Yeo was also the first chairman of the National Computer Board - which he formed - as well as chairman of the Economic Development Board from January 1986 to January 2001. He is married and has a son and a daughter.
Yeo has been conferred honorary PhDs from University of Toronto, Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and Imperial College London for his work in Economic Development in Singapore and Asia.
During his EDB chairmanship, Yeo redirected EDB's focus from the traditional fields to new areas of business. These included: Internationally exportable services; developing high-tech industries like biomedical science, semiconductors, aerospace and specialty chemicals; nurturing local small and medium-sized enterprises and encouraging Singapore companies to make direct investments abroad. Yeo pioneered Singapore's participation in overseas infrastructure development projects such as those in the Bintan Industrial Estate and the Wuxi-Singapore Industrial Park in China.
During this time, Philip Yeo also served as the first Chairman of the National Computer Board (now Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore from 1980 to 1987. He played a leading role in formulating and championing Singapore's first national computerisation plan to evolve the nation into the information age.
Yeo was Board Member (from 1980) and Chairman of the Executive Committee of Singapore Technologies Holdings from 1987 to 1993. He also served as Chairman of Sembawang Corporation (1994 - 1998) and the successor SembCorp Industries (1998-1999), Pidemco Land (1999 - 2000) and CapitaLand formed from Pidemco after a merger (2000 -).
Yeo stepped down as Chairman of A*STAR and become chairman of the Standards, Productivity and Innovation Board (Spring Singapore) on 1 April 2007. He was also appointed senior adviser on science and technology to the Minister for Trade and Industry. In his role as Advisor for Economic Development in the Prime Minister’s Office, Yeo will assist the Prime Minister’s Office in establishing new economic links with interested foreign governments who value Singapore’s development experience, and provide strategic inputs to establish strategic partnerships and open up opportunities with other fast-growing economies.
In 1994, the Indonesian Government conferred on Yeo its highest civilian honour, the Bintang Jasa Utama (the First Class Order of Service Award) in recognition of his role in fostering good bilateral ties between Indonesia and Singapore. In 1996, Yeo was conferred the Ordre National du Mérite (National Order of Merit) for his contribution and leadership in enhancing ties between Singapore and France.
In June 1997, Yeo was conferred an Honorary Doctorate in Engineering by his alma mater, the University of Toronto in recognition of an illustrious alumnus.
In February 1998, Mr. Yeo was honoured by the Belgium Government with the Commander of the Belgium National Order of the Crown for his personal merits in promoting the cooperation between Belgian and Singapore industries.
In November 1998, the international Society of Design and Process Science honoured Yeo with the K T Li Award for contributing significantly to economic and societal development. He was recognized for his contribution to Singapore's economic development and for his pioneering role in the development of Singapore's IT industry.
Mr Yeo was awarded the CEO Lifetime Achievement Award, Asia Pacific IPA Awards in 2003.
In May 2006, he was awarded an honorary doctorate of medicine by the Board of Research at Karolinska Institutet. The award was given for Yeo's efforts in building medical research and education in Singapore, in collaboration with leading universities throughout the world, including Karolinska Institutet. He was also cited for helping to catalyze collaborative agreements between Karolinska Institutet and A* STAR, and between Karolinska Institutet and the National University of Singapore. These agreements led to significant exchanges of researchers and students between Singapore and Sweden.
In the same month, Yeo was awarded the Nikkei Prize for Science and Technology "in honor of his strong leadership in drafting and implementing Singapore's science and technology strategy, particularly in biomedical sciences.
On 9 August 2006, he was awarded the Order of Nila Utama (First Class), one of Singapore's most prestigious National Day Awards.
In September 2006, he was the first Singaporean to receive Harvard Business School's Alumni Achievement Award. Harvard credits him with moving Singapore's economy into manufacturing sectors like televisions, disk drives, petrochemicals, and most recently the biomedical sciences.
In November 2007, Yeo was conferred an Honorary Doctorate in Science by Imperial College of UK for his focus on building up Science and Technology in Singapore.
In December 2007, Yeo was conferred the Order Of The Rising Sun, Gold And Silver Star by the Japanese Government. Yeo is among eight Singaporeans, including Singapore Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, who have received this conferment since 1967.
In April 2008, Yeo was awarded the Distinguished Service (Star) award by the National Trade Unions Congress in Singapore. The award is the Singapore Union's highest honor for a non-unionist. Yeo was conferred the award for his contributions to the transformation of Singapore and direct efforts of job creation.
One of the hallmarks of Philip Yeo has been his passion in developing people. In the course of his career he has sent thousands of Singaporeans to top universities around the world on government funded scholarships. In return for government funding to complete their studies in university, these scholars make a commitment to return and serve the Singapore government for a period of six years.
When Yeo joined the EDB in 1986, EDB had a few MNCs who had donated annual scholarships: Sundstrand-EDB Scholarship(1982); Minebea (1985).
Some of the key scholarship programs that Yeo set up at EDB include: Seiko Epson (1987-1988), Yokogawa Electric (1988), Shimano (1993), Daicel Chemicals (1994) and Siemens (1995); Mobil(now ExxonMobil) (1997), Singapore Inc (SIS) (1997) and Promising Local Enterprise Scholarship (1996).
In 1989, Sir Paul Girolami, then Chairman of Glaxo, asked Yeo what Glaxo could do to demonstrate its appreciation to Singapore. Yeo immediately suggested a scholarship program. Shortly after that meeting, Glaxo sent S$50 million in two cash cheques to the EDB resulting in the creation of the Glaxo-EDB scholarship program. Since its launch in1990, the Glaxo-EDB scholarship has trained over 300 BS/MSc scholars.
When Yeo arrived at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in 2001, he found that fewer than 20% of PhD holders in A*STAR's institutes were Singaporean, and few among them were young scientists. Yeo immediately set up his boldest scholarship yet by setting up the A*STAR Graduate Academy to implement the plan to train up 1,000 PhD scholars that would eventually return to Singapore and undertake research in fields like information technology, engineering, molecular biology, biochemistry and medicine. One of the hallmarks of Yeo's personal style is the amount of personal attention he gives to his scholars. He takes great pains to remember personal details about their background and also closely tracks their academic performance. He regularly meets with them to buy them meals whenever he is near their overseas universities on his regular business trips abroad.
In 1998, as Chairman of EDB, he decided to name publicly the holders of government scholarships who broke their bonds in order to shame them. This created a controversy generating public debates on whether those who received scholarship have a moral obligation to serve, or whether the scholarship is merely a contractual agreement which could be broken in return for the stated penalties. The debate culminated when MP Chng Hee Kok questioned Yeo's decision. Yeo responded by calling for Chng to resign his seat in Parliament because of his view.
This led to even more unhappiness at the audacity of a civil servant talking down to an elected Member of Parliament. Then Deputy Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong had to intervene in what was seen as a face-saving rebuke for both - that Philip Yeo was wrong to tell Chng Hee Kok to resign, but Chng had also been wrong in arguing that it was acceptable for scholars to break their bonds because they were merely legal contracts.
In May 2005, the controversy of A*STAR bond-breakers was revived when The New Paper published an article about him writing in his book that men in Singapore were wimps, whiny, and immature even though they have served the National Service (NS). The reason Yeo gave was that all bond-breakers since early 90s were Singapore men. The anger was further fuelled when a female A*STAR scholar, Chng Zhenzhi, backed his statements and openly declared that Singapore men were fine until "(once) they enter NS, they complain a lot." It should be noted that Philip Yeo himself never served National Service as it was not implemented during his time.
In the same month, Chen Jiahao, a Singaporean Ph.D. candidate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was threatened with legal action for accusing A*Star and Philip Yeo of "bribing universities for taking in PhD students" under the moniker AcidFlask on his blog caustic.soda Jiahao went on to accuse A*Star of "giving out gobs of honey to universities who will sign back-door agreements for taking in scholars without going through the formal application procedure.” Philip Yeo and A*Star responded with threat of legal action, stating that the statements made in AcidFlask’s blog would have been understood to mean that A*Star had acted corruptly in its dealings with universities. The statements also cast serious aspersions on A*Star's scholars to the effect that they were not admitted to their universities on merit but only because their universities were bribed by A*Star to do so. A*Star demanded a public apology from Chen and that the offending and defamatory postings in AcidFlask's 3 March 2005 blog be deleted. Chen chose to shut down his entire blog-site. All posts were removed voluntarily, and replaced with an unreserved apology to "A*STAR, its Chairman Mr. Philip Yeo, and its executive officers for the distress and embarrassment" caused. The incidents upset several members of the local blogging community for his statements. In February 2007, Yeo, in the comments of another blog, revealed the exact posts that were considered defamatory.
In 2006, Philip Yeo began to face criticism for his Biotech strategy. As billions in taxpayers' money had been spent to develop the Biomedical Industry in Singapore. Philip Yeo countered his critics by pointing out that Biomedical manufacturing output had quadrupled from S$6 billion in 2000 to S$23 billion in the 5 years that the country had been investing in the sector. In that short period, the Biomedical industry grew to account for over 5% of Singapore’s GDP and 10,600 high value added jobs. In addition, Yeo also pointed out that during the 5 years of investment, more than 25 companies started research centres in Singapore, including three corporate R&D laboratories run by Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis.
In late 2006, Dr. Lee Wei Ling, head of National Neuroscience Institute, publicly questioned the policy of Philip Yeo and A*Star, asserting that they were wrong by putting public money on competing with western countries on cutting-edge research. She said that Singapore should instead focus on niche areas in Biotech research.
Yeo's work in developing the biomedical industry has received praises by some analysts including Nature correspondent David Cyranoski who wrote that "Singapore's impressive advances in biomedicine are driven by the energetic personality of Philip Yeo." In response to his daughter's comments, Lee Kuan Yew has stated the following: "This issue has been deliberated over a period of several months in Cabinet and decided by PM Goh and cabinet. The policy has been continued by PM Lee and his cabinet. We have made significant investments in time and resources. We have to get the most out of what we have put in.
Singapore's Bling; the Government's Wealthy Investment Arm Is Moving Billions Offshore-And Taking Singapore Inc. Global
Nov 08, 2004; Byline: George Wehrfritz and Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop (With Sudip Mazumdar in New Delhi) You've heard of Singapore airlines....