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Speech by Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat at the Book Launch of "Sunday Email from Chairman – 20th Anniversary Edition”, on Friday, 21 December 2018, at the National Library

21 Dec 2018

Mr Liew Mun Leong,


Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good Afternoon.

I am happy to join all of you to celebrate the launch of Mun Leong’s latest book, “Sunday Emails from a Chairman – 20th Anniversary Edition”.

Mun Leong’s Career

2        Mun Leong has had a meaningful and successful career. Spanning both the public and private sectors for almost 50 years, with 22 years in the public service.

a. Mun Leong served as an engineer, initially building and developing MINDEF camps, and later, Changi Airport. He was also the Registrar of the Professional Engineers Board.

b. Mun Leong was the CEO of the then-Singapore Institute of Standards and Industrial Research, and the then-National Science and Technology Board, which is now known as A*STAR.

c. In addition, Mun Leong was the President of the International Organization for Standardization, better known as ISO.

3        In his 26 years in the private sector, Mun Leong became a prominent bu     siness and industry leader. 

a. Under his leadership as the Founding CEO of CapitaLand, the company grew to become one of the largest real estate groups in Southeast Asia. 

b. After stepping down from CapitaLand, Mun Leong remains active and is contributing significantly to the development of Changi Airport Group and Surbana Jurong Group as their Chairman.

i. Today, Changi Airport is consistently ranked as one of the best in the world. 

ii. Surbana Jurong is one of the largest Asia-based urban and infrastructure consulting firms.

4        The “Sunday emails” in Mun Leong’s fifth volume are primarily addressed to the employees of Changi Airport Group and Surbana Jurong. They cover a range of topics – core values, leadership and pragmatism, Changi Airport and the aviation industry, international perspectives, and engineering and project management. Today, I will like to share three themes from these emails that resonate with me: 

a. First, engaging and developing people; 

b. Second, embracing lifelong learning; and

c. Third, cultivating a spirit of leadership.

Engaging and Developing People

5        On the first theme – Mun Leong places a strong focus on engaging and developing people. He strongly believes that internal communication is as important as external communication.

a. Mun Leong devotes his personal time on Sundays to write emails to communicate with his employees. It is remarkable that he has been doing this consistently for the past 20 years. He is still going strong at this even till today! Mun Leong’s “Sunday emails” started in 1998 when Mun Leong was the CEO of Pidemco Land. We can consider Mun Leong as a ‘blogger’, ahead of the curve, even before blogging became popular!

b. In his “Sunday Emails”, Mun Leong shares his frank reflections, observations and anecdotes on his encounters and also a variety of topics. The sharing of his values and philosophies on various aspects of life is also an extension of his natural instincts to be a coach, mentor and friend to his colleagues. 

i. For example, in his email of 18 December 2016 titled “Make the Best of Autumn!”, he encouraged his employees to think positively about ageing. To the older employees, he cited inspiring examples of a few prominent elderly figures who had aged well. 

ii. To the younger employees, he advised them to take full advantage of their youth, by keeping employable, preparing for financial independence early, and staying healthy and fit. 

c. Through these “Sunday Emails”, employees experience Mun Leong’s personal touch and better understand his thoughts and concerns. Employee engagement improves when employees feel a closer connection with their leaders. They also become more motivated and grow in their jobs. I hope to see more leaders in the public and private sectors sharing their experiences and engaging their employees more closely. 

Embracing Lifelong Learning

6        The second theme is lifelong learning. “Sunday emails” serve as a good example of how an individual can embrace lifelong learning and put it into practice. At the same time, this also helps to impart valuable lessons to others.

a. As we heard from Mun Leong, it is not just about learning from books and from formal courses, this learning from experience, observations, personal reflections, are just as important. It is something which I tried to do when I was in MOE. Too much of our learning is too stereotype to what we learn in school and in books. But real life with proper reflections provide a huge and rich source of learning. What is needed in all this is to be deeply curious about the world and Mun Leong’s emails reflect that. Through his frequent contemplations and writing of various experiences, he seized opportunities to learn and share his learning.  It is this spirit of self-directed learning that helps one to keep up with the rapidly changing environment that we live in. The emergence of new technologies has changed the way we work and live. The shift of economic weight towards Asia has also impacted our businesses.

i. In his March 2018 email, Mun Leong shared about the lessons he learnt when he ventured into China. I first met Mun Leong years back in Suzhou as PPS to then MM Mr Lee Kuan Yew. He said that: “The first lesson we learnt was that we had to choose our local partners carefully, but we still fell into traps with some unscrupulous partners. We had to learn our painful lessons to dissociate with them, and paid some “tuition fees””. After learning these lessons, CapitaLand’s business in China grew and became profitable.

ii. Many Singaporeans and Singapore companies are operating in different parts of the world. International experience is an important part of lifelong learning and development. For Singapore to become a Global-Asia Node of Technology, Innovation and Enterprise, Singaporeans must be open to venturing into new markets, and continuously learn and adapt to new environments.

b. “Lifelong learning” is more than just a slogan. When Mun Leong shares his learning experiences, he in turn motivates his employees to embrace lifelong learning and find joy in continuous learning. This goes beyond employees attending training programmes. It is an attitude and spirit that we should all develop.

Cultivating a Spirit of Leadership

7        The third theme from “Sunday emails” is the importance of cultivating a spirit of leadership with the right values.

a. These emails are not merely theoretical expositions on business and management. Fundamentally, Mun Leong’s writings distil important values such as integrity and fairness in business dealings that leaders must have. 

i. He said “Our core values must be our moral compass to guide the corporation against any untoward drift in the wrong direction. Management must never lose sight of our core values. Core values are our silent mentors.”

b. Good leadership requires the top management of the organisation to believe personally in what the organisation stands for, and be committed to its values and purpose.

c. When leaders personally lead the way, walk the talk, and impart their values, it can make a positive impact on the personal and professional development of staff. 

8        Indeed, nurturing future generations of leaders is a hallmark of strong leadership. Leaders who have the confidence to nurture others and the humility to learn alongside others help secure a bright future for the organisations they lead. Building people is the theme that cuts across all his emails.

9        Good leadership is key at all levels, whether in the private, public or people sectors.

a. As our challenges become more complex, the Government will not have all the answers. We need to harness the diverse strengths of our society, through leaders at different levels in different parts of our society. By working together, we will be greater than the sum of our parts.

b. With good leadership, we can secure Singapore’s future as one people. We will be united by a sense of common purpose to galvanise whole-of-nation, whole-of-society efforts to take Singapore forward.


10       Allow me to conclude. Mun Leong has compiled his “Sunday emails” into books that can reach out to not only his employees, but also benefit a wider readership in Singapore and beyond.

a. In fact, in the presence of so many ambassadors here testify to the relevance of what Mun Leong is writing and what he has done across the different countries across the world. Now in its fifth volume, the “Sunday emails” series have remained a relevant read since the first volume was published in 2008. They have provided its readers with pragmatic lessons and useful perspectives on management and leadership, and a variety of other topics such as business strategies, overseas ventures, and international affairs. 

11       I’m also glad that the royalties from the books are donated to charities. 

a. The royalties from the first three volumes were donated to CapitaLand Hope Foundation to help needy and underprivileged children. The royalties from the fourth volume, for this fifth volume, will go to Temasek Foundation Nurtures, a non-profit philanthropic organisation.

b. I have no doubt that Mun Leong takes joy in giving back to society. Likewise, I hope that all of us can also give generously. In this way, we can build a culture of giving and a more caring society in Singapore.

12       As I mentioned earlier on, given the presence of so many ambassadors here, it is important for us to build not just for Singapore but to work with people from all over the world to build a better world. I congratulate Mun Leong on the launch of his fifth edition of “Sunday emails”, and his 20 years of writing. I certainly look forward to his next book!

13       Thank you and I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!