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Enriching the soul ... Yeoh's way

   

Business Times Malaysia, 18 April 2006

THE man spoke with equal conviction of his love for the works of the complete Malaysian artiste, the late Tan Sri P. Ramlee, and of the mesmerising voices of the Three Tenors - Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras.

For Tan Sri Francis Yeoh Sock Ping, their works are the elixir that feeds the soul; one of the building blocks of a civic society that he has pledged never to sideline in his pursuit of other material things.

Yeoh is the managing director of YTL Corp Bhd, a name that became synonymous long ago with construction.

But behind the hard hat, gravel crushers, concrete mixers, jackhammers and billion-ringgit deals is a man who thinks often of paying back to society even as he reaps from it.

In running an enterprise that knows building foundations perhaps like no other, Yeoh also started looking at the basics needed to build a satisfied society.

And so when YTL constructs a residential estate, much thought is put on the families who will eventually call it home.

There are always provisions for ample space for raising families, landscaping that takes away the stress of hectic city-living and value-appreciation.

When YTL builds commercial properties, factors looked into include ensuring the investment made by buyers is worthwhile in terms of attracting shoppers.

Those aside, for society at large, Yeoh shares his passion for music and the performing arts, although unlike his commercial pursuits as captain of YTL, he neither expects financial returns nor recognition for his support in this area.

He simply enjoys them and hopes society, too, will embrace the idea of enriching the soul while running the rat race.

"A country that is not rich with arts is a country that has either forgotten about its past or is not curious about its future. A very sterile society," he said.

Many thinkers have tried to experiment with various systems - from communism, socialism to marxism - but few have succeeded.

"To me, it's because they forget the building blocks of civic society," he said.


   
A civic society must have a strong foundation made up of several elements. Yeoh lists them as the rule of law; a free press; the ability to travel liberally; ownership of property; and religion and culture.

Music and the arts touch the soul and that, to Yeoh, should never be forgotten.

"How can we just think of money? God said, you can take the whole world and forsake your soul but will that profit you?"

And so, as society progresses and business rolls on, the advancement of arts must also be pursued as a reflection of the soul.

"There are so many ugly politicians and ugly businessmen, maybe because we do not pay attention to this building block, to let people have more faith that they are not forgotten," Yeoh said.

There are many who love music and the arts, but there is no avenue for them to express their interests.

Being a music and performing arts lover himself, it was not difficult for Yeoh to decide that he had to do something to contribute to that section of society.

But in a city and nation more adapt to rock and pop concerts, bringing to the fore performances such as classical music, opera and plays would not seem an easy endeavour.

"Since when did opera and classical music become up-market," Yeoh noted.

Indeed, it was only in the early days that patrons of performances were kings and members of the autocracy. Many of the great composers, including Bach and even Beethoven, died poor.

   
"What I like about music and opera is about inspiration by God. It's a matter of the soul, not opera per se. The end of it is the soul. It is to enrich the soul to remind people, no matter what, our lives are God-centred," Yeoh said.

He is proud of YTL's support for local production M! The Opera. The composer is one of the best in the world, he said.

"There is always a lag in appreciating arts. Look at (the late) P. Ramlee, for example. A classic, but he wasn't very rich when he died. But now, he's famous. The sadness is, why can't people appreciate it now? They are too busy," he lamented.

Yeoh said the performing arts give people a chance to breathe and reflect on their own souls, to see whether they are nearer to life's objectives.

But while YTL supports production houses like The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre and The Actors Studio, he said no one should dominate the performing arts.

The city itself must adopt them as a heritage.

"I can start, but the city must embrace. They should enjoy them and treat them as part of their own. I am not doing this to be remembered, but to be forgotten," Yeoh said.

When YTL brought in the super-expensive Three Tenors, many thought it was a superb exercise in public relations and image.

But what mattered more to Yeoh was when thousands of people wrote letters with the common theme that their souls had been enriched.

"That enriches my soul, too. It is something priceless; we can't equate it to money," he said.
Copyright 2006 The New Straits Times Press (M) Berhad. All rights reserved.


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