I am in the midst of the longest ever business trip I have undertaken, starting with Mexico City where I attended a meeting of the SwissRe Advisory Panel and had several GIC business meetings, then onto São Paulo in Brazil where I inaugurated what is GIC’s tenth office worldwide and again had several GIC business meetings, and then onto London for GIC meetings.  I share in this blog a good number of the little wisdoms I picked up during the trip.

Our Country Needs Good Children

First, a remark that Carlos Slim, the one of the world’s richest men and Mexican business magnate, investor, and philanthropist, is reputed to have made when someone said what is needed is to have a “good Mexico for the children” of Mexico.  Slim countered this is wrong: “What is needed is to have ‘good children for Mexico’.”  We also should think the same way of the need to have “good children for Singapore”.

This wisdom reminded me of a visit I made many years ago to a research station in the Negev desert in Israel;  the research was to develop a self-sustaining community that made its own electricity and water and grew its own vegetables and poultry – a community that would not require external supplies for its survival and sustenance. Someone in the visiting team remarked: “This is very good.  When you succeed, you can bring the people to the desert.”  The chief scientist countered with typical Israeli directness: “You’ve got it wrong. Bring the people here in the desert and we will succeed.”

Approach Life with a Sense of Humour

I was sitting at dinner in Mexico next to a senior manager who was doing two jobs at the C-suite level – in other words he was Chief of two different functions in his company.  I asked him jokingly whether he got double pay.  He, just as jokingly remarked: “No, they pay me half my pay, because I must be an idiot to agree to do two jobs.”  Life is always easier if we approach it with a sense of humour!

Competition is Good

In one of the business meetings, we were talking about business competition. Our business associate said: “When you lose a great enemy, you lose a lot of information.”  In other words, having strong competition keeps you alert and continually aware and sensitive to what is going on in the environment. Killing competition weakens those who remain.

Feedback from Readers of “The Leader, The Teacher & You

Finally, it was heartening that several people have been reading “The Leader, The Teacher & You” and were quoting the parts they were particularly struck by.  I list here what they quoted as indication of what they had found to be particularly helpful to them, which was why they were able to immediately recall what they had read:

  • “It is better to have stallions, which we occasionally have to pull back, than to have donkeys you have to kick to move.” (Dr. Goh Keng Swee)


  • “Nothing in our past is wasted.”
  •  “Be in time for the future.” 
  • “The Circle of Improvement: from Unconscious Incompetence to Conscious Incompetence to Conscious Competence to Unconscious Competence and back to Unconscious Incompetence.” 
  • “Hire and promote first on the basis of integrity; second, motivation; third, capacity; fourth, understanding; fifth, knowledge; and last, and least, experience.  Without integrity, motivation is dangerous; without motivation, capacity is impotent; without capacity, understanding is limited; without understanding, knowledge is meaningless; without knowledge, experience is blind.  Experience is easy to provide and quickly put to good use by people who have all the other qualities.” (Dee Hock) 
  • “Challenge 12 is so moving:


          A blind boy sat on the steps of a building with a hat by his feet.  He held up a sign that said, ‘I am blind, please help.’

         There were only a few coins in the hat.  A man was walking by.  He took a few coins from his pocket and dropped them into the            hat. He then took the sign, turned it around, and wrote several words.  He put the sign by so that everyone who walked by would          see the new words.

         Son, the hat began to fill up.  A lot more people were giving money to the blind boy.

         That afternoon, the man who had changed the sign came to see how things were.  The boy recognised his footsteps and asked,          ‘Were you the one who changed my sign this morning.  What did you write?’

          The man said, ‘I only wrote the truth.  I said what you said but in a different way.’

          What he had written was: ‘Today is a beautiful day and I cannot see it.'”




Last Sunday was Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day is a celebration honouring mothers and motherhood, maternal bonds, and the influence of mothers in society.

The celebration of Mother’s Day on the second Sunday of May first happened in 1908, when Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother in Grafton, West Virginia. Anna had started her campaign in 1905 to make “Mother’s Day” a recognized holiday in the United States.  Her intent was to honour her own mother and for everyone else to honour their mother, “the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world.”  In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the second Sunday in May as a national holiday to honour mothers.

Mothers are possibly the most important factor in the moulding of character and establishment of lifetime values in children. Values and attitudes such as honesty, kindness, patience, and hard work often get passed down, simply through example and experience.

Most of the famous leaders of history have had good, God-fearing mothers.

The mother of the first President of the United States, George Washington, was pious, and the mother of Scottish poet and novelist, Sir Walter Scott, was well-steeped in poetry and music. In contrast, it is believed that the mother of the Roman Emperor, Nero, was a murderess; legend has it that Nero was playing his fiddle while Rome burned in a great fire, a fire some say he himself started in order to be able to re-build the centre of Rome. Nero murdered his own mother, his first wife and, apparently also, his second wife.

Mothers are most critical in the development of younger children as they are protector, provider, and guide. Children grow their sense of security and stability through their mother.

But what is possibly not well understood or recognised is the critical role of fathers, particularly in the teen years of their children. Fathers help children grow up with a sense of adventure, confidence, and steadfastness – critical qualities that children require to face a future that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Children need to learn to think for themselves, stand their ground against negative influences, and grow into independent adults. 

Children grow best into well-balanced adults when they have both the protection of mothers and the encouragement of fathers at home. Mother’s Day on the second Sunday of May is a day to honour our mother for their love and sacrifice, and Father’s Day on the third Sunday of June is to honour our father for their courage and resilience.

May we always remember to honour our mothers and fathers through our words and actions! 






There is a story of a duck that went into a shop and asked, “Do you have grapes?”

The shopkeeper gently said, “No.”

The next day the duck came again and asked, “Do you have grapes?”

The shopkeeper, this time with louder voice, responded, “No.”

The third day the duck showed up and asked, “Do you have grapes?”

The shopkeeper shouted, “No! And if you come along again asking for grapes, I will nail your webbed feet to the door and hang you upside down!”

The following day, the duck, shaken by the threat of crucifixion, asked, “Do you have nails?”

The shopkeeper replied, “No.”

The duck continued, “Do you have grapes?”

If you had a kid come along like the duck, would you think him smart and see how you could help him become even smarter, or would you consider him a smart aleck who had to be disciplined and put in his place?

Your reaction will tell whether you are the innovative, inventive, and creative kind or just the opposite – the staid and proud kind who will not accept anyone cleverer than you. 

If we do not have the capacity to be the smart duck, we must at least be careful that we are not the dumb monkey.

There was this experiment with five monkeys in a cage with a hanging banana. Whenever any of the monkeys tried to get the banana, all five monkeys were doused with cold water. Soon enough, any monkey who tried to get the banana would get beaten up by the others, as no one was enjoying the cold showers!

One of the monkeys was taken out and replaced with a new monkey.  This monkey wondered what was wrong with the other four monkeys, who were all placidly leaving the banana alone.  So he reached out for the banana, only to be promptly set upon by the other monkeys.  The new monkey did not know why he had got the beating, but learnt fast there was something prohibitive about the banana.  No one knew the cold water had been turned off.

Then another of the original monkeys was taken out and replaced with a new monkey who again wondered what was wrong with the other monkeys to beep ignoring the banana. The second new monkey went for the banana, only to be mercilessly beaten up by the first new monkey. 

One by one the original monkeys were replaced with new monkeys.  Finally there were five new monkeys, none of whom had experienced the cold showers.  All they knew was that the banana was an invitation to be beaten up.  Nothing could be changed, nothing could be improved.  If only the banana-which-caused-a-beating could be replaced by an ordinary banana?!  But no one dared to go for the banana, so there could be no solution.

So this is my blog for the week… do you choose to be a smart duck or a dumb monkey?