Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Woman behind Dr. Lee Kum Tatt

Behind every successful man there is a woman. Dr. Lee Kum Tatt’s woman is his wife of more than 50 years. Mrs. Engeline Lee herself is quite a unique lady. I encouraged her to share some of her philosophy and experiences with us under her husband’s blog. She can complement what her husband does. She can give her views on what motivates her husband, how he responds to his own fantasies and produced the results.

Mrs. Engeline Lee, who has contributed much to the development of the famous RISIS orchids, tells us her story and her feelings on this project.

Tan Kin Lian


Credentials Of
Mrs. Engeline Lee Eng Nio

1. First lady physics graduate of University of Malaya in 1950.
2. Fulbright Scholarship to M.I.T. ( Massachusetts Institute of Technology 1951)
3. First Hospital Physicist in Singapore General Hospital1954.
4. Senior Lecturer of Physics Department , University of Singapore 1961 until retirement
5. Honorary Consultant to SISIR in Non Destructive Testing, Industrial application of radio isotopes and Health Physics ( 1969 – retirement)
6. Wife, Mother of 4 children and grandmother of 7 grandchildren.

She has written a book on herself “My Profession and Career, Work or Play” for her family members only. She has also written three other books on the family, and individual grandchildren. She lived in a time where the woman’s place is the home. Her experiences and views should be of interests to the our modern girls who have to cope with their professions, careers, personal family lives and interests which Mrs. Lee handled during her life.


R I S I S: A Promised Wish Fulfilled

The famous RISIS Gold orchids celebrated its thirtieth anniversary on April -19- 2006. Many throughout the world know RISIS as Singapore’s Gift to the World. Many were and still are interested and curious to know the true story behind the creation of this product and how it became an instant success. How did it managed to last for so long and it is still growing strong after more than 30 years.

The true story was never told in full by the person who was really responsible for it from the very beginning. The stories which were told were mostly from hearsay and people who came in later in the development of the RISIS gold orchid itself. Nevertheless these stories were sensational enough to boost the sales of RISIS products and keep them popular even up to this day.

Why wasn’t the true story ever told? This is because the person who was responsible for the creation of the RISIS Orchids is my husband Dr. Lee Kum Tatt. He was the founder chairmen of The Singapore Institute of Standards and Industrial Research (SISIR) and the Singapore Science Council. He was a high profile public servant involved in the development of the Science & Technology infrastructure and manpower development in the early days of Singapore’s development. He created, championed the idea and personally directed its development and launch. He did not say much himself but he allowed others to tell their stories. These stories created the mystery of how the product was developed. This helped the products to sell. .

After all these years I thought that the true story should be told. How did Kum Tatt create a completely new product from scratch, growing from a fantasy to research followed by manufacture and marketing? What made him decide to put gold on natural orchids? How did he establish the manufacturing facilities and a market for the product and then expanded the business by creating other successful product lines? What were the difficulties he encountered and how were these obstacles overcome?

This is something many would like to know. This requires special passion and talents besides management skills to organize everything that was required. Above all he needed courage to champion what he believed in.

To fulfill his promise to me carelessly made during our courting days for something I wished to have, he made many attempts over several years and encountered lots of disappointments and frustration in the process. Many would have given up if not for the passion and inspiration in him to persevere under very trying conditions. I am proud of my husband for doing this for me.

This is the best gift any wife can ask for and very few can get - something created by your husband especially for you which many others would also like to have. The RISIS gold orchid became a national gift fit for queens and visiting foreign dignitaries. The family supported him every step on the way. This gave him confidence and purpose to do what he had to do.

For promotional purposes Kum Tatt wrote a light hearted book on the RISIS ORCHID with cartoons done by the well known cartoonist, the late Mr. Tan Hui Peng. More than 150,000 copies were printed and given to buyers of the RISIS orchids in the earlier years. This booklet was dedicated to me and our children. My husband used his pseudo name of El Jofel - a combination of our children’s names.

Kum Tatt is a talented person and an entrepreneur. He has pioneered many programs and projects and helped establish many institutions some of which he headed. Many people who are creative and entrepreneurial have indicated that they would like to know something about his experience and his philosophies. I have therefore persuaded him to put his thoughts and experience in writing to put on record of the many projects and things he did in his life. The family and others may benefit from these records. This is the result of my persuasion. It makes interesting reading.

There are many things he did and went through some of which even I do not know. The RISIS gold orchid was only the start of many products which followed. Just as chemistry is his profession by virtue of his university education Kum Tatt discovered that he could produce gifts that others also like. This became his hobby and occupation which started in the 1970’s till the year 2000.

During this period of some thirty years he has not only created the RISIS gold orchid for me but has also produced other products inspired by and created specially for his grand children. The “Aurigami” cranes and related products were created for our eldest granddaughter Laura Kee. This was followed by the Breakthrough Horse for his grandson Kenneth Lee. Other RISIS horses in the RISIS horoscope series of animals followed. The family members gave Kum Tatt the inspiration he needed to develop new products for them and many of these were mass produced for others to enjoy.

Kum Tatt’s reputation of creating and producing unique gifts is well known. Many with gift problems approached him for help he often obliged. This included Singapore’s Presidential gifts to visiting foreign dignitaries when Mr. Wee Kim Wee was President. The Singapore Professional Centre and the National Trade Union Congress ( NTUC) asked him to produce two special gifts for Singapore’s Prime Minister Mr. Goh Chok Tong when he became Prime Minister. Many also asked him to create gifts for those who have everything like Tan Sri Tan Chin Tuan, Chairman of the OCBC Bank for his 80th birthday.

Kum Tatt’s products have some common unique features. We call them ‘TATT’s products, an acronym of what went into the creation of the products, Technology, Art, Tradition and Talent created by Kum Tatt. . Besides having quality and attractive designs by Nature and artists every TATT product has a cultural story to tell. This is what makes the products interesting.

Kum Tatt will be writing on how some of the products were thought of in the first instance and how they came into existence after that. This should make interesting reading. Creating a new national Singapore gift and souvenir from scratch was not an easy task. For those who are interested in finding out how to create new products there may be some useful lessons to learn. As for me at least I know the type of person I married.

It is a pleasant surprise for me to discover the true person in my husband after all these years. After 1956 he has no one to tell him what to do and how to do what he was supposed to do. He was just assigned missions and the rest was up to him. Most people have their seniors but Kum Tatt seems to have a very good guardian angel to guide him. The hardship he went through during his youth, the Pacific War and Indonesian independence had harden him so much that he could take more knocks and stress than most people can. Probably because of this he could pursue his ideals and dreams to do what he liked and enjoyed doing with relative ease. He is a creative technopreneur, a genius in his own way.

According to Thomas Edison, one of Kum Tatt’s heroes in science, “A Genius is 99% perspiration and 1 % inspiration”. Besides inspiring others and being inspired by others Kum Tatt is a hands-on man. He loves and sweated for us. He believes in making things better for us all including his fellowmen. This we know and we love him for that.

Engeline Lee Eng Nio ( Mrs. Lee Kum Tatt)
25 March 2007

1 comment:

Ray said...

Dear Mr Tan,

With the current trend of couples(or maybe juz ladies) in Singapore not wanting to have children, furnishing the excuse of 'career', i am surprised and amazed at Mrs Lee's credentials. Not her academics, but her life. 4 children?!... With a successful career, and a supportive wife.

I am really interested in her views and thinking. Is there any way to obtain a copy of her books?...