If a person’s legacy is to be measured by his contributions to society, then Lee Kuan Yew ranks among the great heroes. Singapore’s founding father was largely responsible for building the Singapore that we know today, and he is overwhelmingly revered among his people. The outpouring of respect and admiration for Lee Kuan Yew is palpable on the streets and in social media. This week’s queue to pay tribute at the Parliament House where his body lies snakes around the city for 2.5 km with waits up to eight hours. But standing in line for eight hours pales in comparison to the lifetime that Lee Kuan Yew devoted to Singapore.
Lee Kuan Yew was extraordinarily passionate about making Singapore a better place for Singaporeans, and his life was devoted to this single aim. An important key to his success was his ability to develop solutions for the problem at hand. He was not bound by any particular ideology, such as pro-democracy vs. authoritarianism, big business vs. big government, or West vs. East. Instead, he studied what worked in other countries, he was willing to try new approaches, and he was able to alter his stance in order to develop pragmatic solutions for meeting his goals.
The ability to create new and better models, rather than choosing between opposing and suboptimal models, is described as “integrative thinking” by Professor Roger Martin in The Opposable Mind. It is an extremely powerful idea that can also be applied to investing. Rather than settling for the conventional trade-offs, we can ask questions such as: How can we construct a portfolio with attractive value and growth characteristics? How can we position a portfolio to be resilient in any economic environment, without making bets on future outcomes such as inflation/deflation or high/low oil prices? Integrative thinking can help us achieve our goal of providing superior investment results for our clients, which in turn enables them to save for retirement, send their children to school, fund cancer research, and scores of other endeavours.
Lee Kuan Yew was willing to make tough decisions, and he attracted his share of criticism. Whether or not we agree with all of his actions, nearly all would contend that his results were exceptional. A fitting tribute would be for us to take inspiration from his remarkable leadership style and apply his approach toward our own goals and contributions to society.
And in regard to his building of Singapore? He said: “I have done what I had wanted to do, to the best of my ability. I am satisfied.”
Peter Lampert is an Equity Analyst based in Singapore at Mawer Investment Management Ltd.