Some of the biggest decisions regarding the development of Nanyang Technological University (NTU) were made over a bowl of fish head curry in the coffee shops of Jurong.
"Through the informal setting, we actually resolved a lot of issues," said president emeritus Cham Tao Soon, the university's founding president.
Now 74, the professor has written a book charting the institution's growth in the 20 years from when it was set up as Nanyang Technological Institute in 1981.
The Thursday lunch discussions with senior management, which feature in the book, were a key part of its development.
"My story is meant to be as truthful as possible, with parts of it on how I dealt with bureaucracy, Nanyang University alumni and other stakeholders," said Prof Cham at the launch of The Making Of NTU - My Story yesterday. "This wasn't just a project to start a technological university, but also part of a solution to address the economic and political challenges of the time."
Prof Cham headed the institution, which became NTU in 1991, for 22 years and launched the $32.50 book on its campus yesterday.
"The book is his story," said former Singapore president S R Nathan, who was guest of honour. "It's not the story of NTU, but all that went into laying the foundation of this great educational icon and the care with which he handled the various political sensitivities that marked its renewed birth or rebirth from Nantah."
He was referring to the former Nanyang University, which sat on the site of NTU's Jurong campus.
Prof Cham's book, said Mr Nathan, starts at the tail end of an important decision by the Government to build a second English-language national university on the site. It was left to Prof Cham, then an engineer in his 40s, to work out the ways and means to grow the fledgling institution.
NTU now features in several global rankings and Mr Nathan, the university's chancellor from 1999 to 2011, added that its success can be traced back to Prof Cham's contributions.
Asked about his hopes for NTU, Prof Cham said: "It has grown to a state where it is quite reputable and I hope that it will continue to do as well. Research brings about branding and that should continue, but I hope NTU will not neglect teaching."
This article was published on April 8 in The Straits Times.
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