Award to spread the 'Philip Yeo passion"

Spring Singapore chairman Philip Yeo was honoured at a dinner on Friday attended by National University of Singapore staff, students and many of the people he has mentored.

SINGAPORE - Mr Philip Yeo recounts an occasion when he and Mr Lim Swee Say - then working with him at the Economic Development Board - were queueing up for their boarding passes at an airline transit counter in Chicago.

As there would be no food on the plane, he asked the young officer accompanying them to get three hot dogs from the nearest food stand.

"Swee Say and I got our boarding passes in less than 15 minutes, then we went looking for our missing officer," said Mr Yeo.

"We found him at the hot dog stand - patiently putting ketchup, onions, condiments, et cetera, et cetera onto the three hot dogs! I expected him to bring the three 'naked' hot dogs to us. The officer failed the hot dog test. No more future trips with us."

Those who have worked under the man know this is a Philip Yeo classic.

Known to talk and walk a mile a minute, he has little patience for those who cannot keep up. But the 67-year-old is also known for his passion for those working with him, and for Singapore.

In a varied 43-year career in the public sector, he has brought in billions of dollars of investments, conjured up industries practically from thin air, and created thousands of jobs.

At a dinner on Friday attended by National University of Singapore staff, students and many of the people he has mentored, the Spring Singapore chairman was honoured with an NUS scholarship named after him, in the hope that some of his magic will rub off on more young folk.

"His brand of leadership is unique," said former Ascendas chief Chong Siak Ching. "He dares to push boundaries and to do what's right, not for himself, but for the nation."

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Lim Swee Say, who was present, said: "I learnt from him some very important values: never say die, always dare to be different, always want to make a difference. We cannot duplicate Philip Yeo, but the least we can do is to spread this Philip Yeo spirit, this Philip Yeo culture, and most importantly the Philip Yeo passion."

Ms Chong, now chief executive officer of The National Art Gallery, Singapore, has rounded up other enthusiastic members of a fund-raising and selection committee who have benefited from working with Mr Yeo.

They call themselves "Mad Cows" after his brand of leadership which is all about "making a difference, changing our world".

About $2 million has been raised for the scholarship endowment fund so far, which, with the Government matching, will mean a $5 million fund that will send about 10 recipients abroad each year. More donors are expected to grow the fund.

Recipients will get stints at top universities and work experience at start-ups and companies.

They will also get to meet Mr Yeo and some of his vast network of friends and contacts worldwide, said NUS president Tan Chorh Chuan.

"He has a very genuine interest in helping young people and he continues to be your mentor; it's a long-term relationship, which explains why there's such a network of goodwill for him."

NUS has an existing scholarship scheme where students study and work abroad for a year in places ranging from Silicon Valley and Israel to Beijing and Bangalore, and the best of the best will be chosen for the "Philip Yeo Initiative", said Dr Lily Chan, head of the university's innovation and entrepreneurship promotion arm, NUS Enterprise.

She noted that, already, one in five students on such stints ends up starting his own company. "When they come back, they think differently," she said. "And if they start a business in the style and spirit of Philip Yeo, they will dare to do anything."

Mr Yeo told The Sunday Times: "My job is almost like a sifu (master). I will interact with them and give them advice, and Spring can potentially help fund them with seed capital.

"To get the best out of people, don't be paternalistic. You have to treat them like kites," he said. "You get them up in the air, if there's no wind you try again. Everybody needs a lift-off. If they get into trouble, you reel them in."

Chance to study, work abroad... and network too

The Philip Yeo Initiative will give National University of Singapore students and graduates an opportunity to study and work abroad as well as personal time with Mr Yeo and his network of contacts.

It comprises two scholarships - a full-time programme which is an offshoot of the university's 10-year-old entrepreneurship effort called NUS Overseas College; and a part-time one available to both students and alumni.

From next year, around five students from the first programme - called the Philip Yeo Entrepreneurial Awards - will be funded to spend up to a year abroad, working and studying in leading entrepreneurial hubs all over the world.

In the second scheme - the Philip Yeo Innovation Fellows - another five recipients will visit major entrepreneurial hubs overseas and meet leaders in their respective fields to further their ideas under customised programmes.

ailien@sph.com.sg


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