INTERVIEW WITH GURDIP SINGH USMA
1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your life.
Gurdip Singh Usma was born in India and came to Singapore at a very young age. He studied at the Anglo Chinese School before going on to study at the Singapore University to obtain a Bachelor of Accountancy (Honours) degree in 1975. He comes from a middle class family and is the son of Boor Singh Usma, who was a cloth merchant by day and a watchman at the Indian High Commission at night. He grew up staying in the Singapore High Commission quarters provided to his father.
Over the past 30 years, since graduating from Singapore University, he has built up his experience both in the finance and senior management areas in Singapore, Australia, Japan, USA, Malaysia and Thailand; ranging from Regional Financial Director of Molex Inc (a US MNC) to President & CEO Crescendas MEC (a home grown regional manufacturing group), when its business was sold to a SGX listed company. During this period he has gained extensive international exposure; including setting up manufacturing plants in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and China. His excellent ability to use his financial skills in general management and manufacturing operations provided a good platform, which enabled Crescendas MEC to receive 5 consecutive Enterprise 50 Awards (Singapore’s 50 most promising private companies) from 1998 to 2002.
He is also active community leader as the Chairman of Singapore Khalsa Association Board of Trustees, Chairman of Sikh Welfare Council, Vice President of Central Sikh Gurdwara Board, Singapore. He also chaired the World Schools Debating Championship in Singapore in 2002; the first time this mega event was held in Asia.
His contributions to the community and nation building were recognised when he was featured in a book published by the Young Sikh Association, Singapore titled “Singapore at 50 - 50 Sikhs and Their Contribution”, which was launched by Mr Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore on 28th November 2015.
He is currently semi-retired and besides doing community work in the organisations mentioned above, he is also an Adjunct Faculty at Singapore Management University, teaching both the Post Graduate and Undergraduate Programs.
2. When, where and how did you meet Mr. Lee Kuan Yew?
Mr Lee Kuan Yew has visited various Sikh Temples in Singapore a number of times as the Guest of Honour at key Sikh Festivals and I had the opportunity of shaking his hand at some of these occasions. However, my real personal meeting with him was in July 2010, when he visited to conduct the official opening of the newly rebuilt Bhai Maharaj Singh Memorial located in Silat Road Sikh Temple and I was the Chairman of the Silat Road Sikh Temple at that time.
3. What is your deepest personal memory of him?
Mr Lee Kuan Yew had a very good memory and knowledge of his various involvements with the Sikh Community. He had great respect for the Sikh Community and commended them for their excellent performance in all areas of sports, business and work and they usually “punched well above their weight”. This was only possible as a result of the “equal opportunity and meritocratic system” in Singapore.
4. What did he say to you?
During his visit he talked about the achievements of the Sikh Community and showed his concerns about us; even though we were a very small minority in Singapore. He asked us if there were any particular areas the Sikh Community needed assistance from the government.
5. How has Mr Lee Kuan Yew inspired you in contributing to Sikh Temple?
Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s belief in a meritocratic society enabled me to succeed in life and this inspired me to contribute back to society and show as a role model that anyone can succeed if they have the right attitude and desire to work hard.
6. How are you keeping his legacy alive and evolving?
While I am lecturing at SMU, a lot of students ask for advice on how to be successful.
My response to them always is to “Work hard and do your best in whatever you do and success will take care of itself”. We live in an equal opportunity Singapore and that is what matters most.
7. How has he shaped the way you view family, community, Singapore and the world?
Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his principles of integrity, transparency and meritocracy have been able to bring Singapore from a Third World nation to a First World nation in 50 years. These were the 50 years of my growing up and they have been deep rooted in the beliefs of my family and me. We now travel for work or pleasure very proud holding a Singapore Passport. Singaporeans are seen the world over as very credible and trustworthy business partners and family associates.
8. How has he changed you positively?
Same as response to the questions above.
9. What is the one thing you wish to impart to people who will read about your personal encounters with Mr Lee Kuan Yew?
Mr Lee Kuan Yew was a very warm but a strict person. He cared very much for entire Singapore community and he did not hesitate to go after anyone who he felt was going to damage Singapore as a nation or its people.