George Yeo: Why I left politics
A little over a year since he was defeated in the landmark election, former foreign affairs minister George Yeo has explained why he decided to turn his back on politics.
Mr Yeo, who is now the chairman of Kerry Logistics, a unit of Hong Kong-based Kerry Properties, told the South China Morning Post in an interview published on Saturday that the circumstances of the loss convinced him to try out something new.
He said: “I was in politics for 23 years until I lost in the last election. The opposition leader who beat me, when he was interviewed, said: ‘We won not because my opponents [meaning me and my team] did not do a good job, but because people wanted us in Parliament.’
“I thought if there was not something that I could change, because it was not something about me, maybe it was time to open a new chapter of my life.”
The strength both the PAP team and the Worker’s Party team in Aljunied was frequently voiced in the lead up to the polls. WP had fielded its strongest team there against a PAP team led by two ministers.
Two weeks after the victory, WP chief Low Thia Khiang said “I believe the result represents the wishes and aspirations of Singaporeans for Singapore. In everything that you do, including elections, there’s always a trade-off.”
Mr Yeo had joined the Kerry Group, run by Malaysian “sugar king” Robert Kuok on Jan 1 this year. It marked a complete exit from politics after 23 years in office.
Asked whether he preferred his business role to his political one, Mr Yeo said that he was surprised to find that he is just as busy now as when he was a minister and an MP.
He said: “I am still as busy [as before], which is a bit surprising. In addition to [heading] a ministry, I was also a member of Parliament. In politics, you deal with all kinds of everyday concerns of citizens.
“One day, I was travelling in Europe on some mission; one of my constituents called me, saying: ‘My neighbour's dog is barking all night, driving me mad. Can you do something about that?’ As a Member of Parliament, you cannot say, "I am too busy for you". You are representing them, and you have got to look after your constituents. It is a big part of your time.
“In the private sector, you are more focused on doing things that are more connected with business. Objectives are more focused. In terms of intellectual [content], they are actually the same, as you are dealing with the same reality - you are working with people.”
When the topic of conversation moved to the matter of logistics, Mr Yeo shared a personal story about an early experience with the field:
“One of my most memorable [brushes with logistics] is when my younger son had leukaemia and needed a bone marrow transplant at St Jude [Children's Research] Hospital in Memphis. I got FedEx to help me.
There is a direct flight from Taiwan to Memphis every day, but the doctor could not be on the flight. So he flew Singapore Airlines to Los Angeles. FedEx put him on a corporate jet [with the bone marrow] from LA to Memphis for me. After that, my wife has been very loyal to FedEx.”