J. Y. Pillay
by Sitragandi Arunasalam
Joseph Yuvaraj Pillay (b. 30 March 1934, Klang, Malaya),1 more commonly known as J. Y. Pillay, served as a top-ranking civil servant for 34 years from 1961 to 1995. He is one of the pioneers who helped build the economy of post-independence Singapore.2 One of his most significant contributions is growing Singapore Airlines (SIA) into a leading world-class carrier.3
Pillay received his early education at St John’s Institution in Kuala Lumpur. He completed his tertiary education at the University of London’s Imperial College of Science and Technology, where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in engineering with first-class honours in 1956. After working in the United Kingdom and Malaya for a few years, he came to Singapore to work.4
Pillay joined the Ministry of Finance’s Economic Development Division (EDD) in 1961. Soon after, he was appointed as deputy secretary of the Economic Planning Unit. Pillay then went on to occupy a variety of concurrent posts in various government ministries and statutory boards. After Singapore’s separation from Malaysia in 1965, he was among the pioneer batch of bureaucrats who were given the task of bolstering the economy of the small, young nation facing an uncertain future with the impending British withdrawal.5 He was involved in the Bases Conversion Committee with Hon Sui Sen as its first commissioner overseeing the British withdrawal from the region in 1971. The young government was faced with a series of issues arising from the British pull-out, such as creating employment for a redundant workforce and converting the huge military and naval bases to commercial use. At the time when Singapore was rapidly industrialising, he played a crucial role in the setting up of the Jurong Town Corporation, as well as the Sembawang and Jurong shipyards; developing the country’s petrochemical sector; transforming Sentosa into a popular tourist resort; and establishing several defence projects.6
Pillay also contributed to the development of Singapore’s financial sector. In 1972, he was appointed the permanent secretary for the Ministry of Finance. After the Pan-Electric crisis of 1985, which led to the shutting down of the Singapore and Kuala Lumpur stock exchanges, he played a leading role in implementing new financial and securities laws to reform the financial sector. Besides serving as the managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore from 1985 to 1989, in the 1990s he headed the advisory panel that reviewed the merger of the Stock Exchange of Singapore (SES) and the Singapore International Monetary Exchange (SIMEX). The resultant Singapore Stock Exchange (SGX) was established on 1 December 1999, and Pillay became its first chairman.7
Among all his achievements, one of the most significant is developing Singapore’s national carrier, SIA, into a world-class company. In 1978, Pillay’s bold and calculated move to purchase 19 Boeing aircraft at the cost of US$900 million made headlines worldwide as “the sale of the century”. He received the Legend award from the Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine in 1998 for his efforts and leadership in developing Singapore's national carrier.8
In addition to his civil service portfolio, Pillay has also managed and led many government-linked companies such as Temasek Holdings, Government Investment Corporation of Singapore, Development Bank of Singapore, Neptune Orient Lines and Singapore Technologies Holdings.9
Pillay retired from the civil service in March 1995 and subsequently served as the high commissioner to Britain and the ambassador to Ireland until 1999. He has been described as being “equal to the best brains in America” by Lee Kuan Yew and as a “civil servant able to stand up to his Prime Minister” by Goh Chok Tong.10
1956: Obtains bachelor’s degree (with first-class honours) in engineering from the Imperial College of Science and Technology, University of London
1956–1958: Works in the United Kingdom
1959–1960: Works as a mechanical engineer in Kuala Lumpur
1961: Joins the Ministry of Finance in Singapore, and becomes deputy secretary of the Economic Planning Unit
1968: Appointed acting permanent secretary, Ministry of Finance
1971: Appointed chairman, Malaysia-Singapore Airlines
1972–1996: Chairman, Singapore Airlines
1972: Appointed permanent secretary, Ministry of Finance, Revenue Division
1978: Meritorious Service Medal
1974–1986: Chairman, Temasek Holdings
1979–1985: Chairman, Development Bank of Singapore
1979–1996: Director, Singapore Symphony Orchestra
1985–1989: Managing director, Monetary Authority of Singapore and Government of Singapore Investment Corporation
1989–30 Mar 1995: Permanent secretary, Ministry of National Development
1991–1994: Chairman, Singapore Technologies Holdings and Neptune Orient Lines11
1991–1996: Chairman, Singapore Indian Development Association executive committee12
Oct 1995–Jun 1998: Director, board of Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation13
1996: Awarded honorary doctorate in law, National University of Singapore14
1996–1999: High commissioner to Britain and ambassador to Ireland
1 Dec 1999: Appointed non-executive chairman, SGX15
2000–2002 : Rejoins OCBC as non-executive director16
2000: Awarded an honorary doctorate of law, Deakin University, Australia17
Jan 2001: Appointed member of the Council of Presidential Advisers for a six-year term18
Aug 2001: Appointed chairman, SGX19
Aug 2002–2007: Appointed chairman, Council on Corporate Disclosure and Governance20
2008: Honorary member of Securities Investors Association of Singapore (SIAS)21
2012: Awarded the Order of Nila Utama (First Class)22
2014: Joined board of Vatican’s Financial Information Authority23
Other appointments held
Member of the Investment Community of the United Nations Pension Fund Board24
Chairman of the Commonwealth Africa Investment Finance Company
Member of the board of governors, Asia-Europe Foundation
Member of the Financial Sector Development Fund Advisory Committee, Monetary Authority of Singapore25
Life trustee of the Singapore Indian Development Association26
Chairman, Council of Presidential Advisers, Securities Industry Council27
Pillay married Beatrice Mary Rasammah in 1963 and they have one daughter. He is an Indian Catholic, but reveres the Bhagavad-Gita, a Hindu scripture written more than 2,000 years ago, as a great management tool.28
1. Low, K. C. (2003). Who’s who in Singapore 2000. Singapore: Who’s Who Publishing, pp. 130–131. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO)
2. Chew, M. (2001). Memories of Fullerton. Singapore: [s. n], p. 160. (Call no.: RSING q959.57 CHE-[HIS])
3. Zuraidah Ibrahim. (1995, March 26). J. Y. Pillay: Visionary with a clear focus. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Zuraidah Ibrahim. (1995, March 26). J. Y. Pillay: Visionary with a clear focus. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Hamilton, A. (1998, October 16). J.Y. Pillay: Pioneer stock. AsiaWeek. Retrieved from CNN website: http://edition.cnn.com/ASIANOW/asiaweek/98/1016/cs8c.html
6. Huang, W., & Ang, T. (Producers). (2007). A few good men. Episode 2: J. Y. Pillay [Television series]. Singapore: Channel NewsAsia. (Call no.: RSING 354.095957 FEW)
7. Zuraidah Ibrahim. (1995, March 26). J. Y. Pillay: Visionary with a clear focus. The Straits Times, p. 1; Koh, E. (2001, August 25). SGX appoints Pillay as executive chairman. The Straits Times, p. 15.
8. Lee, S. H. (1998, April 10). Ex-SIA chiefs honoured as ‘legends’. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Biographical summary of J Y Pillay. (n.d.). Retrieved from The Istana website: http://www.istana.gov.sg/sites/istana/files/Mr%20J%20Y%20Pillay%20-%20Chairman%20(as%20of%206%20Aug%202014).pdf; Zuraidah Ibrahim. (1995, March 26). J. Y. Pillay: Visionary with a clear focus. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Channel NewsAsia. (2015). Team S’pore – strong ministers, shared goals. Retrieved from website: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/specialreports/rememberingleekuanyew/news/team-s-pore-strong/1740616.html; Prime Minister’s Office. (2012, January 17). Speech by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on ministerial salaries in Parliament, 17 January 2012. Retrieved from Prime Minister’s Office website: http://www.pmo.gov.sg/mediacentre/speech-prime-minister-lee-hsien-loong-ministerial-salaries-parliament-17-january-2012
11. Zuraidah Ibrahim. (1995, March 26). J. Y. Pillay: Visionary with a clear focus. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Three Indian MPs appointed to Sinda’s board of trustees. (1991, July 14). The Straits Times, p. 13; Nirmala, M. (1996, February 29). Dhanabalan replaces Pillay as Sinda president. The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Low, I. (2002, April 9). SGX chief J.Y. Pillay to step down as OCBC director. The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Pillay pays tribute to role of civil service in rise of modern S’pore. (1996, August 28). The Straits Times, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Pillay made an executive of SGX. (2001, August 25). The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Low, I. (2002, April 9). SGX chief J.Y. Pillay to step down as OCBC director. The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Deakin University. (2015, October 12). Awards and honours. Retrieved from Deakin University website: http://www.deakin.edu.au/industry-and-community/awards-and-honours
18. President’s Office. (2016, February 15). Council of Presidential Advisers. Retrieved from The Istana website: http://www.istana.gov.sg/roles-and-responsibilities/presidents-office/council-presidential-advisers
19. Pillay made an executive of SGX. (2001, August 25). The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Biographical summary of J Y Pillay. (n.d.). Retrieved from The Istana website: http://www.istana.gov.sg/sites/istana/files/Mr%20J%20Y%20Pillay%20-%20Chairman%20(as%20of%206%20Aug%202014).pdf
21. Foo, A. (2008, April 19). SGX chairman is first honorary member of SIAS. The Straits Times, p. 89. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. J. Y. Pillay honoured with top National Day award. (2016). AsiaOne. Retrieved from website: http://news.asiaone.com/News/Latest+News/Singapore/Story/A1Story20120809-364462.html
23. JY Pillay joins board of Vatican’s financial watchdog. (2014, June 6). Today. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
24. Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. (n.d.). J. Y. Pillay. Retrieved from Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy website: http://lkyspp.nus.edu.sg/faculty/pillay-j-y/
25. Bloomberg. (n.d.). Joseph Yuvaraj Pillay. Retrieved from Bloomberg Business website: http://www.bloomberg.com/research/stocks/people/person.asp?personId=1227207&privcapId=2445989
26. Three Indian MPs appointed to Sinda’s board of trustees. (1991, July 14). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Monetary Authority of Singapore. (2016). Securities Industry Council. Retrieved from Monetary Authority of Singapore website: http://www.mas.gov.sg/sic
28. Zuraidah Ibrahim. (1995, March 26). J. Y. Pillay: Visionary with a clear focus. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.