Five things you didn't know about Yong Pung How


Dr Yong Pung How is a name that resonates deeply within Singapore's legal and financial circles. His life and legacy have left an indelible mark on the nation. Beyond his well-documented achievements, there are fascinating aspects of his life that remain lesser-known. Here, we uncover five surprising facts about his life, extracted from Academy Library’s latest title, Pioneer, Polymath, and Mentor - The Life and Legacy of Yong Pung How.


1. Narrow Escape from the Thai-Burma Railway (1944)

“Dr Yong was due to be conscripted to work on the railway in Thailand, infamously known as the Death Railway. He was advised by his uncle's brother-in-law, a doctor, to exhibit symptoms of advanced ‘beriberi,’ a nutritional disease. The Japanese asked him to return for re-examination three months later. However, he was advised not to show up and to leave Kuala Lumpur, which he did by visiting Cameron Highlands. As it turned out, the Japanese had no systematic way of tracking absenteeism, and Dr Yong avoided conscription.”


2. University Days with Lee Kuan Yew

“Dr Yong met future PM Lee Kuan Yew at Cambridge University, lending him his first term notes and essays. Mr. Lee recalled: ‘Pung How readily lent me his notes. They were comprehensive and a good synopsis of the ground I had missed. They were most useful because the Cambridge syllabus differed from my first-year London course.’ Both did exceptionally well in their examinations, with Mr. Lee taking a ‘starred First’ as the best student that year.”


3. Creation of the Singapore Airlines Kebaya Uniform

“After the separation from Malaysia, Singapore Airlines emerged from a common national airline. Marketing was crucial, and uniforms were part of this strategy. As a leader, Yong Pung How wanted a distinctive profile. He collaborated with Pierre Balmain of France, resulting in the iconic kebaya outfit. Singapore Airlines paid Balmain S$1,000 for full ownership of the design, gaining a powerful brand identity, while Balmain received significant international exposure.”


4. Refusal of a Supreme Court Bench Position

“In 1976, Lee Kuan Yew offered Dr Yong a position on the Supreme Court of Singapore. At the time, Dr Yong was vice-chairman of OCBC Bank. The significant pay gap between public and private sectors deterred top lawyers from becoming Supreme Court judges. The pay difference was tenfold, leading Dr Yong, who had just started at OCBC Bank, to decline the offer.”


5. First Managing Director of GIC

“Dr Yong was appointed as the first managing director of GIC before the company even had a name. Freddy Orchard, author of Bold Vision – The Untold Story of Singapore’s Reserves and Its Sovereign Wealth Fund, stated, ‘Dr Goh announced the appointment of Yong Pung How as managing director of the yet-to-be-named investment company.’ Dr Yong, then vice-chairman at OCBC Bank, was released on no-pay leave to assume this role.”



Discover more about Dr Yong's extraordinary contributions in Pioneer, Polymath, and Mentor - The Life and Legacy of Yong Pung How. Click here for more details.