Growing up, I was a big fan of Ken Jalleh Jr. I loved reading his columns and his sharp eye for visual storytelling played a big part in my daily purchase of The New Paper.
When the opportunity came for me to pick his mind, as part of a campaign The Peak is running with Borneo Motors for the Toyota Harrier Hybrid (an excellent car and one Ken also objectively loves driving, evidenced in the video below), I jumped at it.
The power of writing
Ken is an editorial legend. He conceptualised and started the most publications – TNP on Sunday, commuter paper Streats, socio-economic magazine Lexean – and played a pivotal role in launching The Singapore Monitor and The New Paper.
But, as we drive towards Club Street in his Toyota Harrier Hybrid, Ken tells me he would not have gone into journalism if given the chance to turn back time. “Having spent six months in the US where I was attached to the LA Times, Detroit News, and NY Daily News, I realised that journalism in Singapore is, and has to be, different. As a journalist here, you may live a rich life, but you will never be rich. You may think you are free, but you will never be rid of the monkey on your back,” he says.
Still, he is thankful for a career that saw him become the youngest columnist in Asia in 1971, when he wrote a regular column in The Sunday Times, and working and learning with a group of reporters and editors “anyone would be privileged to know, let alone work with, be inspired by and learn from”.
Like most journalists of his time, Ken wanted to write and be read. He enjoyed putting pen to paper, “to turn a phrase and to influence”. As the years ticked by, however, those lofty ideals gave way to quiet pragmatism.
But Ken still believes in the power and relevance of good journalism. “Credibility, accuracy, neutrality, context. You seek the truth in an untruthful world, and you do so with patience in the most impatient of professions,” he says.
Lessons in life
As we approach Club Street, the conversation shifts to the lessons he’s learned in life. Ken is approaching retirement, which was also one reason he switched from his usual German makes to the Toyota Harrier Hybrid – “It epitomises comfort, fuel frugality and function. There’s also safety. It is perfect for me and my wife’s empty-nester needs.”
He jokes that his advanced age also means that the lofty height of the car helps him easily get in and out. A younger Ken felt like he needed a flashier ride. The worldly-wise one I’m talking to today understands that luxury is in the little details and goes beyond the badge at the front of the car.
One of those features he quietly appreciates is how the seat of the car automatically moves back when he switches off the engine, and returns to the driving position when he’s ready to go. In a quirky way, it references the first of four Ken’s guiding lights – author Stephen Covey’s Ls to life: live (care for your body), love (care for and treasure those you love), learn (feed your mind with curiosity, enthusiasm and humility) and leave a legacy.
He concludes: “In life, be kind. In managing, be caring and empowering. In parenting, set them free.”