8 Entrepreneurial Lessons We Can Learn From Mr Lee Kuan Yew

Entrepreneurial Lessons by Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew | Connected Women

Growing up in the 70s, I consider myself part of a very fortunate generation. We get to enjoy the harvest of what our founding father Mr. Lee Kuan Yew had fought for, through extreme guts, grit and tears. He left timeless entrepreneurial lessons we can all learn from.

With the exception of the month of the Hungry Ghost Festival, I don’t remember a single time I’ve felt unsafe walking alone in the dark along the streets of Singapore.

While travelling has opened my eyes to rich histories and cultures, it has also made me appreciate the solid infrastructure and political stability in Singapore. This allows us to focus on our personal goals, and we get to go as far as our passion and perseverance will take us.

While I’m not a fan of politics, the passing of Mr. Lee took me through a crash course of Singapore’s history. I learnt about his early days in politics and saw that Mr Lee was actually a wise entrepreneur, albeit on a political level. He transformed our little island with no natural resources or prospects into a thriving hub that attracts sustained investments, foreign talents and enabled us to have a better standard of living.

I saw how one man’s belief grew a humble startup into a successful enterprise. I saw how hunger combined with a strong intent can turn dreams to reality. Here are my thoughts, and what I learnt from the great man.

Lee Kuan Yew’s Entrepreneurial Lessons

1. On your feet. Accept. Adapt. Go Forth.

When Singapore was booted out of Malaysia, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew had to make a painful decision to leave his existing supporters behind and focus on saving millions of people – the people of Singapore.

“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 (Apr. 26, 1967)

Most of our fellow business owners can understand that getting started is usually the hardest part. We are followed by endless learning curves along the way. When faced with challenges, it is normal for us to mope and feel lousy about our bad decisions and failures, but we need to get up on our feet just as fast. We must confront reality and weed out the root problems. We must take decisive actions and keep moving forward, even if they are not the ideal solutions.

Food for thought:

  • How can our businesses meet the fickleness of market demands, yet remain true to our brand values?
  • As startups and SMEs, how can we leverage on crowdfunding or collaboration to take a new business idea to fruition?

2 . Learn from the experts instead of re-inventing the wheel.

When the British military withdrew from Singapore, we were left without allies in safeguarding our flourishing economy. Lee Kuan Yew sought the help of the military advisers of the Israeli Army* and modeled Singapore’s defence forces after them.

Food for thought:

  • Is there a successful business we can model after, or an expert from your industry you could approach?
  • How can we find and identify a good mentor?
  • If you are low on resources, can you bootstrap with ready-made templates/systems, just to get your business up and running?

*Source: “From Third World to First: The Singapore Story 1965-2000”

3 . Systems, Systems, Systems.

Mr. Lee saw that in order to build Singapore from a resource-scarce state into a successful and prosperous nation, a strong infrastructure and a sense of security needed to be in place. Only then, could Singapore provide a better quality of living for its citizens, and be a place that attracts talents and investments.

“We must keep a system that will enable this place to standout and prosper and attract talent. As long as we attract talent and we’ve got security and we keep an open system that keep everyone equally and fairly we will succeed.” –

Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going Interview by Hot-button Topics1

Food for thought:

  • Do you have a strong enough knowledge of your trade, your products or your services?
  • If you don’t, how could you be more equipped?
  • Is your website built on a platform that can is easy for your staff to update?
  • Do you have a solid accounting system in place? 2
  • What could you offer that add value or enhance your client’s businesses?


4. Network and Be a Key Person of Influence.

‘Key Person of Influence’ has been a hot topic recently and Lee Kuan Yew was most certainly a perfect example of a KPI.

Even after stepping down as Prime Minister, he continued to travel around the world, building relationships with world leaders and lent his advice to many. Every time his advice was proven right, his credibility and reputation increased.

Food for thought:

  • How can you overcome the fear of networking, and share your expertise effectively?
  • What value could you give the people you meet at your next networking session?

 5. Be Authentic.

“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.” –excerpt from The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew (1999)

Whilst he never tried to be politically correct and his strong opinion did not sit well with some people, Lee Kuan Yew continued to win the respect of leaders from all over the world. Even his opponents could not deny respect for him. His words carried weight and people looked up to him. Lee Kuan Yew is a brand of his own, known for his gutsy words and bold actions.

Food for thought:

  • How can we create a powerful elevator pitch that distinguishes our brand from the competitive playing field?
  • Why should your customer buy from you and not the competition next door?
  • Does your marketing collateral match your brand values?

6. Attention To Detail.

There was an account shared by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat3. After attending the wake of his beloved wife, Mr. Lee asked his security officer to send him to the bank of the Singapore River. He wanted a moment to himself to mourn. While gazing at the river, Mr Lee saw a piece of rubbish floating on the river and gestured it to one of the officers. He made sure that his Principle Private Secretary saw to the matter. Even while mourning over the loss of his wife, he never let his guard down on the little things that could impact the well-being of his nation.

Another interesting discovery from Lee Kuan Yew’s passing is the little red box4 which contained not just his draft speeches and letters, but also scribbles and notes of his personal observations on changes he needed to attend to. He continued to use this red box as a means of communication to his officers till the day before his last hospitalisation.

Even an ailing tree, he witnessed on the street was not spared from his little red box.

Food for thought:

  • How do you make the working environment a more conducive one for your team?
  • How do you express your thanks and gratitude to your clients for their support?
  • Is your corporate profile up-to-date? Is it still using the font that was popular 10 years ago?

7. Humanity

“We are all human beings and however hardheaded we are, we tend to be sentimental because sentiments help make up the totality of man.” – At the Foundation Stone Laying Ceremony (Mar. 28, 1968)

Food for thought:

  • How could your business add value to the lives of others?
  • Could it be a program5 that transforms the well-being of others by empowering them with the knowledge to be healthy inside and out?
  • Could it be a community6 that provides an ecosystem for business development and personal growth?
  • What could be our story7 if we were to inspire people into doing good for the underprivileged?
  • How could we create a socially or environmentally responsible business?8

8. Passion and Belief

Mr. Lee has said many times that Singapore is his life. He has spent most of his lifetime ensuring the well-being of Singapore. He gave up time with his family and turned away from popularity because of what he believed in.

In his own words:

“Singapore is my concern till the end of my life. Why should I not want Singapore to continue to succeed?” – Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going

“I have no regrets. I have spent my life, so much of it, building up this country. There’s nothing more that I need to do.” – Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going

Food for thought:

  • Do you sometimes feel that you have a calling, and wish that you could make a livelihood from it?
  • What is it that one thing you are passionate about?
  • You would give it your all but how could you turn it into a meaningful and sustainable business?

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Gobbs Lim

A Creative Daydreamer and Co-founder of Brew Creative Pte Ltd, Gobbs is always looking to champion clients of all sizes and industries to find their unique voice through graphic design.

Starting out as an in-house graphic artist at Studebaker’s Discotheque Gobbs went on to become the Creative Group Head at a boutique advertising agency where she honed her creative leadership and appreciation for witty copy-writing. In 2006, she started Forest Creatives with the intentions of growing it into a hothouse of creative individuals. It was through a networking event that she met her co-founder, Vicki Lew. They worked collaboratively on a few projects before teaming up to form Brew Creative in 2009, making one of Gobbs’ wishes come true.

When she’s not rescuing her clients from bad design, Gobbs is dreaming of more creative and meaningful business ideas. She enjoys reading, drawing, playing the ukulele, making crafts with her niece and nephew and nature walks. She can be found soaking up the creative vibes around town and other countries, through arts exhibitions and museums, festive events, live gigs, musicals and plays.

References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Image:, The Minister Mentor enters the VIP reception. To his right is Sheldon Adelson of Las Vegas Sands.

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