When Singapore was still a member of the Federation of Malaya, Mr. Sim was already helping in vegetable farms and raising livestock while studying in a primary school. As his mother had passed on early, Mr. Sim, together with his six siblings and their Grandmother had depended on one another. Mr. Sim started working at a young age to make ends meet for the family. And among the siblings, he was the only one who had the opportunity to continue with his studies in a vocational school after graduating from his secondary school.
In the 1980s, a fully industrialised Singapore progressed from a labour-intensive and export-orientated manufacturing economy into a capital, technology-intensive, and service-orientated economy. The electrical engineering small and medium-sized enterprise founded by Mr. Sim seized the opportunity to expand its operations, of which they ventured into electronic products and wafer manufacturing and also chemical industry etc. In 1999, the company was incorporated and listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange and expanded across five countries.
Singapore’s celebrated its 50 years of independence in 2015. This year, Mr. Sim turned 65 years. While his primary schoolmates had chosen to retire, not only did Mr. Sim not step down from his position, he continued to be at the helm of his business, planning and strategizing for the future. However, running his business had become his "side-line" as the involvement in Tzu Chi became the priority of his and his wife, Madam Chua Ah Suai.
When Mr. Sim attended the Tzu Chi Global Entrepreneurs in Taiwan, he was moved by Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s compassionate vows and Tzu Chi’s missions across the globe. He also witnessed the embodiment of how an organisation incorporates the idea of “upholding precepts as the system and infusing love in people management.” Mr. Sim realised that we are surrounded by many good people and good deeds. He said, “Our society functions as a group. Instead of enjoying happiness alone, it is better to share and enjoy the happiness together as a group. I made a small vow then, and that is to contribute back to the same society that has provided for me.”
Doing good does not end with monetary donations. Mr. and Mrs. Sim began their involvement in the area of environmental protection by sorting and recycling recyclable resources to progressing into school and home visits under the Seeds of Hope programme (SOH). They also undertook large-scale activities such as the preparation of the annual charity drive. Mr. Sim used to play golf twice a week. After he became active in Tzu Chi, he reduced his game to only twice a year. “Golfing is quite a waste of time,” he said.
Through the undertaking of responsibilities, Mr. Sim was able to forge many diverse and meaningful affinity with others. He also realised that only through direct physical involvement, was he able to really contribute consciously. "I now understand what ‘Gratitude’ means. (We) really need to practise gratitude constantly. Being born a human, one must be grateful to their parent for raising them. Being out in the society, one must be grateful for the people who have helped you. And when one finally ages, with yet so much companionship from dharma brothers and sisters, that is happiness, bliss, peace and comfort!”
Being born in a poor family, Mr. Sim Hee Chew saw hardships as opportunities to toughen up. When he was a kid, he had to trek over a small hill to retrieve water for his family and hence was particularly able to cherish the resources that he had. Setting up his company at the age of 26, Mr. Sim was prudent with every step he took, he even made use of his mother-in-law's chicken coop and hog pen as his office and warehouse. Subsequently, when his career became successful, he moved the company back to Woodlands, where he grew up. The desks and other equipment in his office had been used for nearly 15 years, a symbol of simplicity just like before. Before joining Tzu Chi, Mr. Sim’s office had already adopted double-sided printing to save on expenses. Now, to protect the environment, the company has gone a step further – sorting and recycling of resources. One can therefore spot stacks of bundled newspaper and other used paper in the office. At home, Mr. Sim had maintained his habit of saving water for decades. For example, he would make good use of the wastewater discharge from the washing machine where the second batch of wastewater discharge would be kept to soak worn clothes, and the third and fourth batch of wastewater discharge would be used to wash the floor and toilets etc. To him, there is no reason to waste things that are still usable, regardless of whether one is rich or poor.
In 2014, Mr. Sim carved out approximately 16,000 square feet of space from the first level of his industrial building in Woodlands to set up “Tzu Chi Eco-Awareness Centre.” The centre is open to schools, community centres and the public, allowing more people to understand the importance of environmental protection. Every day, volunteers would proceed to the centre to sort and tidy the recyclables while Madam Chua Ah Suai would assist in arranging for lunch and recruit new volunteers. The camaraderie is akin to a family.
As Singapore prospers and stabilises over the decades, Mr. Sim Hee Chew reflected on his own career achievements, and recognised that he would not have been successful if not for the conditions provided by Singapore. "Our Government upholds anti-corruption standards since the start, brought in foreign investments, is committed to the development of our education system and the nurturing of talents. We had been lucky as we had managed to catch on to the opportunities resulting from these three national development strategies." Be it times where the economy slowed down or during the period of financial crisis, his company was able to pull through and grew steadily. He attributed these as a result of the proactive approach which he firmly believed in – “As long as one is hardworking and dares to fight hard, business opportunities can be found everywhere.”
After joining Tzu Chi, "making more money" was no longer his only purpose in running a business. Instead, Mr. Sim had hoped that his employees are well cared for by rendering them with more care, and setting a good example of what constitute the right direction in life and attitudes in life. Every year, the company allocates and distributes a quarter of its net profits to its employees. Mr. Sim also rallied his employees to participate in environmental protection and helped raise support and money in response to calls from international disaster relief.
"With good and sincere connections forged in many places and being free from greed, doing business became easier for Mr. Sim. Choosing business partners was also straightforward and simple, where they treat one other with honesty and sincerity.” Mr. Sim expanded his mental capacity to receive and forgive. He learned to accept gains and losses in life and moved on. He also transformed “competitions” among industry peers into “collaborations” and wanted to further develop this transformation. "Share your experiences with your industry peers because only they can best appreciate you.” With the established trust, Mr. Sim seized these opportunities to share the joy he experienced being part of Tzu Chi with business owners. He also invited them to attend the Tzu Chi Global Entrepreneurs seminar in Hualien so that they can personally experience the beauty of Tzu Chi’s humanistic culture.
"I think Tzu Chi is good, and good things ought to be introduced to other people. I feel happy, blissful and peaceful, and I hope for others to be happy too.” Although Mr. Sim was proactive, he was not forceful. He had always upheld the wish that “irrespective of the depth of any affinity, there will be a day where I will be receiving you.” He never smokes, consumes alcohol, nor gamble. He placed constraints in his actions and became a vegetarian after joining Tzu Chi. He often shared this with business people, “Do not wait until you have earned enough before you give. Seize the present moment.” Under Mr. Sim’s guidance and companionship, many businessmen were willing to respond to the call by donating money and providing manpower. Together they supported Tzu Chi and promoted businesses that held the society and benefit people.
Mr. Sim, who found joy in learning, attended night school while working when he was young. Even when he was building up his career, he had continuously attended courses to upgrade his skill sets to keep abreast with time. He now gets up at 4.30am daily and starts a productive day with the Dharma Incense Permeation session (a daily early morning Dharma lecture on the Lotus Sutra given by Master Cheng Yen). He once said, “Dharma is a branch of philosophy that serves to guide one’s direction in life. Since Dharma Master Cheng Yen has earnestly helped to uncover, unravel and unpack Dharma teachings for others to be able to grapple with every day, we shall follow in her footsteps.” Thus, Mr. Sim made a promise to himself to attend the daily Dharma Incense Permeation session consistently so that he would not slack in his cultivation.
When asked if he would like to retire, he cheerfully replied, “So long as I am able, I will continue to do what I do.” Mr. Sim was a member of Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore) Board of Directors. In the past, he saw an urgent and imperative need to search for an avenue for Tzu Chi to develop perpetually and nurture talents in Singapore.
There was a period when he wanted to go on a long break to see the penguins in Antarctica together with his wife. Now, however, seeing a tree in the park can make him go, “Oh, that’s beautiful.” It turns out that by constantly embracing contentment and gratitude, the heart will be able to witness the most beautiful scenery, one that money cannot buy.
Note: This article is an excerpt from the special report of “Tzu Chi World”, Issue 58 published in 2015. Mr. Sim Hee Chew passed on peacefully in his sleep on his 72nd birthday on June 6th 2021.