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 Japanese occupation of Malaya 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.
From 1961-1968, Hon returned to serve 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.
As Chairman of the EDB (founded August 1, 1961), Hon played a key role in the implementation of Singapore's industrialization strategy, with the Jurong Industrial Estate (JIE) 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.
From 1965 to 1968, he was also a council member of the Singapore Institute of Management.
In 1968, he helped to spearhead the formation of the Development Bank of Singapore and Intraco. 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.
In 1970, Hon succeeded Goh Keng Swee as Minister of Finance and served in that capacity for 13 years until 1983. In a letter by his daughter Joan many years after Hon's passing, Joan wrote that Hon was drawing a salary of $10,000 per month at DBS before he became a Minister that paid him $3,000 instead; by 1983 when Goh died, Hon received $14,000 in total per month.
In 1982, Hon was named the Economic Minister of the Year by the Euromoney magazine.
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.
Hon was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal in 1967.
He died of a heart attack, in office as Minister of Finance on October 14, 1983, leaving behind his beloved wife, Annie Hon, and his four daughters (all presently married); Joan (aka Han May), Elizabeth, Vivien, and Brenda. He wasn't given a state funeral, just like the late elected president, Mr Ong Teng Cheong. His role of Finance Minister was taken by Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam who is currently the seventh President of the Republic of Singapore.
The National University of Singapore's Business library and Hon Sui Sen Drive in the campus are named after him. His office is also preserved within the library, while some of his legacy artefacts have been donated by family and put on showcase at the National Museum of Singapore as of December 2015.