For K. C. Lee, getting to MIT from Hong Kong involved firsts: his first trip on an airplane and his first ride on an expressway, from Logan to Cambridge. “It was wide-eyed wonder,” says Lee. “A new universe opened up.” By now he’s well accustomed to international travel. He has forged an impressive career in Singapore, first as an IT business innovator and more recently as an education leader creating global learning opportunities for a diverse group of students.
Growing up in the British colony of Hong Kong, the child of immigrants from the Chinese mainland, Lee initially struggled at school. Because of a lack of day care services, he was enrolled two years early, and as a result, he initially failed primary-school exams. By his teens, he had overcome those challenges. When he was accepted to MIT, he headed into the unknown. “Education lifted me up, opening opportunities I never dreamed of,” he says.
At MIT, he built confidence by competing with the world’s brightest students in management and computer science courses. “What was most valuable—as a foreign student with no family around and limited means—was learning to be resourceful, learning to chart my own future, learning to juggle study and a few jobs, and learning from the experience of other students,” he says.
After graduation, Lee earned a master’s in management at UC Berkeley before launching a successful consulting career in Hong Kong. In 1983, he moved to Singapore to join the government’s National Computer Board and then developed its spinoff, National Computer Systems, into a regional IT and communications engineering firm that quadrupled its revenues between 1995 and 2005. He is much honored in that country for contributions such as heading the Singapore Computer Society and contributing to the government’s IT master plan.
An active community leader who has served as an adjunct professor at several universities, Lee was invited in 2005 to head the Singapore Institute of Management’s Global Education Program, a nonprofit that runs degree programs in partnership with overseas universities. Under Lee, the program has grown to serve nearly 20,000 students. “Society needs every person to excel and to make a difference,” he says. “So I not only believe in making higher education more widely available, I believe in having diversity of education programs and styles so there are choices.”
Lee and his wife, Sachiko, whom he met during his senior year at MIT, have two sons and a daughter, all in their 20s. He enjoys events organized by the MIT Club of Singapore and gatherings of alumni from other institutions he’s been affiliated with, including Stanford and INSEAD, where he pursued executive education. Like a true global citizen, he says, “I feel I belong to multiple communities.”