An Interview with
Tan Sri Dato' Francis Yeoh Sock Ping
Extracted from The Victorian, 2000
Place of Birth: Kuala Selangor
Education in the V.I.: 1970-1973
Previous Education: SRK Abdul Aziz, Kampung Kuantan;
SMK Sultan Abdul Aziz, Kuala Selangor
University Education: B.Sc. (Hons) in Civil Engineering from
Kingston University, U.K.
Career: Managing Director of YTL Corporation since 1978.
It was a Friday afternoon when we waited for Tan Sri Francis. When he finally stepped into the room, we became excited as we were about to interview one of the most successful businessmen in Malaysia. Having spent some of his school years in the V.I. and having been the School Captain in 1973, we were anxious to find out his secret to success and more about his years in the V.I.
Why did you choose to study in V.I.?
At that time, there were four schools every boy wanted to go to.... the V.I., St. John's Institution, the Royal Military College and the Methodist Boys' School, Kuala Lumpur. They were the top four schools in KL and it was everyone's dream to get to those schools especially when you are not from KL. Why V.I.? Well, V.I. was simply an exceptional school with great excellence. As a student, all I wanted was to get to a good school and a good university. So, my aim then was to get into V.I. and I did it when I found out that my qualification was good enough, but I remembered it was tough, like it is now.
What was V.I. like back then?
My years in V.I. were extremely exciting, coming to a school with great traditions, a high standard of discipline and with so many activities to participate in, ranging from the scouts, the band, from the Music Society to the Debating Society. Although in my previous school they, too, had such activities but it was of no comparison to V.I. There seemed to be maturity in the way things were done in V.I. and so I was brought into an environment where I totally enjoyed every minute of my days in this School.
What extra-curricular activities did you participate in when you were a student in V.I.?
Well, I was more interested in sports. I played football for the School team and I was in the first team. I was also the School Tennis Captain. On the other hand, I became a temporary head boy when I was in Form 4 so I became more inclined towards discipline. Furthermore, in that position, I was constantly updated about the traditions of the school and that opened up more excitement for myself.
Do you think that extra-curricular activities are important to students?
They certainly have to balance between studies with these beneficial activities as it builds an all rounded character of a leader. If you find yourself tuned too much into academic achievement or too much into extra- curricular activities, the balance is not there. This balance helps you not to become selfish and narrow-minded when you come out to society. You will be more circumspect, and able to mix around with people. God did not make us boring people, God did not make us nerds or all of us to be like Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods. So, it is during your school days that you achieve this balance. Your participation might be minimal, but you will be able to see the difference compared to those who do not participate. For instance, you could cheer for the school team when they play in any sports tournament. During my years in V.I., we had a fan club, which was as strong as the Manchester United Fan Club. Whether it was football or badminton matches, they would be there. So, you see what I mean. You can also be active in this way. Trust me, cheering for the School will easily build character. I noticed lately there is more emphasis on academic performance generally and that's sad. As a father myself, as far as my children are concerned, I always encourage them to take part in extra-curricular activities and at the same time I make sure that they do not neglect their studies.
What were your memorable moments in V.I.?
I made a lot of friends there. I remembered being among this group of students who wanted to become doctors and engineers. Their target was to score a string of A's in their exams. It was with them that I spent the most important years of my life as a teenager. And there were this minority who were the mischievous lot. They always broke the School Rules. Other than that, the food in the canteen was great, especially the laksa. I think it was the best in the world. There was also this spirit of the School that makes you want to go to School everyday.
You were the School Captain during the School's Diamond Jubilee, which was in 1973. Could you tell us more about it? Was it hard leading the whole School?
Naturally, it took up most of my time. We were literally running the School. At that time, the principal and teachers trusted us completely to run the School. The teachers were also very encouraging. I think their idea was for us to go through leadership training. With such responsibilities at our age then, perhaps we would become good leaders in the future. That's why I think they did not exert excessive control over us, neither did the principal. We even had the power to detain students at that time if they broke the School Rules. So, we were pretty occupied, as we wanted excellence for the students then. For me, it was like a career, a career where I had to make sure that V.I. did well in every field and I am proud to say that we won practically everything that year whether it was in science, in arts or in sports. For example, the Science Competition and the King's Cup, etc. I think it was one of the golden years of the V.I.
After obtaining your degree how did you begin your career?
After returning from the U.K., I started to run YTL. In fact, in my years as a student, I was already helping my father with his business. During every vacation or weekends, I would be supervising a few construction sites. I was a full time student and school captain and a part time manager of YTL at the same time. Being the eldest son, the burden was pretty heavy for me helping my father with his business. Initially, I wanted to help my father right after I graduated from Form 6. However, my father forbade me from doing so telling me that a degree would prove to be vital in the future when I took on YTL and he was right. So I went to Kingston University and came back with a degree to help with my father in YTL.
What differences do you see between the old V.I. as compared to now?
In those days, we used to import our principals from U.K. who always emphasised academic achievements and sports at the same time. Scholarships were given out for great achievement in studies and also to outstanding athletes. The idea was for the school to achieve the best in every field. There were a lot of things to be first in then, like the science quiz, debates and many tournaments. So the V.I. was actually a school that stood for excellence from the academic field right down to sports. The major change I see over the years is the deteriorating standard in sports. I do not see the V.I. excelling in rugby or football. I notice that V.I. students are now not so inclined towards sports. Other than that, there are certainly some changes one way or another, especially when I compare my days in the V.I. with those of my two nephews who are also currently Victorians. In fact, when my youngest brother subsequently went to the V.I. as a student a lot of changes were already taking place. Now I think it has changed somewhat more. You don't need a rocket scientist to figure that out. I think it is the changes in the School environment as a result of pressure from the emphasis towards excellence in the academic field.
What changes should be made to bring V.I. back to its glory days?
The formula to making a great school does not change, you must always excel in studies and extra-curricular activities, that's what it is meant to build. I think it is all in the students' mindsets and their parents'. Students should set a goal for themselves, to excel in whatever they do. They should know which field they are good at and do well in that. In addition, they should realise that they have a reputation to maintain, which is to match with the old Victorians. In this condition, a student should stand out and lead them back to excellence. If everyone just waits for someone else to lead, it will take forever. The problem is we don't know when that someone will arrive. Besides that, parents should encourage their children to acquire extra knowledge and not just to do well in academically. As far as my children are concerned, I will never discourage them from doing so. If parents think that academic achievement is the ultimate answer, then there is actually nothing much to be done. The other aspect is the teachers and principal being the levelling influence for the students' excellence. I think everybody plays a certain role, students, parents, teachers and the principal. It takes all of these forces to make a great school.
What have you learned in the V.I., whether as a student, a sportsman or school captain that you have practised in your currently competitive career and what are your principles in life?
Well, there are two main principles: discipline and patience, especially when I had received my training to become a prefect. We were taught to become humble and to take a lot of provocation. The purpose was to dismiss the idea that being a prefect was an ego thing or to show off. Indirectly, I have learned that patience is very important, especially when a student provokes you. Other than that, discipline is also very important in order for you to get things done. So when we became prefects, we trained the students to be highly disciplined and patient. We taught them how to face authority, calmly and gently. So at the end of the day, the nett result was still in the benefit of all the students.
What do you think was your greatest achievement in V.I.?
Well, I don't know. You will have to ask all my classmates and teachers. Actually, the first thing you don't do is to think about your own achievements. I always thought that the V.I. is so great a school that when I am given this link in history, I don't want to be the person to have broken this link in a great tradition. It is like when a baton is passed to me during a race, my job is not to run towards the tape and prove that I am the fastest runner but my job then was not to drop the baton as I passed it on to another person. We never thought of our own achievements but more of a baton being passed to the next person. It was our responsibility not to drop this baton. Did we drop this baton? That was all we ever thought about. We personally never thought of how great we were because there will always be a greater person whether in the past or in the future. So we never looked back and said how much greatness we had achieved. We only achieved the fact that we did not drop that baton when it was passed to us. I think that was our achievement.
Lastly, do you have any advice for the current Victorians?
Don't waste the best time of your life. This period in a good School like the V.I. actually determines your future and the kind of person in society you will become, whether you will become a leader, a useless person, a leech of society or whether you will become a dole collector or a job provider. Never forget what these formative years are all about, especially from Form 3 to Form 6. While you are growing up, all sorts of life's knowledge are being knocked into you. It is very different from university life. Besides that, enjoy yourself as well. Enjoy it like the way I had enjoyed every day of my life in the V.I.
For a wholesome 45 minutes, we had a casual chat with Tan Sri Francis Yeoh. We bade farewell to Tan Sri Francis and left his office with a heavy heart. He is a remarkable person who will certainly become a role model to many current Victorians.
Last update on 23 November 2003.
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