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Theresa Foo

Banker and former chairman of Esplanade.


Published: 12 Oct 2016

Time taken : >15mins

I strongly believe that a person without an appreciation for the arts is without a soul.

Prominent Singapore banker Theresa Foo, born in 1944, was chairman of The Esplanade Co Ltd from 2005 to 2014. Internationally recognised in the financial world, her tireless contributions to the arts have made her a well-loved and celebrated arts patron. She was named Champion of the Arts in 2001, and received the Public Service Star at the National Day Awards in 2008. Her banking achievements include being the first female vice president of Bank of America (Singapore) and the first Asian female chief executive of Standard Chartered Bank (Singapore).

Growing up, Theresa Foo’s first experience of the arts was her piano lessons that she took as a young girl. Through them, she grew to learn to appreciate Western classical music, and she would later on attend concerts by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) regularly.

While pursuing her career in international banking, she deepened her involvement with the arts by joining the SSO Ladies' League, which was a group of female music lovers who raised significant funds for the orchestra. Foo joined the league in 1987, and served as its vice chairlady from Aug 1990 to Aug 1991. Together with the other members, she actively raised funds for the orchestra through an imaginative variety of activities. The Ladies' League efforts have been instrumental in many ways, including the installation of a pipe organ in the Victoria Concert Hall where the SSO calls its home, giving orchestra staff the opportunity to receive overseas training, and in general, making the concert hall a more pleasant and conducive place for musicians to work in.

Foo’s time with the Ladies' League was especially meaningful. Here, she discovered the importance of being able to appreciate art. She discovered that art can be beneficial and also enrich a person’s life. She also realised that the arts cannot survive without the support of the community. These fuelled her passion for arts advocacy. Foo would serve in the Ladies' League for 4 years.

In 1997, Foo was invited to join the board of The Esplanade Co Ltd, helping to guide and oversee the building of and the beginnings of a new national arts centre. In 2005, she became its chairman, and served in this role up to 2014. Foo’s leadership has seen Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay grow into a world-class arts centre for everyone that receives several million visitors annually—a majority of whom are Singaporeans from all walks of life who come to enjoy a variety of arts performances and the centre’s scenic location.

As recognition for her contributions to the arts, Foo was named Champion of the Arts in 2001. In 2008, she received the Bintang Bakti Masyarakat (Public Service Star) at the National Day Awards. In 2014, she received the Friends of MCCY award from the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.

Foo is currently chairperson of Gardens by the Bay as well as the Singapore Business Federation Foundation.



Born in Indonesia.

1958 to 1960

Enrolled in CHIJ, Singapore.


Graduated from Australian National University with a Bachelor of Arts.

1966 to 1984

Vice-President, Bank of America (Singapore).

1984 to 1987

Executive Vice President, Head of Corporate and Investment Banking Division, Overseas-Chinese Banking Corporation.


Joined the Singapore Symphony Orchestra Ladies' League.

1987 to 1992

Head of Corporate Banking, Standard Chartered Bank (Singapore).

1988 to 2007

Deputy Chairman, Preservation of Monuments Board.

Aug 1990 to Aug 1991

Vice Chairlady, Singapore Symphony Orchestra Ladies' League.

1992 to 1994

Head Business Banking Division, Singapore, Standard Chartered Bank.

1992 to 2002

Board member, Singapore Symphony Orchestra.

1994 to 2001

CEO, Standard Chartered Bank (Singapore).

1997 to 2005

Board Member, Board of Directors, The Esplanade Co Ltd.


Acted in The Necessary Stage’s The Long Queue with Dr Kalwanjit Soin and Dr Jennifer Lee.

2000 to 2012

Board Director, Ecquaria Limited.

2001 to Dec 2009

Chairman, BNP Paribas Capital (Singapore) Ltd.

Chairman, BNP Paribas Securities (Singapore) Pte Ltd.


Named Champion of the Arts.

2002 to 2012

Member, Board of Trustees, Singapore Business Federation.

2004 to 2010

Deputy Chairman, NParks.

2005 to 2007

Board Member, Asian Civilisations Museum.

2005 to 2014

Chairman, The Esplanade Co Ltd.

2006 to 2014

Chairman, VIVA Foundation for Children with Cancer Limited.


Received Bintang Bakti Masyarakat (Public Service Star).

2011 to Present

Chairman, Gardens by the Bay.

2013 to Present

Chairman, Singapore Business Federation Foundation.

9 Jan 2014

Received Friends of MCCY award, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.


TributeSG celebrates the arts community’s most senior members, and those who have made a lifetime of contribution to the arts. These artists, administrators, educators, patrons, and champions include many Singapore arts pioneers who laid the foundations of the vibrant arts and cultural scene we enjoy today. The many profiles in TributeSG let us into the minds and worlds of these pioneers, and help us understand our shared arts heritage. When we revisit their works and rediscover their journeys, we learn where we came from and how we came to be. Collectively, their stories tell the tale of the making of a nation’s artistic identity.

In putting together this collection, the TributeSG team consulted an external advisory panel, consisting of Arun Mahiznan, Choo Thiam Siew, J. P. Nathan, K. K. Seet, Kwok Kian Chow, and Iskandar Ismail. Those selected to be profiled in TributeSG met one of the following criteria: they were at least 60 years of age as of 12 Oct 2016, or deceased, or had received national recognition in the form of the Cultural Medallion. This journey of arts archival officially came to a close on 12 Oct 2016, after four years of extensive research, interviews and collation of information graciously provided by the TributeSG pioneers, their families and peers. TributeSG also benefited from enthusiastic help from like-minded friends and organisations who supported Esplanade’s cause—to remember, honour and celebrate Singapore’s arts pioneers.

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