Hon Sui Sen was born in Penang in the British Straits Settlements. A Hakka, he was educated at Saint Xavier's Institution. Hon was top-placed in the 1932 Senior Cambridge Certificate Examination. In 1935, he commenced studies at Raffles College, Singapore, graduating in 1938 with a Class I Diploma in Science.
After graduation, Hon entered the Straits Settlements Civil Service as a Police Court Magistrate. Following this, he assumed responsibilities as a Deputy Collector of Land Revenue prior to the and Singapore. After the War, Hon remained with the Land Office and by 1957 had become Land Commissioner. In 1960, Hon was attached to the World Bank for an economic management course, where he met Albert Winsemius. Dr. Winsemius led the United Nations Survey Mission to Singapore in late 1960, and was to play a major role in the formulation of Singapore's national economic development strategy.
Hon returned to serve from 1961-1968 as the first Chairman of the Economic Development Board, or EDB, and then from 1968-1970 as Chairman of the Development Bank of Singapore, or DBS. He was also a council member of the Singapore Institute of Management from 1965 to 1968. Hon formally retired from the Civil Service in 1965, but his involvement in Singapore's economic development continued unabated. In 1970, Hon succeeded Goh Keng Swee as Minister of Finance and served in that capacity for 13 years until 1983. In 1982, Hon was named the Economic Minister of the Year by the Euromoney magazine.
As Chairman of the EDB , Hon played a key role in the implementation of Singapore's industrialization strategy, with the Jurong Industrial Estate as the first major project. Sited on swamplands in the west of Singapore, the JIE soon became the centrepiece of an industrialization program that stretched from garments and toys to petrochemicals and electronics. The first factory in Jurong, the National Iron and Steel Mill, was opened on August 2, 1963. By 1968, there were about 300 factories employing 21,000 people in Jurong. In conjunction with the development of the industrial estate, satellite towns were built in the west of Singapore, transforming the Jurong area into a centre of both industrial and residential development.
During his time with DBS, Hon was a supporter of the establishment of the Asian dollar market and thus played a key role in the development of Singapore's financial services industry.
Subsequently as Finance Minister, he established the Bases Economic Conversion Department to oversee the conversion and commercialization of lands and facilities that had been left behind by the British military following their withdrawal in 1968. Hon also played a major role in the development of Singapore's tourism industry, beginning with the transformation of Pulau Blakang Mati, a previously fortified island off the southern coast of Singapore, into a resort destination under the new appellation of Sentosa Island.
He died in office as Minister of Finance on October 14, 1983, leaving behind his beloved wife, Annie Hon, and his four daughters ; Joan , Elizabeth, Vivien, and Brenda.
The National University of Singapore's Business library is named after him. His office is also preserved within the library.