SMRT CEO’s selection process: Things that you probably don’t know?


Is there a world of difference in the way that SMRT’s last 3 CEOs were selected?

A great deal has been said, commented and debated on the appointment of SMRT’s new CEO, but arguably, nobody seems to have focused on the difference in the selection process of its last three CEOs.

Do you know that prior to Saw Phaik Hwa’s appointment in 2002 – “the SMRT’s top post has been filled through private searches by Temasek Holdings, which owns more than 60 per cent of the company”?

So, was Temasek involved in any way in the subsequent appointments of Desmond Kuek and Neo Kian Hong?

Do you know that prior to Saw Phaik Hwa’s appointment in 2002 – “The chief executive officer of SMRT Corp is usually headhunted, usually a man, and usually from the military”?

It has been further clarified on 18 April that “it had engaged a global executive search firm for this purpose”.

So, was “a global executive search firm” used in the appointments of Desmond Kuek and Saw Phaik Hwa?

Do you know that Saw Phaik Hwa was selected “after an extensive search which even saw open advertisements in Singapore newspapers“?

So, were there any open advertisements in the appointments of Desmond Kuek and Neo Kian Hong?

Also, did they apply or were they approached by whom? In the case of Neo Kian Hong – since we know now that “a global executive search firm” was used – did they approach him on their own accord or was it suggested to them – and if so by whom?

We all know that they were former Generals, but do you know that they were both Permanent Secretaries in the civil service, just before their appointment as CEO?

It would appear that the processes used in the appointments of the three CEOs seem to be somewhat different (at least from what we know so far). So, in the final analysis – shouldn’t there be some international standards of processes that an important and huge entity like SMRT should have followed?

By the way, how are the other important “public” or “quasi-public” appointments’ processes like in Singapore?

Leong Sze Hian


About the Author

Leong Sze Hian has served as the president of 4 professional bodies, honorary consul of 2 countries, an alumnus of Harvard University, authored 4 books, quoted over 1500 times in the media , has been a radio talkshow host, a newspaper daily columnist, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow, columnist for theonlinecitizen and Malaysiakini, executive producer of Ilo Ilo (40 international awards), Hotel Mumbai (associate producer), invited to speak more than 200 times in about 40 countries, CIFA advisory board member, founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of 2 countries. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional  qualifications.