On 4 January 2023, Singapore’s iconic tech entrepreneur, Mr Sim Wong Hoo, passed away peacefully at the age of 67, much to the sorrow of his loved ones, his colleagues and Singaporeans who had been inspired by his spirit of innovation for the past decades.

Mr Sim revolutionised the way people use computers with his ground-breaking Sound Blaster sound card, allowing users to hear and make music with their computers rather than the simple beeps and tones that people were used to having.

His humble background as a polytechnic graduate whose invention of an 8-bit sound card was looked down upon by industry players, including government officials, made his eventual success even more remarkable.

Mr Sim, as Chief Executive Officer of Creative Technology Ltd, never stopped innovating and has produced various milestones for the company, such as its Zen series media players and, more recently, Super X-Fi, which recreates the listening experience of a multi-speaker surround system in headphones.

In an interview with Business Times in 1992, Mr Sim commented about the lack of entrepreneurs in Singapore compared to societies like Hongkong, and Taiwan — cultures with a lot of Chinese.

He noted that the Chinese are typically very enterprising businessmen, traders and so on. But when they come to Singapore, somehow, all becomes very subdued and disappears.

Mr Sim thinks it has to do with upbringing and not just the system, as everybody has to be blamed — starting from the top and going down to the family.

“We are brought up in a society where everybody works hard, but survival is not a big problem. There’s no great hardship. “And of course, the government, because it wants security, also builds society that way — a lot of security, a lot of things being planned for, thought out for you. Therefore people lack the risk-taking attitude. Give them a set of guidelines. they’ll take and run with it, no problem. But beyond that, if you say, ‘Hey, you’re on your own,’ they’re lost. And nobody thinks that it’s something that we should break away from. And therefore. we are what we are today.”

Mr Sim said, “We have to question every rule that we’ve set and very rationally ask ourselves, is it really required? Are our people mature enough to take on this, to be slightly infected by the so-called ‘decadent Western culture’?” Or other Asian cultures. for that matter.”

“Preserving Asian values, what does that mean? Wife-beating and that kind of thing? Confucianism? There is good and bad in every culture, so in going forward we should take the good of every culture. and that’s it.

“And if it is that bad. should we isolate our people from it? Or should we expose our people to it so that we can develop the strength to fight it? It’s very important. You isolate them, they go out and cannot adapt to the whole new world out there. So I think that kind of paternalism, trying to keep them wrapped up. does not help.”

While Mr Sim agrees that the Singapore government is pro-business, but he believes that government subsidies are counter-productive.

“Lower tax would be a better incentive than a direct subsidy. With subsidy you are prevented from failure and it’s kind of a safety net. which is not too good. I would prefer to burn all my bridges behind me. And in giving subsidies you are picking winners. which is not right because no matter how fair the system. people who are closer to the government tend to have the immediate benefit.”

He added, “I think the issue here is not how the government should help entrepreneurs. The issue is how the authorities should create a whole environment that is conducive to entrepreneurship. That should be the main issue.”

“Helping individual entrepreneurs here and there is fine if you’ve got some extra effort. But the main issue should be how to create that kind of environment. Give people more freedom of thought. provoke them. make them think more. from primary school to secondary. tertiary, all the way, and outside. Let there be more newspapers, more TV stations. more publications, lesser controls.”

“Provide the environment — and then leave the entrepreneurs alone to do what they do best.”

“Entrepreneurs are people who feel proud of building a business themselves. That desire to do something themselves is very important, it could very well be the key ingredient in entrepreneurship. Forming all these trade bodies and trade organisations which are some form of pressure group or lobby, that is against my basic principle of entrepreneurship.”

“Entrepreneurship should be fair play for all those who have that kind of drive. In the end, they can feel very proud: I built this all by myself

“Especially for me, at this point, whatever material needs I want, I can have. But I don’t need them. they’re not important to me anymore. So what is left is the pride that you’ve done something, first for yourself, then maybe for others, for the people close to you, for your employees, then for your distributors, then for your vendors, and so on.

“And maybe finally, for Singapore in a very broad context. There are examples of entrepreneurs in other countries who were diverted to national service. and business went down. I’m not going to let that happen.” Mr Sim sums up:

“On the whole, I feel that entrepreneurs should be left on their own. Just create that conducive environment which is fair for them.”

`Give people more freedom of thought, provoke them, make them think more.’

 

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