Biography of Sim Kee Boon, The Businessman Bureaucrat, launched

SINGAPORE – Two years after her grandfather – the late Pioneer Generation leader Sim Kee Boon – died in 2007, Ms Leanne Sim’s father suggested that they should write a book about him to preserve the family’s history.

Ms Sim, who is the eldest of five granddaughters, agreed to spearhead this “deceptively simple” task. However, she got interrupted by other commitments like her career and children.

Work on the biography finally began in December 2018 when Professor Dave Fernandez, then the new director of the Sim Kee Boon Institute for Financial Economics (SKBI) at Singapore Management University (SMU), suggested a book on Mr Sim.

On Friday, the 240-page biography titled Sim Kee Boon: The Businessman Bureaucrat was launched by SKBI and Landmark Books at SMU.

Ms Sim, the co-author, said the book was written to document not only a brief moment in Singapore’s history, but also an integral part of her family’s history.

Quoting a Chinese idiom, the 38-year-old marketing and communications director, said the biography is for her children and their children, “that they may know the source of water they drink, and be grateful”.

Born in 1929 in Singapore, Mr Sim graduated from University of Malaya with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics in 1953. He joined the Civil Service as an administrative officer in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and rose quickly through the ranks.

He was appointed head of the Civil Service in 1979, a post he held till 1984, when he became chairman of Keppel Corp and Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS).

Among his many other roles, the avid golfer was founding chairman of Tanah Merah Country Club. He was also chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisers from 2004 to 2005.

Mr Sim, who has five sons with his wife Jeanette and five grandchildren, died at 78 from stomach cancer.

One of his many values that stood out for Ms Sim was how he spoke to everyone from cleaners to prime ministers. Gathering different perspectives helped him make the best decisions possible.

While he treated everyone equally, he also ensured that the most vulnerable were cared for even more, Ms Sim said.

Referring to her two children, she told The Straits Times: “I want them to feel empowered to speak truth to power. To treat everyone equally and yet have the empathy and sensitivity to treat the weakest among us with even more care.”

Ms Sim’s co-author, Ms Low Shi Ping, said Mr Sim excelled at being both a public servant and a leader in the private sector – hence the book title.

The 39-year-old, who runs her own consultancy LSP Communications, said he was able to inspire the deepest loyalty and love, adding that a few interviewees shed tears as they spoke about him.