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Charlie Munger: 'If you want one mantra, it comes from' Singapore's first prime minister

Aarthi Swaminathan
Finance Writer

Berkshire Hathaway’s vice chair, Charlie Munger, said Saturday that the one mantra he followed in life came from Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore who governed for three decades.

Responding to a question about human nature at the annual Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-ABRK-B) shareholder meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, Munger said the country’s founding father had a formula for success that he quite liked.

“Lee Kuan Yew — who is the greatest nation builder, probably that ever lived in the history of the world — he said one thing over and over and over again all his life,” and that was to “figure out what works and do it,” said Munger.

“If you want one mantra, it comes from Lee Kuan Yew,” he said.

Because with that attitude, said Munger, “You just go at life with that simple philosophy from your own national group, You will find it works wonderfully well. Figure out what works and do it.”

‘This is not a game of cards’

Under decades of Lee Kuan Yew’s leadership, Singapore transformed itself from a British outpost into a global trade and finance giant.

From unemployment in the double-digits and a relatively meager GDP per capita of $516 at its independence in 1965 to around 2.2% employment and a GDP per capita in excess of $57,000 today, the country has been hailed as a success story by economists and politicians alike.

But Lee Kuan Yew has often been criticized for using heavy-handed tactics to quell internal unrest.

A man bows as he pays his respects to late former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew at Tanjong Pagar community club, in the constituency which Lee represented as Member of Parliament since 1955, in Singapore March 23, 2015. REUTERS/Edgar Su

“Whoever governs Singapore must have that iron in him, or give it up,” he declared during a rally in 1980. “This is not a game of cards, this is your life and mine. I spent a whole lifetime building this. And as long as I’m in charge, nobody’s gonna knock it down.”

Munger, who has made his fondness for the world leader known, has also said he liked Lee Kuan Yew’s unique — and at times controversial — policy moves.

In 2010 during a Q&A session at the University of Michigan, Munger also had high praise for the island nation: “Singapore is the single most successful governmental system to exist in the world,” he said. “If you will make a study of the life and work of Lee Kuan Yew, you’ll find one of the most interesting and instructive political stories written in the history of mankind.”

Aarthi is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami.

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