J. Y. Pillay

Singapore Infopedia

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.One of his most significant contributions is growing Singapore Airlines (SIA) into a leading world-class carrier.3

Early life
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 HoldingsGovernment Investment Corporation of SingaporeDevelopment Bank of SingaporeNeptune 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


 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
 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


Sitragandi Arunasalam

1. Low Kar Tiang, Who’s Who in Singapore 2000 (Singapore: Who’s Who Publishing, 2003), 130–31. (Call no. RSING 920.05957 WHO)

2. Melanie Chew, Memories of Fullerton (Singapore: [s. n], 2001)), 160. (Call no. RSING q959.57 CHE-[HIS])
3. Zuraidah Ibrahim, “J. Y. Pillay: Visionary With a Clear Focus,” Straits Times, 26 March 1995, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Zuraidah Ibrahim, “J. Y. Pillay: Visionary With a Clear Focus.”
5. Andrea Hamilton, “J.Y. Pillay: Pioneer Stock,” AsiaWeek, 16 October 1998, http://edition.cnn.com/ASIANOW/asiaweek/98/1016/cs8c.html
6. W. Huang and T. Ang, (2007). A Few Good Men. Episode 2: J. Y. Pillay (Singapore: Channel NewsAsia, 2007), videodisc (Call no. RSING 354.095957 FEW)
7. Zuraidah Ibrahim, “J. Y. Pillay: Visionary With a Clear Focus”; E. Koh, “SGX Appoints Pillay as Executive Chairman,” Straits Times, 25 August 2001, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Lee Siew Hua, “Ex-SIA Chiefs Honoured as ‘Legends’,” Straits Times, 10 April 1998, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
9. “Biography of J Y Pillay,” President’s Office, n.d.; Zuraidah Ibrahim, “J. Y. Pillay: Visionary With a Clear Focus.”
10. “Team S’pore – Strong Ministers, Shared Goals,” Channel NewsAsia, 2015; Lee Hsien Loong, “Ministerial Salaries in Parliament,” speech, 17 January 2012, Prime Minister’s Office, Singapore. (From National Archives of Singapore document no. 20120126003)
11. Zuraidah Ibrahim, “J. Y. Pillay: Visionary With a Clear Focus.”
12. “Three Indian MPs Appointed to Sinda’s Board of Trustees,” Straits Times, 14 July 1991, 13; M. Nirmala, “Dhanabalan Replaces Pillay As Sinda President,” Straits Times, 29 February 1996, 22. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Irene Low, “SGX Chief J.Y. Pillay To Step Down As OCBC Director,” Straits Times, 9 April 2002, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
14. “Pillay Pays Tribute to Role of Civil Service in Rise of Modern S’pore,” Straits Times, 28 August 1996, 23. (From NewspaperSG)
15. “Pillay Made an Executive of SGX,” Business Times, 25 August 2011, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
16. Low, “SGX Chief J.Y. Pillay To Step Down As OCBC Director.” 
17. “Awards,” Deakin University, 12 October 2015.  
18. “Council of Presidential Advisers,” President’s Office, 15 February 2016.
19. “Pillay Made an Executive of SGX,” Business Times, 25 August 2001, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
20. President’s Office, “Biography of J Y Pillay.”
21. A. Foo, “SGX Chairman Is First Honorary Member of SIAS,” Straits Times, 19 April 2008, 89. (From NewspaperSG)
22. “J. Y. Pillay Honoured With Top National Day Award,” AsiaOne, 2016.
23. “JY Pillay Joins Board of Vatican’s Financial Watchdog,” Today, 6 June 2014. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website) 
24. “J. Y. Pillay,” Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, n.d.  
25. “Joseph Yuvaraj Pillay,” Bloomberg, n.d.
26. “Three Indian MPs Appointed to Sinda’s Board of Trustees.”
27. “Securities Industry Council,” Monetary Authority of Singapore, 2016.
28. Zuraidah Ibrahim, “J. Y. Pillay: Visionary With a Clear Focus.”

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.








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