Book Review: Neither Civil Nor Servant by Philip Yeo


How fortuitous. I've finally found last year Men's Health beneath the stacks!
Credit: Straits Times

Recently there's an influx of prominent, retiring civil servants flooding the few remaining bookstores with tomes of encyclopedic memoirs, filling up the shelves with their intellect and stories of contributions to society in their lengthy, well-paid tenure. None, however, came close in terms of readability and rebellious streak as that of Mr Philip Yeo. His career spans across ministries and stat boards, beginning as a logistic officer in MINDEF, then subsequently foray into EDB, Sembawang Corporation, A*Star and now Chairman of Spring Singapore.

A job-hopper he is not, each shift in position is mostly attributed to the desires from the higher-ups - from the late Mr Goh Keng Swee and Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Like the car in chinese chess, he is needed almost anywhere with no lack of restrictions. His 'always-ready' work ethics and immense network of high-level contacts impressed beyond the confines of Singapore bureaucracy. Even Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka Shing once asked him to run one of his subsidiary and threw a generous golden bait. He turned down the offer, which in retrospect he publicly confides that he experienced jolts of remorse.

This garang maverick's achievement is indeed staggering. But we should also clap for the cadets who endure through the hardships of being his underlings too. George Yeo and Lim Swee Say are just two of his ex-subordinates who become who-whos themselves, a testament that great rebel leaders nurture great future cabinet ministers. Nevertheless, if your disposition is a born slacker, then the captain might throw you off the boat. 

Although this is not a self-help book, Philip Yeo do sprinkle plenty of anecdote with lessons learned throughout the book. Here are the summarized points gleaned from this book -

- The most important for all project managers: clarity and simplicity in articulating ideas
- Understand how to do things better, how to fix problems, how to be the solutions person than people who do things that are used to
- Always sell passion with sex appeal (Biomed A*star recruitment ad)
- It is easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission
- Aim to network yourself to the top
- Kite-flying leadership characteristics
  1. No micromanagement = give flexibility and let juniors loose
  2. Demand responsibility and ownership = don't run away when things goes wrong
  3. Deal directly with people
  4. Just get the job done
  5. Eliminate poor performers
- 'Mad cows' = Making a difference, Changing the world

His book is available at Amazon. Click the link below to buy now!



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BrowsingSnorlax: Book Review: Neither Civil Nor Servant by Philip Yeo
Book Review: Neither Civil Nor Servant by Philip Yeo
Philip Yeo do sprinkle plenty of anecdote with lessons learned throughout the book. Here are the summarized points gleaned from this book.
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