I discovered the type of man Phillip was when I told him I was leaving the firm. By this time, he had already retired from full-time work at PwC, and was involved in a number of different personal projects that were important to him at a personal level. Even so, Phillip Tan was one of the few people who really spent time and energy to explore how he could help me with my transition and we even discussed opportunities with some of the organisations he was involved in.
Today, Phillip Tan is the Chairman of Community Chest, a non-profit organisation established in 1983 to centralise fund-raising activities for various Voluntary Welfare Organisations in Singapore.
Prior to that, he was active with the Yellow Ribbon project and still champions helping former convicts re-integrate into society through providing work-placement opportunities.
In a recent study on the state of golf in Singapore by the Singapore Golf Association and the R&A, it was estimated that over $63 million was raised for charities in Singapore using golf. This number was in fact a conservative estimate, according to the study, but it goes to show how important and intrinsically linked, the game is to charity.
As leader of the nation’s largest charity fund-raising machinery, we are keen to discover what Phillip Tan thinks on how the game is linked to philanthropy.
As a measure of exclusivity, a chauffeur-driven BMW 7-series was sent to fetch him from his home to Sentosa Golf Club, where the interview was to be done over (what else) a round of golf.
The 2019 BMW 7-series is the perfect drive for top-level business leaders like Phillip Tan. Essentially an executive lounge on the move, the already tremendous space at the rear can be further enhanced by moving the front passenger seat 90mm forward and with the headrest folded down, offers an unobstructed view to the front.
The backseat and backrest angle can be individually adjusted to create a comfortable relaxation position with an electrically extending footrest on the front passenger backrest increases comfort even further.
Furthermore, a Vitality Programme offers eight different settings to mobilise the muscles of the back and shoulders after a tiring day in the office or when arriving from a business trip. This, combined with ambient lighting comprising of various direct and indirect light sources, colours, a glass roof called a Sky Lounge, provides an atmosphere that is second to none.
From home to golf and then back, Phillip Tan travelled in comfort, style and ultimate relaxation.
GV: How did you get started in golf?
I started golf late around 48-years-old when I could afford to buy a membership at the Singapore Island Country Club (SICC). It was my eldest son who started first and got my wife and I interested. It helps that a number of my partners at Coopers & Lybrand were golfers so that there were people to guide us on golfing.
How has golf been useful for business?
Golf is a good bonding vehicle with clients which enables us to get to know them better and it helps to build up a friendship rather than just a business relationship. I have personally never used the golf game as a means to get business and have never done a deal during a golf game. Personally, I think you should treat the game as a social event rather than a business event. It is an opportunity to build a relationship that forms the foundation for long term business.
Can you provide two to three parallels between the game of golf and business?
First, you must have commitment in the business you are in. With no commitment, you will not be successful. You need to have patience, especially as a practising public accountant, I must try to understand my client’s business and must have the patience to listen to my client’s problems and help them to solve it.
Going through a set of statutory accounts needs a lot of patience as you need to read everything, evaluate the accounting and financial information carefully to ensure the financial statements shows a true and fair view.
You cannot simply rush through a set of financial statements and form a view without proper evaluation.
Finally, golf needs practise and that indirectly is required in a professional accountant. He or she has to continuously keep up to date technically to continue to develop and get better.
How is golf linked to philanthropy?
In golf, you will enjoy the game if you have largeness in you. Personally, I think I am very forgiving with golf and don’t stick too much to the rules, which may not be the right thing, in giving my opponents mulligans and “gimmes” in putting.
Some serious golfers would not agree with my approach. In charity, you must also have the largeness at heart to give. More importantly, we have been using the game to raise funds for charities.
Having a charity golf event is a very popular approach for fundraising. What other game can give you good exercise that stimulates your mind and body, have the ability to enable fellowship with friends, have good food and do a good deed all at the same time in one afternoon?
Who was the most interesting business person you have played with golf with and why?
Mr Lee Kim Yew the former president of Sentosa Golf Club and he was chairman of one of my listed clients. He demonstrated all the positive things I said about golf. He was patient and forgiving with a bad player like me.
An old school gentleman who treated us like friends although he was chairman of a large listed company. We often played at Sentosa where he knew the course like the back of his hand and he was generous in giving us guidance to tackle each hole. It may not have been very useful for a person like me but I still appreciated it. In fact in that particular game, with his guidance, I end up playing much better than my handicap.
Which is your favourite destination and why?
My favourite destination is Japan in spring and autumn. First, it is the coolness, second the beauty of the course when you can see the Sakura trees on the golf course in full bloom; it really is an object of beauty! Thirdly, I really like the professionalism of the caddies. It is very common to have one caddy looking after four players efficiently and effectively.
Which is your favourite golf course?
In Singapore, it is the Bukit Course in SICC. It is a good walking course with beautiful scenery. Watching a rising or setting sun against the backdrop of the reservoir gives me a warm feeling.
Photography by Tharm Sook Wai with additional video production by VC Productions.
Special thanks to Sentosa Golf Club for the use of the course.