Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

leekuanyew-listening.jpgLee Kuan Yew, Singapore's first prime minister, died this morning, aged 91. He passed away only months before the 50th anniversary of Singapore's independence from Malaysia in August. My heartfelt condolences go out to all Singaporean clients and friends.

As a larger-than-life statesman, Lee Kuan Yew shaped Singapore with great vision and an uncompromising style. He possessed a sharp mind and an equally sharp tongue and was both revered and feared for it. At a time when many newly independent nations distanced themselves from their former colonial masters, he chose a very pragmatic path to integrate his tiny island state into the global economy. Some of his policies and his political style might have been controversial but there is no doubt that Singapore is one of the world's most impressive success stories - turning a fragile multicultural society with few resources into one of the most prosperous and business-friendly countries in the world.

Today, despite impressive prosperity, Singapore faces great challenges - the limits of immigration into this densely-populated island amidst declining birth rates, rising public debt, concerns about the sustainability of growth, questions about the distribution of wealth and income. But Singapore seems to be tackling problems like few other countries do - with pragmatism and smart leadership, with integrity and future-orientation. If worse comes to worst, Lee Kuan Yew reassured Singaporeans way back in the late 80s that "even from my sick bed, even if you are going to lower me into the grave and I feel something is going wrong, I will get up.”

Those who knew Lee Kuan Yew will not doubt his words.

Heike Stengel