SUTD Commencement Ceremony Speech By Mr Lee Tzu Yang, SUTD Chairman Of Board Of Trustees

10 Sep 2016

Good morning
SUTD Chancellor, President Tony Tan Keng Yam
Members of the SUTD Board of Trustees
Graduates, faculty members and parents
Ladies and gentlemen

  1. I am truly delighted that my first public duty as the Chairman of SUTD is to congratulate YOU, our graduating students of the 2016 cohort.

  2. Last year, our pioneer batch of graduates were well-received by industry, and they found employment in 23 out of the 25 key business sectors in Singapore. Hence your expectations this year may naturally be high.

  3. I would like to address my remarks to this graduating class in the following 3 parts - your skills and achievements, your opportunities going forward, and then offer an insight from my own experience. 

Skills and achievements

  1. As engineers and architects, you have been primed to look at the needs or challenges you seek to fill or meet.  The customer is human, and the reason you have worked on social sciences, arts and humanities is to develop that curiosity and inquiry about people, both individually and collectively, that will guide you in Design Thinking when applying technology.

  2. The framing of the question drives the answer.  We have found that the most important step is to frame the right question, and not just to accept conventional framing.  We have learnt that the process of inquiry is the key step in good Design Thinking.  And what makes the question worthy as a challenge is the impact that the solution will make on people’s lives.

  3. Besides ZaiBike and the other innovations and startups mentioned just now by President Tom Magnanti, I understand you have sought out other worthy challenges.  I am impressed with what I have learnt of your Capstone showcase this year.  Two projects are in the process of patent application.

  4. One of them is the Fuga Digital Chest Drain Device, a semi-automatic medical device that improves on the existing procedure for draining excess fluid from the lungs.  It is life-saving, low cost and portable, and developed for Changi General Hospital, which will enable patients to use it at home.

  5. The other project is the Energy Harvesting Façade, a retrofitted sustainable high-rise façade module, capable of harvesting energy via a decentralised system, with a special installation mechanism developed with Weijenberg Private Limited.

  6. These and others are examples of worthy projects which help people, individually and collectively.  These and other projects show the wide range of your interests and achievements.  You are technically grounded leaders, steeped in the fundamentals of mathematics, science and technology, which you use in the service of people.

  7. I congratulate you on your achievements and the skills you have acquired.  I am sure you will continue to grow these skills and hunger for new, even more worthy challenges, in the future.


  1. As we look at opportunities going forward, I would like to draw your attention to Singapore striving to become a Smart Nation in the 21st Century.  To be ready to lead the next technological revolution – the fourth industrial revolution.

  2. We all know of the current trend of data exchange and automation in a multitude of technologies.  This includes cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things, cloud computing and many others, including new and often disruptive services. This is the age of the Connected Revolution, where everybody and everything is connected and sharing, processing information at unprecedented speeds to take decisions and make things happen.

  3. This integration of products, services and systems requires the seamless convergence of the digital and physical worlds, hence making everything “Smart”.

  4. This is a huge opportunity for engineers, architects and designers to work better and closer together.  You have each worked on 20 to 30 design projects in the course of your training at SUTD.  This is what you have been preparing to do!  You can enable the Smart Nation and make Smart Nation a reality.

  5. There is an aspect of this which I would like to highlight.  The connection between cyber and physical worlds has raised issues around security and integrity of systems, and in a simple word, trust.  Going beyond cyber security therefore, there is this developing need for assurance in the cyber-physical systems that are coming to dominate our daily lives.  The i-Trust research being done in SUTD is an example of how this is being done to make water systems resilient and dependable.

  6. At the beginning of my address, I mentioned the success of SUTD graduates in employment and post-graduate education after SUTD.  Opportunities of course lie not only in these areas, but also in startups and entrepreneurship.  Again many SUTD students have begun this whilst in SUTD, and this will increasingly be a fertile ground for opportunities.  The life of the entrepreneur will be different and likely more uncertain, but perhaps more stimulating and rewarding.

  7. More enlightened companies recognise the boost this gives their employees, and intrapreneurship schemes are on the rise, particularly in technology companies.  On the other hand many talented people are seeking to combine careers in application research and entrepreneurship with linkages to corporate sponsors.  It is still a tough world but one which increasingly offers opportunities to the best and brightest.

  8. We need a new generation of innovators, with mindsets and skills capable of addressing the world’s complex challenges, by providing solutions that cut across traditional disciplines.  Technology is at the heart of the delivery, but understanding the challenges in terms of what people – men and women – ‘really, really want’ relies on Design Thinking!  I am impressed that some of you have decided to set up your own companies, are being validated by industry and are securing interest from venture capitalists.

  9. Today, 317 members of your cohort are graduating, from Engineering Product Development, Engineering Systems and Design, Information Systems Technology and Design, the MIT-SUTD dual masters programme, and Architecture and Sustainable Design.  Each one of you has this array of opportunities, and I am sure will do well. 

An insight from experience

  1. I would like here to share one insight from my experience, on an aspect that has been and continues to be important to me.  It is not technical but relies on interpreting human behaviour, respecting people as individuals and their local customs.

  2. An early career responsibility was to supply bitumen and help build roads.  This was to regional markets outside Singapore.  I was armed with the technical knowledge and manual, and had access to testing laboratories and commercial frameworks and contracts.

  3. The construction industry is a colourful one, and road construction in particular.  The projects I supported were typically funded by a combination of local government finance and foreign aid, from funds like the development banks or Japanese aid, and were executed by combinations of foreign and local contractors specifically set up for the project.  Governance was often poor, supervision patchy, and vulnerable to ethical and quality breaches.  This was not the world of the laboratory - externalities abounded.  People involved were real, trying to maintain their dignity in what is a pretty tough environment.

  4. I found great comfort in being able to remain ethical, supporting the larger objective whilst recognizing the pressures on others.  Simple compassion is not enough.  Learning what to do in different situations was important to remain effective.  Eventually I learnt to structure processes and practices to best cater to this challenge, and these extended from technical processes like sampling and testing, to trying to influence the structure of commercial contracts to reduce the possibilities for leakage.  There is I believe some link to Design Thinking in these aspects.

  5. Very rarely did I find it necessary to walk away from business, but when needed, I did so with the support of my employer.  I found that with good humour, consistent principles, and sympathetic thoughtful planning, it is possible to conduct business with integrity.

  6. As engineers and architects, you work in the real world.  I am very sure my experience is not unique.  I think you will find, as I have, that sleeping well at night is well worth the effort of planning ahead to deal with all exigencies.

  7. It is more than likely that the fourth industrial revolution will throw up its unique moral and ethical challenges.  The capacity to encompass understanding the impact on people will be tremendously important if we are to gain the benefits without losing the support of the community. 


  1. To conclude, I would like to say a big ‘Thank You’ to all the donors, corporate partners, parents and supporters of SUTD.  Without your generous support in terms of sharing of expertise, personal time and financial donations, we would not have succeeded to provide our students this quality of education.

  2. To the graduates today - you are at a key milestone in your life.  I am sure you will have many more, of both a career and personal nature.  I hope the friendships and learning gained from your time with SUTD will continue to provide you with the confidence and support to go on to achieve great things.  Congratulations once again to all of you, and I wish you all the best in your journey ahead.