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Who was Sim Wong Hoo? A closer look at the life of Creative Technology's founder

The 67-year-old, who was also the company's chairman and CEO, died on Jan 4, 2023. 

Who was Sim Wong Hoo? A closer look at the life of Creative Technology's founder

Sim Wong Hoo, chairman and CEO of Creative Technology, at the launch of new products in Singapore on Sep 11, 2003. (File photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)

SINGAPORE: When the Sound Blaster was launched in 1989, it changed the tinny, lacklustre audio creeping out of PC speakers for better - and forever.

The sound card's powerful and dynamic system made waves in the gaming community, propelling its then-unheralded developer Creative Technology to dizzying heights of success. 

More than three decades on, the Singaporean company continues to churn out award-winning audio products.

Behind the plaudits was Creative's founder, chairman and CEO Sim Wong Hoo, who died on Wednesday (Jan 4) at the age of 67.

Here's a closer look at his life.

FROM CHINATOWN TO SILICON VALLEY

A former kampung boy who grew up on a farm in the western Bukit Panjang area, Mr Sim was an alumnus of Bukit Panjang Government High School and Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

In 1981, he started a small computer repair shop in Pearl's Centre in Chinatown, together with his childhood friend Ng Kai Wa.

Mr Ng, an independent non-executive director of the company, was appointed on Thursday as acting vice-chairman of Creative following Mr Sim's demise. 

The duo's first project was a personal computer adapted for the Chinese language with sound and music capabilities, which they developed in five years.

But with little demand for a multilingual computer - and a lack of third-party content to support it - the product was a commercial failure.

In 1988, Mr Sim established an office in the United States and began selling the standalone Sound Blaster sound card, which met with great success. 

In 1992, Creative became the first Singaporean company to list on the US Nasdaq stock market.

By 2000, Mr Sim was Singapore’s youngest billionaire at the age of 45.

Today, the multimillion-dollar tech company has offices in Shanghai, Tokyo, Dublin and Silicon Valley, generating sales of US$61 million in 2022. 

FACING DOWN APPLE

Mr Sim made headlines again in 2006 after Creative sued Apple for patent infringements over the American tech giant's iPod media player.

The two companies eventually agreed to settle their legal dispute, and Creative walked away from its David and Goliath encounter US$100 million richer. 

But when Steve Jobs died of pancreatic cancer in 2011, Mr Sim published a full-page newspaper advertisement paying tribute to the Apple co-founder.

The ad featured a silhouette of Jobs and read: "Thank you for the great lessons. Thank you for the great products. Thank you for bringing a bit of us to the whole world."

During a 2021 interview with CNA Lifestyle, Mr Sim was asked if he was tired of answering questions about the lawsuit against Apple.

“I try not to mention the case as I've accepted their settlement, so I can't complain," he said.

"They executed things better than us, and we were up against the world's best marketeer."

QUOTABLE QUOTES

Besides being a pioneer in the audio field, some might also remember Mr Sim for coining memorable terms and phrases. 

In 1999, he released a book titled Chaotic Thoughts From The Old Millennium, in which he used the expression "No U-turn syndrome" to describe Singaporeans having a mindset of compliance with higher authorities before proceeding with any action.

The term was later referred to by Members of Parliament in discussions about encouraging entrepreneurship.

During an interview in 2019, Mr Sim dispensed quirky advice to budding entrepreneurs.

“Don’t get married," he said.

"Once you have family and commitment, you can’t afford to take the risks. I can take risks because I have no family. In the early days, I survived on S$200 a month."

Source: CNA/vl(jo)

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