Sim Kee Boon: A boss, mentor, golfer, stickler for details
Fri, Nov 09, 2007
FORMER top civil service head Sim Kee Boon, who died on Friday morning, was fondly remembered as a mentor, a passionate golfer, a stickler for details, a hands-on man and a caring boss.

Tributes poured in from many who had worked with him in the civil service and business community.

Mr Edwin Khoo, events director and committee member of Tanah Merah Country Club, of which Mr Sim was the founding chairman, said he was saddened and shocked by news of his death as Mr Sim had sounded "very alert and happy" when he spoke to him last week.

Speaking from Shanghai where he is on a business trip, Mr Khoo told The Straits Times on Friday: "I was in Chile when he was admitted to hospital. When I got back, I call him. He sounded very alert and happy, and he even told me he was going home. So, I thought that was good news.

Mr Khoo, who is due to return to Singapore next Tuesday, said he is cutting short his trip and flying back on Sunday to attend Mr Sim's funeral.

Paying tribute to Mr Sim, he said: "He was a very humble leader, a close friend and a mentor."

Of his contributions to the club, Mr Khoo said Mr Sim, a passionate golfer, single-handedly turned the barren land into the "best-run club in Singapore', and was very proud of it.

"He always had a simple message for us committee members: to run this club well, and to make the best of what we can do. It was a simple but powerful message," he said.

He added that Mr Sim went to the club's golf course every weekend for about two hours even when he could not play golf because of his failing health.

He recalled seeing him on the course three months ago: "He could not swing, but he would talk to his golf buddies, and putt around. After that, he would join us for drinks at the club and with the club members.

"This was despite the fact that he had chemotherapy and was walking around with a tube that was tucked under his shirt."

Businessman and Singapore's Ambassador to Turkey, Mr Chandra Das, 68, who worked directly for Mr Sim when he was in the Economic Development Board in the mid-1960s and mid-1970s, said his former boss had taught him two things.

"First, there is no such thing as black or white. There are no fixed answers and there isn't just one way of doing things. You must be flexible. There is a lot of grey. He was a specialist in the grey," Mr Das told The Straits Times.

"The second thing he told me when I left EDB to join Intraco: He said in EDB there are two people playing chess and you are giving advice. In Intraco, you are a chess player."

He described Mr Sim as "a very sharp and intuitive man, and a good teacher."

"He said you can make mistakes so long as you don't repeat them. He was also very task-oriented and a stickler for work,' added Mr Khoo.

"I remember I took a day off to go to the Registrar of Marriages to get married. After the ceremony, he called the ROM and said: Is Chandra Das there? Tell him to come back to work."

Added Mr David Lum, managing director of Lum Chang Holdings, where Mr Sim was adviser since 2000, : 'Whenever he's at any airports, he would make an effort to look around. He'd try to go to the airport about one or two hours earlier and board the plane at the last minute.'

A hands-on man with exacting standards, he made frequent unannounced walks around the Changi terminals, instituting the habit of Management by Walking Around (MBW) in CAAS. The demand for the best holds true even on the greens, as the founder chairman built the Tanah Merah Country Club into one of Singapore's best.

Said the club's president Tan Puay Huat: 'He's not satisfied until everything is near perfect.'

Ms Mavis Tan, who was personal assistant to Mr Sim for 19 1/2 years since 1984 till he retired in 2000, said he was a boss with a kind heart but had high expectations of his staff, always challenging them to come up with solutions.

"I learnt a lot under him as I always had to anticipate what he would ask. It never failed to impress me that he had such wide first hand connections in the region,' she said.

Staff at Keppel Group also said they benefited from Mr Sim's leadership during his 16 years tenure as Group Executive Chairman.

Leading the tributes from the group, Mr Lim Chee Onn, Executive Chairman of Keppel Corporation, said: "He developed a strong and stable platform for Keppel upon which we have been able to develop and grow at a sustained pace during these last 8 years. Keppel's success today is a result of his vision and efforts.

'As his colleague, I have learnt much from him through his inimitable style, particularly his great sense of optimism and cheerfulness even during very trying times.'

Ms Wang Look Fung, General Manager of the group corporate communications, added: 'Mr Sim was respected and loved. In all his years at Keppel, he has taught me always to be first a Singaporean and then a Keppelite in my thinking process because what is good for Singapore will be good for the future of Keppel. I learned a lot from one of the finest masters in the art of communication.

'I will always remember him as one who has a meticulous attention for details as well as an infectious joire de vivre, always affable and charming to everyone he meets.'

Mr Choo Chiau Beng, Senior Executive Director of Keppel Corp, and Chairman and CEO of Keppel Offshore and Marine, said he will remember Mr Sim as a successful man who was always able to balance well the demands of business and public service with family life and a passion for golf.

"He was an excellent boss - he demanded results but was human and caring. He always kept his cool like holing the final putt in an important 18th hole!'


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