Sunday, May 16, 2010

Farewell Dr Goh

Friday was a sad day for me.

One of the greatest minds in Singapore history passed on. The Chief Architect of Singapore, Dr Goh Keng Swee. To quote Mr Lee Kuan Yew, generations of Singaporeans benefited and will continue to benefit bcos he laid the foundations of modern Singapore. EDB, SAF, JTC, CPF, MOE, MAS, GIC, Temasek, you name it. Down to the SSO, Zoo, Bird Park, Sentosa and even the Chinese and Japanese Gardens. He started everything! And the best part, he was selfless, he was humble and he cared for the people. He put his best 25 years into making Singapore a better place.

Dr Goh was a thinker way ahead of his time. He knew that Singapore has limited chances of surviving without a hinterland after the separation with Malaysia. So he came up with an original plan with Dr Winsemius, Singapore's economic adviser from the UN during the early days, to invite foreign MNCs to setup factories in Singapore, enticing them with tax breaks and cheap labour from Singaporeans. The site would be in Jurong, which was a swamp at that time. It was his most major gamble and he said himself it could be his greatest folly. But it worked. Singaporeans were just happy they had jobs, MNCs got their competitiveness and Singapore prospered. Years later, other countries including China followed his strategy.

He started our sovereign wealth funds, Temasek and GIC, in the 70s and 80s. The term "sovereign wealth fund" did not exist until a quarter century later. He did that because he saw the need to manage such large pools of money with dedicated teams of professionals to ensure decent returns (at least market returns) on our monies. The combined size of our sovereign wealth funds exceeds our GDP multiple folds today.

Dr Goh is truly one of Singapore's finest leaders. All Singapore flags should fly half mast for a week, in my opinion. All our dollar bills should have his face on it. May 14 should become a public holiday. The parliament house should have a statue of him. And yes, Jurong Industrial Estate should be renamed Goh Keng Swee Industrial Estate.

I wish I have the dollar bill with his signature. I would frame it and put it beside my Buffett and Munger dollar bill.

Someone is doing major update on Dr Goh's wikipedia page. Information has improved tremendously over the past few days.

I guess the sad revelation that I learned from reading his life story over the past few days was that he sacrificed his personal life and his health for the sake of Singapore. Or maybe he just wasn't as lucky as MM. After 25 years of intense innovation, adding immeasurably huge contributions to our society, he was diagnosed with bladder cancer. The fortunate part was that he still lived over 20 years after with his current wife, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

So, live life to the fullest, but also in moderation and take good care of our health.

Just to put down here one of Dr Goh's best quote:

"The only way not to fail, is by not doing anything at all. And that, in the final analysis, will be the ultimate failure."

This quote was passed down to me across generations, from people who worked directly with him. and now it is with me. Thus his legacy lives on in all of us, Singaporeans. And it is up to us to let our children and our children's children understand his greatness and continue to learn from him. Like how schoolchildren today in the US still adore Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln, benefit from their foresight, worship them and still learn from them. Our children and their children will also continue to benefit from Dr Goh's far-sightedness. This is the least that we should do: pass on the legacy of one of our greatest Titans.

Thank you Dr Goh, thank you for all that you have done for Singapore.

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