Lim Siong Guan shares his experience as Lee Kuan Yew’s first Principal Private Secretary

He recounts how staff learnt to meet Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s demand for perfection, the latter’s view of the role of the civil service and the core values which were important to him.

The Group President of the Government Investment Corporation, Mr Lim was previously the Head of the Singapore Civil Service, and the Permanent Secretary at various ministries. He was also the first Principal Private Secretary to Mr Lee.


He told Channel NewsAsia about how staff learnt to meet Mr Lee’s demand for perfection. Mr Lim said: “He had me sit in for lunches and dinners which he gave ever so often, most particularly to foreign visitors. He had me sit in at the lunches and dinners as part of my education, and also to take notes of the conversation.

“One thing I noticed was that the menus for lunches and dinners were the same all the time. So I asked the Secretary to the Cabinet, who has since passed away many years ago, why were the menus just so unchangeable, and he said ‘we had experimented in the past with different dishes, and they always had one criticism or other from Mr Lee, and here they came to this menu, and Mr Lee appeared quite satisfied with it. He no longer had any complaint about it.’ So they just stuck with it.

“The funny thing is on some of our overseas trips, Mrs Lee was the one who would urge Mr Lee to try out some other things, and one time he remarked, he wondered why he was always served the same thing in Singapore and never something else. The reason for that was that people in Singapore, they thought … having come to a formula that was satisfactory to him, they would stay with something that was satisfying enough, if not perfect.”
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