A pencil and an eraser unlikely tools for a jet setting entrepreneur, but Dr Irene Lee counts them as must-haves, especially during business meetings. They are, in fact, the first items she lays on the table at the start of our interview, using them to jot down notes or draw pictures to illustrate her point. That, more than anything else, speaks of the soul of an artist in one who has been an environmental scien- tist, academic, business manager and social entrepreneur.
“The pencil allows one to be more creative. there’s an instinctive freedom and subtle nuances to every stroke,” says Dr Lee, who eschews ballpoint pens and took four years of Chinese brush painting classes. Elegant, immaculate and with well- coiffed hair, the Singaporean alumnus of the Harvard and Cornell universities (she is President of the Harvard Club of Singapore) has three companies to her name one of which is a newly setup social enterprise, Little Sun, that distributes solar powered lamps to impoverished regions around the world.
Her journey has taken her from Tokyo, Japan where she was awarded two postdoctoral fellowships, one of which was with the United Nations University — to Germany, where she was a university scientist and regional manager for an international environmental conglomerate, and back to Asia, where she helped set up and manage offices in the Asia Paciﬁc region for a German world market leader in the solar industry. But for Dr Lee, who is single, it all comes back to her ﬁrst passion. “Art is my reason for existence,” asserts the trained architect who, when asked her age, simply says she was “born in the ’60s”.