As a youth, Tharman Shanmugaratnam loved a game of field hockey or soccer. "I've always enjoyed nothing more than playing as hard as I can as part of a team," says the recently appointed managing director and CEO of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the nation's central bank. Indeed, Shanmugaratnam won a reputation as a "clean player" that followed him through Cambridge University, where he earned a masters in economics, to the MAS, where he carries the torch of financial reform.
True to form, Shanmugaratnam didn't get where he is without rolling with the punches. In 1994, he was fined $1,000 for violating the Official Secrets Act, after economic growth projections were leaked to the press. He was exiled to the Ministry of Education for three years before returning to the MAS.
Since then, Shanmugaratnam has thoroughly rehabilitated himself--overseeing reforms aimed at shielding Singapore against post-crisis turbulence and making it more attractive to foreign investors. Shanmugaratnam lifted a 49% foreign shareholding limit on insurance companies, removed fixed rates on the fees that securities brokerages charge clients, and allowed foreign banks to expand their branch and ATM networks.
Shanmugaratnam also has made "Fortress MAS" more open and flexible. "It required a fairly bold change of mind-set," he says. "We had to break away from something that wasn't `broke' but wasn't good enough to keep us competitive." Largely thanks to Shanmugaratnam's reforms, bankers say Singapore is better prepared for global shocks than any other Southeast Asian economy.