secularism. The last one is the most interesting – about how Man decides to do not what is right, but what is “less wrong” to do / convenient to do.
  6. While we can boast of a first world economy, we are not a first world society, and there is “no first world society worthy of our emulation.” This presents a “wonderful opportunity” to us to be the model for the world. In less than 5 sentences, try to describe what is the Singapore you’d like to see in SG100. Mr Lim would like to see a Singapore in which the children are proud of their parents, instead of the parents being proud of their children, as is the case now.
  7. How do we help our children to become confident about the future? Mr Lim was posed a question at another dialogue session by a mother who has a 12-year-old daughter. Mr Lim mentioned the unfortunate incident in which children were killed on Mount Kinabalu due to the earthquake last year. He asked the mother if she would allow her daughter to climb the mountain if the little girl so wished to. The mother was quick in replying “of course not” and Mr Lim said that doing so would be “undermining her future”, to which the mother replied that she wished she had not asked him that question. 😀 LOL.
  8. The young people these days lack a sense of adventure, curiosity, learning new stuff… this leads to insecurity regarding the future. Those who went to Brunei for their NS training would know that in the dense, dark jungles is where courage and self-confidence is built. In Taiwan, even the drinks sellers know the route that the NSFs would take, and set up their stalls alongside. When things are predictable and safe, it is near impossible to instill confidence, and you most certainly cannot lecture people into becoming confident.
  9. Think People, Think Future, Think Excellence. Help people realize their fullest potential, not just your own. Many know about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – there are 5 of them. But in reality, there should be 3 more: Cognitive, Aesthetic, Transcendence.

Another two points really resonated with me, so I’ll share them with you here:

  1. Many workers say they don’t want to do a certain task because they are “not paid” to do it. But from the boss’ perspective, you are paid to do only what they know you can do. And if that’s not known yet, then how can you be paid for it? Take it as an opportunity to learn, and to gain a new experience.
  2. The train is leaving the station. You can choose not to stay behind. Or you can join as a full participant. But whatever you do, don’t get in front of the train. 😀


It was a really meaningful and insightful dialogue this morning. (*Thank you, Fauzi, for the ticket!) I’m definitely looking forward to reading Mr Lim Siong Guan’s book ‘The Leader, The Teacher & You’, which I paid S$25 for. 😀 This book won the Singapore Literature Prize in 2014 *gulp* so… hats off to this man. I didn’t know who he was before I attended today’s session, but now I do. 😀 😉 😛