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A monk first, a CEO second
Despite his duties and perks, this hospital chief executive never forgets his sacred vows 
The Straits Times  & The Dhamma Times , 31st August 2001

Singapore -- His is a hurried, back-to-back scheduled life of a frequent-flier company CEO.

A FRIENDLY FACE: Despite serving as chairman and chief executive officer of Ren Ci Hospital and Medicare Centre, Venerable Shi Ming Yi (right) takes time to chat with patients such as Mr Ang Tian Hock in one of the wards of Singapore's sole Buddhist hospital.--(Dhamma Times)

There are the organisations scattered around the region under his charge. There is the incessant travelling, the lunches with the region's movers and shakers, the chauffeured Volvo S80, and the personal assistant.

But Venerable Shi Ming Yi, 39, is a Buddhist monk. And not once in his jam-packed corporate diary does he allow you - or himself - to forget that.

As abbot of the Foo Hai Ch'an Monastery, and chairman and chief executive officer of Ren Ci Hospital and Medicare Centre, he is not so much concerned with profit margins as charity and welfare work.

Drawing from his considerable clout among the Hongkong and Taiwanese showbiz glitterati, he is staging the Star Gala Charity Concert next month, his fourth fund-raiser for his hospital since 1996.

The stars, who are performing for free, include Hongkong songwriter James Wong, actors Wong Hei and Ada Du; Taiwan's stuntman Ke Shou Liang, singer Ritchie Ren, singer Grace Chow; and homegrown artistes Eric Moo, Edmund Chen and Picasso Tan.

In 1996, 1999 and 2000, he put together three concerts with such luminaries as Andy Lau, Lisa Wang, Adam Cheng, Roman Tam, and Frances Yip.

Big names all. They point to his formidable draw as abbot of Kun Chung Temple in Hongkong.

He is even a regular face on Hongkong cable TV. He comments on Buddhist issues in his weekly one-hour television show, Bodhi Way. Heavenly King Jacky Cheung sings the theme song.

But for the monk, stardust is all a means to a larger end, which is to look after the welfare of the poor and needy sick.

He says in English: 'I don't know which star is popular. These people know the work I'm doing, and they are all benevolent people who want to do their part for charity.'



INSTEAD of trading tidbits about his tea sessions with his famous Hongkong friends, he would much rather talk about the serious work at hand.

Adopting none of the alpha-male postures of your typical CEO, he speaks calmly and gently, his saffron robes billowing about him as he takes you on a quick tour of his hospital.

You cannot help but register that he is a tall man, very much at ease in his lean frame. His latest fund-raiser, which aims to collect $2 million, will go towards the rebuilding of the main shrine hall of the Foo Hai Ch'an Monastery in Geylang East, as well as the new Ren Ci Community Hospital slated to open next year.

The biggest arm of his monastery's span of welfare activities is the Ren Ci Hospital and Medicare Centre, which itself encompasses two hospitals, two day-care centres for children and the elderly, and a domicillary care service.

The Ren Ci Community Hospital, to be converted from 11 existing blocks of the former Tan Tock Seng Hospital in Jalan Tan Tock Seng, off Moulmein Road, will add another 200 beds to the existing 444 under his charge.

In comparison, a private hospital like Raffles Hospital in North Bridge Road has 380 beds, while Mount Alvernia Hospital in Thomson Road has 303 beds.



VENERABLE SHI'S web of responsibilities has been a slow, but steady build-up for the former Raffles Institution boy who had always wanted to be a monk.

'In school, everyone thought I was strange because I always went to the temple, even on Saturdays and Sundays. But it was something I liked to do,' recalls the Singaporean who speaks fluent English, Mandarin, Hokkien, Cantonese, Teochew, and 'a little Malay'.

He entered the monastery when he was 21 years old. In 1991, he took over the reins of the Foo Hai Ch'an Monastery, which was founded in 1937.

As abbot of Foo Hai, he began putting together a non-profit charity network that would eventually cover Buddhist education, hospitals, and day-care services.

In 1992, he set up the Ren Ci Buddhist Institute, where weekly classes on Buddhist teachings were conducted for all age groups.

Soon to follow was the Yuhua Benevolence Society, the first day-care centre created for the elderly in the Geylang East area. In 1994, the monastery took over the management of the 174-bed Chronic Sick Unit of Woodbridge Hospital in Hougang, turning it into Singapore's first, and only, Buddhist-run hospital, the Ren Ci Hospital.

''To be frank, I never imagined a few years down the road I would take on more beds,'' says Venerable Shi, who is also the secretary-general of the Singapore Buddhist Federation and abbot of Kwan Inn Teng temple in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.

He did indeed, in 1999, when the monastery took over another 270 beds in 11 single-storey wards which belonged to the former Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

Tending to patients suffering from severe physical disabilities, long-term or terminal illnesses, the hospital is run by 300 salaried doctors and nurses and more than 300 volunteers.

Its occupancy rate has been maintained at a steady 90 per cent. Patients come from all racial and religious backgrounds, although they are often destitute or homeless.

It costs about $75 a day to upkeep a patient, says Venerable Shi. As each patient pays only a nominal fee of $18 a day, the hospital needs to raise more than $6 million a year to cover the rest.

Venerable Shi has also set up Marine Parade-Foo Hai Elderly Lodge, Aspiration Childcare and Student Care Centre in Tampines, and the Marine Parade-Aspiration Child Care and Day Care Centre for the elderly in Bedok.

''Going into welfare and education is part of what I'm supposed to do as a Buddhist monk,'' he says of his unwavering drive.

He also travels at least once a month to Hongkong and Malaysia, and further afield to Britain and Australia to attend Buddhist seminars and give talks.

''Being able to do something for the patients and talking to their families is the best satisfaction I can get. That's all I want,'' he adds.



IT DID not all come naturally, of course.

''I never imagined when I became a monk 18 years ago that one day I would be managing 300 to 400 staff. There are 10 departments within the hospital I have to coordinate. All these things were very new to me and I had to learn,'' he says.

Instead of going the way of trial-and-error, he ploughed his way through a master's degree in health-care management from the University of Wales four years ago - taken partly here, and partly in Wales.

''I don't want to be a chairman and CEO just in name. If I want to do something, I want to go all the way,'' he says firmly.

A typical day for him starts with meditation and prayers at 5 am at the monastery. He arrives at the Ren Ci offices in Jalan Tan Tock Seng - sometimes earlier than any of his administrative staff - by 7 am.

This is followed by a full day of meetings with department heads, seminars, and visits to his various organisations.

''You've got to make sure that as it grows bigger, the staff always have good rapport among themselves, and are managed well. It's all about teamwork,'' he says.

''At night before I go to sleep, I recall what I have done for the day. Was there anything not right, not good? I will change it. And I find that I can sleep very quickly. When you're happy, you'll find that you'd want to carry on no matter what.''

He is more pragmatic than ambitious when it comes to future plans.

''I don't have anything in mind at the moment. I don't want to plan things like open up more organisations or accept more patients, then realise I can't do it. It will only disappoint people.

''What I want to do is help as many people as I can. That's what I became a monk for.''


Updated: 1-9-2001

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