He took on Apple, Samsung: 10 things about Creative CEO Sim Wong Hoo, Singapore’s first technopreneur

Starting as a small computer repair shop in Chinatown, Creative Technology was a pioneer in the personal computer audio sector and eventually grew into a multibillion-dollar tech giant.

Lucas Tan

Lucas Tan

The Straits Times


Mr Sim Wong Hoo died on Wednesday at the age of 67. PHOTO: ST FILE

January 6, 2023

SINGAPORE – Starting as a small computer repair shop in Chinatown, Creative Technology was a pioneer in the personal computer audio sector and eventually grew into a multibillion-dollar tech giant.

Its founder, Mr Sim Wong Hoo, firmly cemented his legacy as Singapore’s first technopreneur. Here are 10 facts about Mr Sim, who died on Wednesday at the age of 67.

1. He and his siblings were raised by his enterprising mother
Mr Sim was the 10th child out of five boys and seven girls in his Zhao’an Hokkien family, and was raised in a kampung in Bukit Panjang. His father died in 1969, when Mr Sim was 12 years old.

He inherited his entrepreneurial spirit and grit from his mother, Mrs Sim-Tan Siok Kee, who raised the family single-handedly by rearing animals, farming produce and going door to door to sell eggs.

2. He graduated with a diploma in electrical and electronics engineering
Mr Sim completed secondary school at Bukit Panjang Government High, and studied electrical and electronics engineering at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

3. He founded Creative Technology with a childhood friend
Mr Sim started Creative Technology with his Ngee Ann Polytechnic schoolmate and childhood friend, Mr Ng Kai Wai, in 1981. The company began as a humble computer repair shop at Pearl’s Centre in Chinatown.

4. Creative’s Sound Blaster was the world’s top-selling PC add-on product in 1990

The Sound Blaster audio cards, developed by Mr Sim Wong Hoo’s Creative Technology, helped put Singapore on the world map. PHOTO: ST FILE

In 1989, Creative unveiled Sound Blaster, a novel sound card that allowed computers to generate music and reproduce human voice, revolutionising the PC audio scene.

By the end of 1990, Sound Blaster became the top-selling PC add-on product in the world, sending Creative’s revenue skyrocketing from US$5.4 million in 1989 to US$658 million in 1994.

5. The Nomad MP3 player was the iPod before Apple’s iPod
Before Apple’s iPod, Creative rolled out the world’s first digital audio players. The Nomad MP3 player, which was released in 1999, revolutionised the multimedia industry by offering consumers a new way to download, transport and play back digital audio.

Its technology paved the way for the iPod and a generation of multimedia players. But Nomad players eventually fell to the iPod as Apple’s gadget rapidly gained popularity after its release in 2001.

6. His was the first Singaporean company to list shares on Nasdaq
In 1992, Creative became the first company in Singapore to list its stock on the US Nasdaq stock market. In 1994, it listed its stock on Singapore’s stock exchange, and its revenue rocketed to more than US$1.2 billion a year later.

Mr Sim also became the youngest Singaporean billionaire at 45 years old in 2002.

7. Creative made a comeback from obscurity with relentless innovation
Creative Technology slowly fell into obscurity with the advent of touchscreen smartphones and better motherboard technology.

But Mr Sim was undeterred and set out to break new boundaries in the audio industry, launching Creative’s Super X-Fi series in 2019 after 20 years of relentless research and development.

The “holographic” headphones pushed the frontiers of 3D audio technology, winning 15 awards at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show.

Mr Sim Wong Hoo with trophies from CES 2019. PHOTO: CREATIVE LABS

8. He won several patent disputes against Apple and Samsung
Creative Technology sued tech giant Apple in 2006 for patent infringement with its iPods, which used the technology in Creative’s Nomad players. Mr Sim walked away with US$100 million in compensation.

In 2014, he sued Samsung and Apple again, alleging that several of their devices, such as iPhones and tablets, infringed 10 of his patents. Mr Sim won both lawsuits.

9. He coined NUTS, the ‘No U-Turn Syndrome’
The phrase, which describes the social behaviour of Singaporeans, comes from his book, Chaotic Thoughts From the Old Millennium, which was published in December 1999. Mr Sim observed that unlike overseas car drivers, those in Singapore U-turned only where there is a U-turn sign.

He explained that this was symptomatic of the “no-rule, no-do” mindset of Singaporeans, which inhibited their creativity and initiative. The book features a collection of personal short stories, whose timeless lessons on street smarts, resilience and entrepreneurship are still relevant today.

10. He was charitable
Mr Sim set up the Sim Foundation in 2006, which focuses on charitable work in education and the arts, and to help the poor and the elderly. It was later renamed the Sim-Tan Siok Kee Foundation in memory of his late mother, who died in 2006 at the age of 94.

He also set up the Kuo Pao Kun Foundation to support the arts in Singapore, dedicating it to his late mentor, theatre doyen Kuo Pao Kun.

Mr Sim was an active donor, donating a total of more than $49 million to funds and charities in his lifetime.

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