I really enjoyed reading Neither Civil Nor Servant—The Philip Yeo Story. It brought back memories of the two years I worked in EDB two decades ago. Gosh, am I that old now?
I joined EDB in 1997. The statutory board was riding at a high with the success of Jurong Island. Because I was working in HR, I hardly had any direct interaction with Chairman. Yes, “Chairman”. They called him Chairman, never Philip, never Mr Yeo, I wonder if that was the case in any other stat board, that senior management were called by their designation and not by their name. Those in the front line divisions loved Chairman to bits. He was really like a demigod in the organisation, everyone seemed to be in awe of him.
One characteristic of Philip Yeo that came up again and again in his book Neither Civil Nor Servant was the speed in which he worked. And on this, I have a little cute story to tell about Philip Yeo. Back in those old days, EDB had corporate cars and drivers. It was probably the most efficient way to transport senior management to all those ground breaking ceremonies and other important events. One afternoon, I was sitting at the back seat of a company car and decided to chat with the driver. The driver told me that even though he had been working with EDB for a long time, he would still be quite tense whenever he was scheduled to chauffeur Chairman around. Why? I asked. The driver replied that Chairman was a very impatient man. He would rush to open the door of the car way before the car came to a complete stop. Chairman never waited for the car to stop. Similarly, when he reached his destination, he would open the door and just step out when the car drove into the office lobby. Although it’s quite dangerous to open the door before the car came to a stop, Chairman thought it was a waste of time for the car to halt and then have to pick up speed again from a stationary position. The journey on the road would be equally stressful for the driver as well. Chairman would be typing furiously on his laptop and simultaneously egging the driver to find a faster route or take a detour if the road they were travelling on was congested.
The driver then told me this incident that happened to him one day while he was scheduled to ferry Chairman from his SembCorb office back to EDB. As usual, Chairman had rushed towards the car the moment he saw the car and opened the back door as the driver slowed down. This time, the driver had prepared himself and so he started accelerating the moment he heard the door open so that he could ride on the momentum of the car that was still moving forward. All good so far, the driver had thought to himself halfway through the journey. Chairman must be in a good mood, he had not complained about the traffic at all. Suddenly, the driver thought it strange that he didn’t hear the usual click clacking of Chairman using his laptop in the car. He looked up into the rear mirror to have a look and to his astonishment, he saw that there was no one in the back seat! What must have happened earlier was that Chairman had opened the back door, plonked his laptop on the rear seat of the car, and before he could get in, the driver had driven off! Oh dear! The driver quickly made an about turn but by the time he returned to the pick up point, Chairman was nowhere to be seen. He had made his way back on his own. Fortunately, the driver did not receive any shelling for the mishap, but everyone in the office had a good laugh about the incident.
If you have a chance, do read this book and you can catch a glimpse of this rather interesting person. I found myself chuckling at some of his anecdotes. It’s really very typical him.