Dato' Dr. M. Shanmughalingam

Having read Dato' Dr. Shan's resume prior to our interview with the man himself on the 21st October 1997, we were a bit apprehensive about meeting him. With an Honours degree from University of Malaya, a Master from Harvard, a doctorate from Oxford and with directorships in a string of companies under his belt, his outstanding achievements speak for themselves. On the day itself, we were late for the interview due to the traffic congestion and unfamiliar roads. When we finally reached his office in Bukit Damansara, we were expecting a snobbish and uppity person who will rave at us for being late. Instead, we found a warn and friendly person who was understanding and forgiving. It was then that we understood why the V.I. was so respected in days of yore. It wasn't just that the V.I. produced brilliant scholars and outstanding sportsmen but more because all of them were also true gentlemen.

Born on 7 October, 1939 in Kuala Lumpur, Dato' Dr. M. Shamughalingam received his early education at Batu Road School. From there he joined the V.I. as a Form I student in 1952. Dato' Dr. Shan was indeed a brilliant scholar. He was first in Malaysia for the Sixth Form Entrance Exam. He was also first in Selangor for the Cambridge Higher School Certificate for which he won prizes in Economics and English. He was Selangor's State Scholar to the University of Malaya. There, he again proved his abilities with triple distinctions in Economics, Literature and History and graduating with an Honours degree. In his quest for tertiary education, he pursued his post-graduate studies in Harvard where he scored grade A in all 8 subjects to emerge first in his class for the Masters degree. He later obtained his doctorate from Oxford University (Balliol College). During his stint there, Dato' Dr. Shan won 3 prizes including the prize for poetry and the short story prize in a niversity competition judged by the famous novelist Iris Murdoch and Oxford Professor of Literature, John Bayley.

Indeed, Dato' Shan has a flair for literature. His achievements are many and varied. To list a few, his short stories and poems have been published in numerous publications such as the Commonwealth anthology of poetry (London), in international collections (Singapore), literally journals of the Universities of Malaya, Harvard, Oxford and Singapore. He was also published in Dewan Sastera and Dewan Budaya, our national literary journals. He is co-editor of "An Anthology of Malaysian Poetry". He was on the panel of advisers for Dewan Sastera and Dewan Budaya. He was also a member of the National Committee of Writers at Dewan Bahasa, our national language and literary agency. Dato' Shan is also on the Board of Selectors for the Rhodes Schlorship to Oxford University, on the Board of the VIOBA Foundation and Chairman of its Scholarship Committee.

1. During your time in the V.I., were you active in extra-curricular activities?

Yes, I led the school teams in numerous debating and quiz competitions. I took part in several school plays. The drama society was very active back then. We staged plays frequently. We even staged plays in the Town Hall which was the major place to have any event in town back then. The response was so good we had full houses. I also contributed to the Analekta which was started during our time. It was to showcase articles that were longer than those published in either the Seladang newsletter or the Victorian magazine.

2. Many old boys gave said that studying in the V.I. has left an indelible mark on them. Would you say the same? What is special about studying in the V.I. as compared to other schools of repute?

The V.I. has a remarkable tradition in that they place much importance on the pursuit of excellence in all fields be it academic, societies, clubs, sports or other aspects of life. That is the goal of education in the V.I. where students are moulded into not only scholars and sportsmen but also gentlemen. The best thing about the V.I. was the strong bond of brotherhood among all the students. We were like one big happy family regardless of whatever religion, race or background we came from. The school spirit was very strong in almost every student. They did their best to bring honour to the school in whatever they did whether in their studies, sports, leisure or work.

3. What would you consider your most memorable experience while studying in the VI?

I would say my years in debating, oratorical and quiz competitions on behalf of the V.I. There, I learned to see that there is always more than one way to view anything. Sometimes, I had to argue a case that was totally alien from my opinion and convince others of it. I learned to respect other points of view. I read very widely which helped at the weekly inter school quiz competitions. Our prizes included tins of Milo and to this day, I drink it instead of coffee or tea! I also forged many lasting friendships, for example with my fellow debater. Dr. Ooi Boon Seng, now a top kidney specialist in the USA. We have kept in close touch throughout the years. When we were in the V.I., I spent much of my spare time with him. We discussed books, plays, films, magazines, newspapers and music. We were both compulsivQ readers then. His father once told his in-law, Dr Lim Swee Aun, then Minister of Commerce and Industry, that he had five sons; his own four sons (including old boys Boon Leong and Boon Teck) and me! We were very close, more so than he was with his relatives and even some members of his own family! My other close classmates included Joe Yap, Krishen Jit, S.Mahendran, Dato' Mustafa Ali, Mohd Noor Ghani, S. Rajendran and Dr. Thomas Varughese. Incidentally all my four brothers Tarmizi @ Tharmalingam, Dr Sivalingam, Kanagalingam and 'Jay' Nagalingam are Old Boys.

4. Having been in the VI throughout your secondary school years, what mark has it left on you?

The major thing I got from the V.I. would be the pursuit of excellence in every field of endeavour. Try to do your best in as many fields as possible. The Seladang motto "Be Yet Wiser" says it very aptly. Be humble. Respect your elders including our teachers. Whether we think they are good or not, there is always something we can learn from them. The V.I. also taught me to be self-reliant as we ran our societies by ourselves. Most of all, we made lifelong friendships. I left the V.I. almost 40 years ago yet to this day many of my closest friends are from the V.I. They are not only those from my batch but even those several years senior and junior to me. Among my many friends from the V.I. to this day are Nizam Tun Razak who was in Oxford with me and sits on the Boards ofTrilogic Sdn Bhd where I am the M D and Delloyd Ventures Bhd, listed on the KLSE Main Board and Gen. Tan Sri Hashim Ali who sits with me on the Boards of GEC (M) and Delloyd Ventures Bhd. All the 3 non executive directors of Delloyd are V.I. Old Boys! The late Tan Sri Zain Azraai sat on the board of MIMB, the merchant bankers, together with Dato' Haji Darwis and me making it three V.I. Old Boys. There's the Old Boy network for you! Tan Sri Kamarul Ariffin, we were boy scouts together, Mr. John Doraisamy, one of the most dedicated teachers we ever had, Dato' Dr. Ronnie Me Coy,one of the great legends.of the V.I., T. Ananda Krishnan and Justice Dato' Shankar both of whom excelled in drama and oratory, Tan Sri Chong Hon Nyan and Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam (my seniors were in the Treasury, Ministry of Finance) Dato Jaffar Indot and I were together in the oil industry, he in Shell and I in Petronas, Dato Jaffar Ali, Dato Jegathesan, Dato' Kok Wee Kiat, Dato' Sadasivan, Dato Siew Nim Chee, Mrs Khoo Siew Mun, Yusli Yusuf, the list goes on! To this day, when ever I meet anyone and hear they were from the V.I., I warm up to them much faster! They say never ask anyone which school they come from. If they are from the V.I., they will tell you on their own. If they are not, don't embarrass them!

5. What do you think of the V.I. now, whether academically, in the sporting arena or any other aspects?

In my time, the V.I. students seemed to be hyper-active. We had debates, quiz competitions, oratorical contests, staged plays, played games, published the "Analekta" and won many scholarships. We also had Club 21, an honour club limited to 21 top achievers in any major field. There were so many things to do then. As for now, I do not know enough to say whether the VI is still as active or more so.

6. As a Board member of the VIOBA Foundation and ex Committee member of the VIOBA, I am sure that you would have had numerous chances to meet the present Victorians. What do you think of the V.I. boys of today? How do they compare to their counterparts from back then?

I did not have the opportunity to get to know many present Victorians closely, so it is not fair for me to make a judgment. I think there should be even closer ties between the Old Boys and present Victorians. The Foundation and the VIOBA should continue to work closely with the principal, teachers and present students. We should persuade the Ministry of Education to post old boys and old girls as principals and teachers to the V.I. The book, Victoria Institution: The First Century 1893 - 1993 by John Doraisamy should be required reading for all teachers and students so that they can understand the traditions and the achievements the VI has had in its more than 104 years of existence.

7. After graduating from the University of Malaya, you rose very fast up the administrative ladder in the Treasury. Could you elaborate on this?

I would not say that I rose very fast. I was surprised I rose at all! Whatever little I have achieved, I owe a lot to my family, friends and colleagues including bosses and support staff. My father came from a poor while my mother was from a relatively affluent family. He would never take a cent from her family. A seven day-week workaholic, he inculcated discipline and determination in his children. For example, he would just have to stand at our bedside and say, "4 a.m." and "pop", we would be out of our beds at the time!. Even now, I still wake up at four in the morning. When I get to work, I would have already done 3 hours of work beforehand. My major work for the day is already done before I reach the office. I would have a headstart for the day and was better prepared for whatever else the day might bring.

8. Over the years, you have held numerous important posts within both the government and private sectors. To what would attribute your extraordinary success?

Far from extraordinary success, the little success if any was through preparation and networking. My father instilled in us that the way to succeed as by working hard, doing well in our studies, reading widely, developing a strong will and self-discipline. From my mother I inherited a strong sense of humour which helps often particularly in awkward situations. As I was often in negotiations, it was very useful to put people at ease and defuse tense situations. My wife Nirmala who is an artist, my daughter Shirene now a journalist and my son Rohan, a lawyer now turned copywriter, have been very supportive. My wide network of friends and colleagues including seniors and juniors were most helpful. "No man is an island," as they say. I could not have achieved whatever little success that came my way throughout my career without the tremendous support from family, many friends (from school, universities etc) and numerous colleagues. However, my failures and mistakes are entirely of my own making.

9. You have tasted the fruits of success and can be said to be leading the good life. You have an excellent career, a wonderful family and numerous clubs, associations and committees to occupy your spare time. Are you content or is there more that you would want from life?

I think we should do much more for the environment in our pursuit of development. We should try to improve the quality of life of every Malaysian instead of chasing after the quantity of life or wealth only. The recent haze in Malaysia is one example of how the whole region is neglecting Mother Nature. We should take better care of the environment and ensure that clean air, water and good medical facilities are available for everybody whether rich or poor. We should inculcate caring values in society. We should not be too materialistic. Intangible values such as trust, respect and loyalty are more important in life. The people's mindset should be changed. "Ask not what Malaysia can do for you but what you can do for Malaysia." That should be the way to think. We should work towards a caring society and that is where the VI can make a substantial contribution now and in the future.

10. What is your philosophy of life?

In brief, we should be positive in our outlook on life. Work hard to achieve what you want. We should be grateful for what we have. I believe in a win-win philosophy where both sides should benefit from any transaction or relationship. That is very important. Treat people well. Be broad-minded and humble. We should respect other points of view and be compassionate. We should be more caring and help others particularly those less fortunate than ourselves. Never forget your old friends.

11. Before we end this interview, is there anything that you would like to impart to the present Victorians. Any words of advice or nuggets of wisdom that you would like to share?

Make full use of the opportunities that you have. Don't just match the old Victorians, surpass them! That is what present Victorians should do. You have facilities and opportunities we never dreamt of. Be Victorian first and whatever else second. Life isn't easy. Life isn't fair and it is tough. Try to excel without becoming hard-hearted. That is the challenge! Be caring to those in need regardless of their race or religion. Take better care of our environment. The V.I. has given so much to us. Let us give something back to the V.I. particularly to those who are less fortunate than us.

Also read:
The Literary Works of M. Shanmughalingam

VI The V.I. Web Page

Created: June 13 2018.
Last update: June 13 2018.
From the 1997 Victorian