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Tech Day speakers discuss building wealth in several spheres

The deputy prime minister of Singapore and the chief financial officer of Merck & Co. Inc. -- both MIT alumni -- and two faculty members discussed tools needed to create wealth at the Technology Day celebration at Kresge Auditorium last Saturday.

In introducing the speakers at the annual event sponsored by the Association of MIT Alumni and Alumnae, President Charles M. Vest said, "The Institute is seen -- and rightfully so -- as a pragmatic, productive, energetic university, one that engages directly with the worlds of commerce, industry and public policy. The MIT ethos recognizes -- and even celebrates -- the value of entrepreneurism. Nothing could be more fitting than that we invite our alumni and alumnae to join us today in a discussion entitled 'Creating Wealth: Knowledge, Skills, Capital, Resources.'"

Mr. Tan divided his talk into three sections -- how Singapore developed from a 19th-century British trading post to a modern economy, the current situation, and the future. His topic was "Creating Wealth: A National Perspective." Noting that Singapore now has the second-highest standard of living in Asia, trailing only Japan, "Singapore rode the boom" of investors seeking low-cost opportunities, Mr. Tan said,

Despite the current economic crisis in parts of Asia, he said Singapore's "fundamental institutions remain sound" while acknowledging "this does not mean that Singapore can rest on its laurels." In the next century, said Mr. Tan (who earned the SM in operations research from MIT in 1964), Singapore must shift toward a knowledge-based economy and "leverage human capital." He thanked incoming MIT provost Robert Brown for his role in the Singapore-MIT Alliance, a collaborative program in graduate engineering education and research.

Judith C. Lewent, Class of 1972, senior vice president and chief financial officer of Merck, noted that pharmaceutical firms invest more in research and development that any other industry. "Our only strategic imperative is knowledge," said Ms. Lewent, who is a member of the MIT Corporation. Her topic was "Building National Wealth Through Investment and Innovation/The Pharmaceutical Industry: A Case Study."

She noted that only one of 5,000 compounds screened become a prescription medicine, a process that takes 12-15 years. "The odds are better in Vegas," she said.

The other Technology Day speakers were Professor David Marks, the Crafts Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and director of the Center for Environmental Initiatives; and Lester C. Thurow, the Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Professor of management and economics at the Sloan School of Management.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 10, 1998.

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