|Tan Sri Francis Yeoh
Singapore Tatler, November 2008 issue
In trouble economic times, it takes an enlightened businessman such as Francis Yeoh to suggest that greed is not good.
Words: Tony Watts
Photography: Rory Daniel
WITH ECONOMIC uncertainty, the expectation was that Francis Yeoh Sock Ping, managing director of YTL Corporation, would be in sombre mood for our interview, but the opposite seemed to be the case.
Admitting he hadn't slept much the previous night because he was watching George Bush's $700-billion rescue plan being debated in the Senate. Yeoh is surprisingly upbeat. "I'm disappointed all the gatekeepers failed," he says. "The accountants failed, the bankers failed, the lawyers failed, rating agencies failed, and CEOS, they failed."
Bur as YTL sails through the Asian financial crisis, the general consensus seems to be that the current crisis offers the company more opportunity. "Incidentally, the Star newspaper put my face and Warren Buffet's together," he says. "And it said that for people like Warren Buffet and myself this is a great time."
But rather than gloating, Yeoh is reflective, saying the current crisis "is poignant and historic…a wake-up call." It seems strange to hear someone who has been compared to Warren Buffet say: "We have got to put a stop to all this greed," but, then, Yeoh is not the usual businessman.
With interests ranging from concrete to power generation hotels and resorts, water utilities and property development, it's hard to imagine that he could devote much time to anyone thing, but passion and time are close to his heart.
"How can I say I have no time for this?" he asks, showing me a model of the Sentosa Cove Sandy Island development. "If I do not commit wholly to this kind of passion, would my team?" And Yeoh does seem passionate about property development. But his passion, it appears is driven by more than mere profit motive.
Being passionate about business does not negate family responsibility, however, “I’ve never sacrificed my time with my children,” he says.
"Time is the ultimate luxury and one of the worst things in the world is to have been given stewardship of wealth and a lot of things to do, and to lose your children. It is an expensive price to pay." To this end, Yeoh takes the time to holiday with his five children twice yearly.
"The most pleasure I get is from spending time with the children," he says. His eldest daughter and son are involved in the business; the latter in telecommunications alter graduating with a masters in electrical engineering and the former in investments in the environmental area, having also authored a book about carbon trading.
It is the environment that really gets the business excited. Yeoh's green leanings are, he admits. "enlightened self-interest;” saying it is a Faustian bargain to be successful in business only to pollute the atmosphere. "All it takes for the environment to be destroyed is when good people do nothing.” With six listed companies manage and five children to bring up Yeoh could never be accused of doing nothing.
At a glance:
Special Year: Becoming a born-again Christian at age 16
Wine: The Bordeaux fan has a collection of 1982 vintages - the year of his marriage to his late wife
Family: Five children aged from 16 to 23