Faculty Feature

Professor Tan Cheng Han SC
Serious Business

Professor Tan Cheng Han SC ’87 is the Chairman of the faculty’s EW Barker Centre for Law and Business. A man with many hats, some of his present appointments include being Chairman of NTUC First Campus, Chairman of Singapore Exchange Regulation, Chairman of the Public Accountants Oversight Committee, a Council Member of Sport Singapore, a member of the Governing Board of the International Association of Law Schools, and an Advisor to the Singapore Taekwondo Federation. Professor Tan talks to us about his various roles, aspirations and advice for law students.


What have been some of the highlights of your career?

One highlight was my appointment as Dean in 2001, succeeding Professor Chin Tet Yung, which gave me the opportunity to work with my colleagues to bring the school to her next phase of development as a globally oriented research intensive law school that takes her educational mission seriously.

Another has been the ability, since 1997 when I was appointed a member of the Corporate Finance Committee under the Financial Sector Review Group, to be involved in public policy, regulatory work, and the social sector. I find it extremely fulfilling to be able to contribute (hopefully positively) to the wider community.


As Chairman of the EW Barker Centre for Law and Business, what do you envision for the Centre in the next 5 years?

Simply put, to further raise the profile and reputation of the Centre as a leading research institute for law and business. To this end, while our research projects have already made significant contributions to the understanding of commercial law, I would like our work to be more inter-disciplinary. More focus should also be given to how business law ought to evolve in an age of disruption. This is likely to be a very challenging issue that business law academics have to grapple with.


You’re also currently the Chairman of NTUC First Campus. Tell us about how you came to be involved in an area that seems so removed from Law.

Yes, I was rather surprised to be invited to take on this role. Initially I thought to turn it down but after some reflection agreed to do it. This is a very important area because studies have shown that how children develop socially, emotionally and physically in their early years has a significant impact on their overall development and the person they become in adulthood. The quality of early childhood care, development and education is therefore important for the long-term well-being of society. As Chairman, I try to support the work of management and our early childhood education professionals which is directed towards having high quality programmes that serve a broad cross-section of young children in Singapore. I’m very proud of the fact that we have a significantly higher number of children from low income families in our centres compared to the industry average. We intend to grow this number. To facilitate this, a large portion of our resources is used to maintain a team of child support officers to provide additional support for those who are developmentally behind their peers.


What are some of the other areas you work in?

I will mention 3 broad areas. I sit on the board of Caritas Singapore which is the Catholic Church’s social arm. Caritas and her member organisations serve many people in Singapore regardless of religious affiliation. I also sit on the boards of SportSG and Rugby Singapore as I believe that it is very important to facilitate Singaporeans leading more active lifestyles to forestall what may otherwise in the future be a crisis in healthcare. Finally, I continue to be involved in the regulatory space, including chairing the board of Singapore Exchange Regulation. Listed companies are important to our economy and many listed companies play important roles beyond their economic purpose. Our regulatory framework should therefore facilitate listings while ensuring that there are appropriate safeguards for the investing public.


What would you advise students who hope to specialise in business law?

A good business lawyer is one who is able to think across different areas of law as many commercial transactions cut across more than one area. At the same time, such lawyers must see themselves as problem solvers; they must offer positive solutions to their clients and not simply tell them what they can’t do. To develop such attributes, students have to read broadly beyond the law. Reading about what is taking place in the business world together with a basic understanding of economics will go a long way towards eventually becoming a trusted advisor that many businesses need.