SINGAPORE - Former GIC chief investment officer Ng Kok Song has thrown his hat into the ring for the upcoming presidential election, announcing his intentions on Wednesday when he picked up an application form at the Elections Department.
The 75-year-old joins the likes of former Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam and entrepreneur George Goh as presidential hopefuls, making it a potential three-way fight.
Most well-known for his contributions to GIC and his love for meditation, here are six things to know about Mr Ng:
1. A long public service career
A Public Service Commission scholarship recipient, Mr Ng started out in investment management in 1970 when he joined the Finance Ministry as an investment analyst.
The physics graduate then moved to the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) when it was formed in 1971 and took over the role of managing Singapore’s reserves.
In 1973, when MAS set up a London investment office, Mr Ng was selected to head it and spent three years there.
He joined GIC in 1986, five years after it was formed to manage the country’s foreign reserves, and headed the equities and bond department. He was the fund’s first non-expatriate director. In 2007, he was made GIC’s first group chief investment officer.
During that time, he was key in building GIC’s in-house capability for managing global equities, fixed-income investments and currencies, among others. He was also among those who led GIC in navigating periods of financial turmoil such as the 1998 Asian currency crisis, 2001 dot-com bust and 2008 global financial crisis.
He retired in 2013 after 27 years at the sovereign wealth giant.
Before joining GIC, Mr Ng was the founder and chairman of the Singapore International Monetary Exchange in 1984, which was later incorporated into the Singapore Exchange as its derivatives arm.
2. Knack for investment
Just a few years into retirement, Mr Ng co-founded Avanda Investment Management, an investment firm whose assets have more than doubled since it was set up in mid-2015.
Mr Ng is the executive chairman of the firm. His other co-founders are Mr Quah Wee Ghee, former president of GIC Asset Management, and Dr Sung Cheng Chih, former chief risk officer at GIC.
A Bloomberg report in February 2022 said the firm’s assets were worth around US$10 billion (S$13.2 billion).
In an interview, Mr Ng said his vision for Avanda was that it would help Singapore and Asian investors invest globally and help global investors invest in Asia.
Three of his founding clients were the Singapore Labour Foundation, Temasek and GIC, whose contributions helped launch the firm with around US$4 billion in assets.
Since then, about half the gains have been from market returns while the rest have been from new clients and additional capital, reported Bloomberg.
Documents obtained from the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority show that the firm has had an average of about $73 million in shareholder equity in the last three years.
Mr Ng’s keen sense for numbers was honed in him from young.
In a 2012 interview with The Straits Times, Mr Ng said he inherited his gift for arithmetic from his late father.
A fish auctioneer, his father was able to tell the weight of a basket of fish just by lifting it, and could calculate how much it cost almost instantly.
3. International recognition
Apart from making a name for himself locally – he received the Meritorious Service Medal from the Government in 2012 – Mr Ng has also been recognised internationally.
He was conferred the Thomas L. Hansberger Award for Leadership in the global investment profession by the CFA Institute in 2013.
The French government conferred on him the Legion of Honour in 2003 as well as the Order of Merit in 2011.
Mr Ng was also a member of the strategic committee of Agency France Tresor, from 2001 to 2014. The agency manages the French government’s debt and cash.
Mr Ng was also inducted into the Futures Hall of Fame by the United States-based Futures Industry Association in 2009 for his contribution to the global futures industry.
Apart from his current role at Avanda, Mr Ng also sits on the board of governors of the Asia School of Business in Kuala Lumpur and is founder and chairman emeritus of the Wealth Management Institute established in 2003 by GIC and Temasek.
He is also a board member of 65 Equity Partners, a global investment firm.
Mr Ng also serves on Pimco’s global advisory board, which includes the likes of former British prime minister Gordon Brown and former US Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke.
4. Grew up in a fishing village
Mr Ng is the second oldest of 12 children. The family lived in the Kangkar area, today’s Sengkang, which was then a fishing village. His father was a fish auctioneer and mother was a housewife.
From birth till he got married at 24, Mr Ng lived in the family home, which had a thatched roof, mud floor and just two bedrooms.
When he had the opportunity to study engineering at a university in Canada on scholarship, he had to turn it down as his father had lost his voice and could no longer work.
His father got one of Mr Ng’s friends to talk to him, saying that the family could not afford to let him go abroad or to university, and he had to start working to support the family. Mr Ng told his father then that he would stay in Singapore, but he had to get his degree.
He won himself a Public Service Commission scholarship to study physics at the University of Singapore, and gave private tuition to half a dozen students. The few hundred dollars he earned each month were handed over to the family.
When he was courting his late wife, the two were so poor that Mr Ng would pawn and redeem a Seiko watch repeatedly to finance their dates. It had been given to him by the father of two of his students.
5. Taught Lee Kuan Yew to meditate
While his post at GIC did not put him in the public eye often, Mr Ng did make headlines when it was revealed that he taught Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew to meditate.
Mr Ng, who said in a 2022 interview with Bloomberg that he meditated every morning and night, began teaching the late Mr Lee to meditate in the late 2000s.
He learnt the discipline from Benedictine monk Laurence Freeman and became an avid proponent of meditation and its benefits, even once discussing with Mr Lee if it should be introduced in all schools as stress relief.
His interest in Christian meditation began together with his late wife more than 30 years ago, and it helped them to cope when she was dying. The late Mrs Patricia Ng had stomach cancer and died in Mr Ng’s arms – in accordance with her last wishes – on Valentine’s Day in 2005. The couple met in school at Montfort in 1972 and had three children, now in their 30s to 50s. In the 2012 interview, he told ST that he missed his wife, who was his soulmate in the truest sense of the word, but he did not feel lonely.
‘I felt so much love from Patricia, it was enough to last me a lifetime. But having said that, one of these days, someone might walk into my life and I might fall in love again,’ he said. On Wednesday, he was accompanied by his fiancee Sybil Lau, 45, at the Elections Department.
According to her LinkedIn profile, Ms Lau has been managing her family’s wealth since 2009. She is also a board member of SG Enable, the focal agency for disability here.
6. Once contemplated becoming a priest
Mr Ng was baptised as a Catholic when he was seven, and would wake up early in the morning to serve as an altar boy at the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
He had contemplated becoming a priest in his early teens.
He told ST in 2012 that he credited the church and his mission school upbringing at Montfort with keeping him on the straight and narrow amid the gangs in Kangkar.
Mr Ng was active in interfaith work during his time as chairman of the Lien Centre for Palliative Care from 2008 to 2012.
His contributions during that time include helping to organise Common Ground, a two-day seminar where six religions, including Taoism, Islam and Buddhism, presented their teachings on meditation.