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Building an Empire of the Minds with Heart

   
Tan Sri (Dr) Francis Yeoh receiving his Hon. Doctorate Degree

London, 12 February 2004

YTL Group managing director Tan Sri (Dr) Francis Yeoh returns to his alma mater Kingston to receive an Honorary Degree Doctor of Engineering. Speaking to the graduates at the Faculty of Technology graduation ceremony, he advised them: “We must not only harness the mind, we must also harness our hearts to re-engineer the world of man and bring it back to sanity and productive endeavour. Let us not suffer from spiritual amnesia. Let us build together a lasting world full of goodness, an everlasting Empire of the Minds with Heart.” He received a rousing ovation at the end of his speech.

FULL TEXT OF SPEECH BY TAN SRI (DR) FRANCIS YEOH

It is a great pleasure to be speaking here today before what for me is a very special audience to thank you for the honour you do me, which I humbly accept on behalf of YTL, on behalf of my family and on behalf of my country.

W.H. Auden once said:

??????????? When I find myself in the company of scientists, I feel like a shabby curate who has strayed by mistake into a drawing room full of Dukes.

?

Although I obtained a civil engineering degree from Kingston I have to confess as an engineer I am now somewhat of a dinosaur having become a businessman.? But to coin a well-worn phrase, you can take a man out of engineering but you can’t take engineering out of the man.? I like to think I conduct my business with the instincts and the disciplined approach of engineering such as you taught me at this great?Institute.


   
Tan Sri (Dr) Francis Yeoh delivering his speech

This occasion is also a nostalgic one for me.  Looking at all the young hopefuls gathered here today to receive their degrees, I go back to that other young hopeful - a young (Malaysian) Chinese lad, who traveled 8,000 miles to study engineering at Kingston.  We were the immediate post World War II generation.  In our generation hope was the first article of faith.  I was young and idealistic. (My wife reminds me I am still young and even more idealistic today). We were liberated from conflict. We had seen the triumph of good over evil and been given a new lease of life.  Then came that spectacular moment, when the Americans put the first man on the moon.  It was a dramatic illustration of the scientific advance of our generation and the power of technology.  And we were all able to share the moment, wherever we were, thanks to those other early advances in I.T.

I felt proud to have chosen engineering as my field of study – the most relevant of disciplines to mankind’s increasing mastery of his environment, and what seemed its limitless capability to create new wonders for the betterment of the world.  I still believe in that relevance - I quoted Auden just now.   What he also had to say is pertinent to my continuing belief despite my deep respect and reverence to statesmen of global stature.

Auden said: “The true men of action in our time, those who transform the world are not the politicians and statesmen, but the scientists”. 

I have kept my passion for technology. Today YTL owns and manages regulated infrastructure assets and utilities globally, servicing 10 million customers.  My civil engineering background backed by the intellectual capital of four other siblings who are also civil engineers certainly gave us the added confidence and knowledge to handle what would otherwise be a complicated and complex business.

However, in today’s world the mastering of the language of brick and mortar is no longer adequate. Today’s dominant alphabet no longer codes in twenty-six letters but in two ... they are of course, in 1s and 0s. The digital alphabet that encodes and transmits information with extraordinary speed and accuracy has become the world’s main language.

Indeed only with the extensive employment of ICT to complement our brick and mortar infrastructure are we able to successfully service our 10 million customers, twenty four hours a day, everyday of the year.  Please remember well, customers do vote with their feet.


   
Tan Sri (Dr) Francis Yeoh with his family

Science and technology allow people to multiply their productivity much faster than those who do not have the same knowledge.  And now the difference between what one person produces in the richest and the poorer countries in the world is 390 to 1.  And with the IT and genetics revolutions, the difference will soon be 1,000 to 1.

And this is why the great empires of the twenty-first century are and will remain “The Empires of The Mind”.  Societies that turn their back on technologies and stop building Empires of The Mind will perish!

We accept the fate of societies that fails to build Empires of the Mind, what is the fate of societies that turn their backs to build Empires of the Heart?  In today’s troubled world we need more than technology. It is my belief that technology on its own will not save the day. A new word has gained currency in recent years - re-engineering. We need to re-engineer the global community. If we tackle the root causes of injustice and deprivation we will create a better life for all. We need to renew our faith in that Great Engineer – the Creator of the Universe, our Lord God.

I believe that our universe itself was designed and executed by a great engineering intelligence. Chet Raymo, an astronomer calculated the odds of our universe resulting: If all the grains of sand on all the beaches of the Earth were possible universes and only one of those grains of sand were a universe that allowed for the existence of intelligent life, then that one grain of sand is the universe we inhabit. Therefore life on this earth is a miracle and our gathering here today is even more miraculous for me. 

While we celebrate the advances of technology, unfortunately technology also played a part in 911 and the terrorist aftermath.  Globalisation has made it possible for a handful of fanatics to hold the world to ransom and technology gives them more advanced weapons. 

Chesterton observed: The Greeks, the great guides and pioneers of pagan antiquity, started out with the idea of something splendidly obvious and direct; the idea that if man walked straight ahead on the high road of reason and nature, he could come to no harm or flippantly put,  he has to simply follow his nose. The truth is when he follows his nose, he manages somehow to put his nose out of joint, or even to cut off his nose to spite his face.

It is no surprise that in today’s troubled world, Yancey observed that technology repeats the cycle of Adam and Eve, Prometheus, Icarus and Pandora.  We master the atom and nearly obliterate ourselves.  We learn the secrets of life only to develop techniques to destroy the unborn and the aging.  We unlock the genetic code and open a Pandora’s box of ethics.  We harvest rain forests and create floods, harness internal combustion and melt the icecaps.  We link the world on an Internet only to find that the most downloaded items are pornographic.  Every advance seems to induce a greater fall.

As a Christian, I believe I am a mere steward of God’s wealth.  Whilst He writes the scripts we are His potential powerful pencils. We must therefore not only harness the mind, we must also harness our hearts to re-engineer the world of man and bring it back to sanity and productive endeavour. Let us not suffer from spiritual amnesia. Let us build together a lasting world full of goodness, an everlasting Empire of the Minds with Heart.

May I congratulate the graduates here today and wish you well in your chosen careers. I hope it will be as rewarding for you as it has been for me.  My only advice is to keep your enthusiasm alive and your faith intact. Once again I thank you for honouring me and I give my Lord Jesus all the glory.

May God bless all of you in your future endeavours. Thank you very much.

SPEECH BY TAN SRI (DR) FRANCIS YEOH
ON THE CONFERMENT OF HON. DEGREE DOCTOR OF ENGINEERING
BY THE KINGSTON UNIVERSITY
12 FEBRUARY 2004



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