Sim Kee Boon

ST Nov 11, 2007
A keen golfer with a mean swing

By Terrence Voon

MR SIM COULD NOT bear to stay away from golf for more than a week.
THE man who built a world-class golf course from a plot of barren land had a mean golf swing himself.

Mr Sim Kee Boon, who died on Friday at the age of 78, was an ardent golfer who could not bear to stay away from his favourite pastime for more than a week, say his staff and friends.

Even when he headed the civil service and, subsequently, Keppel and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, he still found time to tee off on weekends. One of his favourite putting grounds was the Garden Course at Tanah Merah Country Club (TMCC), which he founded in 1982 at the behest of then-prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

His interest in the game first developed in the 1970s, when he joined the Ministry of Communications as permanent secretary.

‘He was one of the few perm secs who knew how to play golf,’ recalled TMCC captain Goh Hup Chor, who knew Mr Sim for over 20 years.

Mr Sim’s wife, Jeanette, also a keen golfer, is the club’s current lady captain.

According to his friends, Mr Sim’s handicap was as low as 11. Though it went up to 22 in the past few years, his technique remained as good as ever.

‘He was a short hitter, but he hit the ball straight. He hardly ever got into trouble on the fairways,’ said TMCC events director Edwin Khoo, who used to play a few rounds with his boss.

Mr Sim’s regular golf ‘kakis’ included former finance minister Richard Hu and TMCC president Tan Puay Huat.

‘Whoever won the game would pay for meals after that,’ said Mr Khoo.

Mr Sim played golf the way he ran TMCC as chairman – with precision and a keen attention to detail.

Said the club’s marketing manager, Ms Han May Leng: ‘He once came up to me and told me to fix the signages on the golf course because they were slightly tilted. He wanted them to be straight as an arrow. For him, everything had to be first-class.’

Mr Sim led by example, even picking up litter on the club grounds. He was often seen in a T-shirt or short-sleeved shirt – a dress code he also imposed on all male employees at the club.

‘His reasoning was that if you’re in a shirt and a tie, you would stay in the office and never get out to see how things really were at the club,’ said Ms Han.

Under his charge, TMCC membership rates rose from an initial $20,000 to $190,000 now. The Garden Course was named the No.1 course in Singapore for three years running by the United States-based Golf Digest magazine.

Though he demanded nothing but the best from his staff, Mr Sim also dished out compassion in equal measure. They recalled how he would often ask about their health and their families – a personal touch that made him a popular figure even outside the club.

Said Pan-West retail manager P.M. Samy: ‘Whenever he came to my shop, he would never fail to ask about my work, my family and my life.

‘He was a real gentleman – both humble and approachable – a man who had golf in his blood. His passing is a great loss to golf.’

S’poreans owe pioneer civil servants a big debt: PM Lee
Paying his respects, he says those like Sim Kee Boon saw the country change and made change happen
By Peh Shing Huei


SINGAPOREANS owe the pioneer generation of public servants such as Mr Sim Kee Boon an ‘enormous debt’, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

‘There was a certain cut of the people who were of that generation,’ he said, after paying his respects to the former civil service head who died on Friday.

‘They grew up, they saw the country change, they made the change happen.’

They were ‘the last of the Mohicans’: a phrase which another former civil service head, the late Mr Howe Yoon Chong, had used to describe himself and Mr Sim, both of whom were among the founding group of top administrators.

‘In a way, that’s true,’ said Mr Lee. ‘That generation of public servants, we owe them an enormous debt.’ Mr Howe, who was also a Cabinet minister, died three months ago.

Mr Sim was 78 when he lost his 17-year-long battle with stomach cancer on Friday.

MM Lee’s tribute to Sim Kee Boon
MINISTER Mentor Lee Kuan Yew paid his respects to the late Sim Kee Boon last night. He released a condolence letter to Mrs Sim and a tribute to her husband.

Letter to Mrs Sim

After retiring from the civil service in 1984 – which included a five-year tenure as its head – he joined Keppel Corporation as its executive chairman and turned the loss-making outfit into one of Singapore’s leading conglomerates.

From 2000, he was also a director of Temasek Holdings.

Mr Lee, who was accompanied by his wife Ms Ho Ching, said Mr Sim was not just doing a job but was sharing his experience, wisdom and perceptiveness as well.

While paying tribute to Mr Sim’s work in building Changi Airport, Mr Lee also praised him for setting the tone of the civil service and leading it to achieve many things.

‘Not everything was done personally by himself. But the leader’s job is not to do everything by yourself. It’s your job to enable other people to work and to be productive and he achieved that,’ he said.

‘He’s not a flamboyant person. He doesn’t put himself on a high pedestal. He’s very easy to get along with, chatty, gregarious, but very sharp mind, very clear what needs to be done.

‘And if you are dealing with a touchy situation, not just in Singapore but with our neighbours or with some other countries, you can depend on him to understand what the issue is, what the other side is trying to achieve, how we can get what we need and maintain the relationship.’

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and several other Cabinet ministers, including Foreign Minister George Yeo and Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean, as well as former deputy prime minister Tony Tan, who is also SPH chairman, were among those at the wake yesterday.

The wake, which continues until Tuesday, is at Mr Sim’s home at 114 Watten Estate Road.

Steve Friedman

If you are not constantly working for constructive strategic change, then you are the steward of something which must erode. Competitors will leapfrog over you, and clients will find you less relevant. If that was your approach, why would you even want the job?

– Steve Friedman, Former CEO of Goldman Sachs