Lee Kuan Yew General Election 1980

[dropcap size=small]T[/dropcap] he years have come and gone since Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s passing. The saddening occasion on 23 March 2015 gave rise to an unprecedented national turnout at the various memorial services around Singapore.

But it was the man’s life that shaped the nation, and his ideas and conviction that played a part in steering it from third world to first.

(Related: What was Lee Kuan Yew’s greatest fear for Singapore?)

(Related: In Memoriam: 6 lesser-known facts about Mrs Wee Kim Wee)

Words that Lee might say to the business leaders and entrepreneurs of today:


11 Quotes from Lee Kuan Yew

1. “You know the Singaporean. He is a hard-working, industrious, rugged individual. Or we would not have made the grade. But let us also recognise that he is a champion grumbler.” 

The Wit and Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew, 2013


2. “You lose nothing by being polite. The answer is ‘No’, but please say it politely and give the reasons… Explain to me why ‘No’. Don’t change ‘No’ to ‘Yes’. Don’t be a fool. If there was a good reason why it is ‘No’, it must remain ‘No’, but the man must be told politely.”

Speech at Victoria Theatre, 1965


3. “I do not yet know of a man who became a leader as a result of having undergone a leadership course.”

The Wit and Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew, 2013


4. “Change is the very essence of life. The moment we cease to change, to be able to adapt, to adjust, to respond effectively to new situations, then we have begun to die.”

Speech at the fourth Delegates’ Conference of the NTUC, 1967


5. “If you deprive yourself of outsourcing and your competitors do not, you’re putting yourself out of business.”

Interview for YaleGlobal, 2004


6. “Of course, new technology’s greatest challenge is how to identify and develop potential winners. And this is difficult. There will be many failures. There will also be wrong bets… but CEOs cannot make right bets without making wrong ones too. Those who make more correct bets than wrong ones, are the real winners.”

Speech at The Forbes Global CEO Conference Gala Dinner, 2001


7. “What I fear is complacency. When things always become better, people tend to want more for less work.”

Speech at Jalan Tenteram Community Centre, 1970


8. “I have never been over-concerned or obsessed with opinion polls or popularity polls. I think a leader who is, is a weak leader. If you are concerned with whether your rating will go up or down, then you are not a leader. You are just catching the wind … you will go where the wind is blowing. And that’s not what I am in this for.”

The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew, 1998


9. “After trying out a number of ways to reduce inequalities and failing, I was gradually forced to conclude that the decisive factors were the people, their natural abilities, education and training.”

The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew, 1998


10. “Between being loved and being feared, I have always believed Machiavelli was right. If nobody is afraid of me, I’m meaningless.”

The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew, 1998


11. “Rest on laurels? I wish I could do that. No, you rest when you’re dead”.

The Wit and Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew, 2013