Invaluable lessons from a visionary

SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's remarks about the late veteran public servant and businessman Tang I-Fang are truly fitting ("Tang I-Fang a man ahead of his time: PM"; last Saturday).

Long before anyone could imagine that Jurong would become the buzzing commercial centre that it is today, Mr Tang already had plans to build a regional centre there.

As it turned out, Singapore was hit by a severe recession and the plans were shelved.

Besides being a visionary, Mr Tang was a boss who never lost his temper despite the challenges he faced. He was the ultimate gentleman.

As a fresh graduate and junior civil servant, I was once summoned to Mr Tang's office over a business report I wrote.

I was terrified because I was new to the workforce and lacked experience in writing detailed reports.

When I arrived at Mr Tang's office, I was astounded by the warmth of his greeting. He looked me in the eye, shook my hands, smiled warmly at me and poured a cup of his favourite brew - hot jasmine tea - for me. Then he gave me a short and impactful lesson on effective business writing.

This happened some 30 years ago but his words have stayed with me, and I have repeated them many times as I trained my staff and, later, students on how to write good business reports.

Mr Tang never made me feel inferior. If I made a mistake, he would say: "Learn from it, get wiser and move on."

One of my most prized possessions is a handwritten note on a copy of the report that I re-submitted after the meeting with him. It said: "Well done, Harold. Excellent report! - IF Tang."

How many bosses would take the time to compliment their staff on a job well done?

Mr Tang inspired me to apply for an overseas scholarship to get a master's degree at a time when this was not available.

One had to be bold enough to ask. After all, Mr Tang was asking foreign investors to believe in the future of Jurong and Singapore.

I am forever grateful to him for taking a chance on me by allowing me to study overseas.

So, as I said my final goodbye to Mr Tang at his funeral wake last Saturday, I thanked him for the invaluable lessons he taught me - and for being a kind boss, a gentleman and a leader with integrity and decisiveness, as well as for being my friend and mentor.

Harold Tan Hock Chye, Reader

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