Source: the Straits Times.

Desmond Kuek to step down as SMRT’s CEO

Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (SMRT) chief executive Desmond Kuek is said to step down after five-and-half-years at the helm and former chief of defence force Neo Kian Hong is expected to be his successor.

Currently, Mr Neo is permanent secretary for defence development. He had succeeded Mr Kuek as Chief of Defence Force in 2010.

According to the Straits Times, a formal announcement of the change will be announced on Wednesday (18 April), months after speculation that the chief will vacate his post.

According to Wikipedia, Mr Neo was the seventh Chief of Defence Force of the Singapore Armed Forces from 2010–2013 and held the rank of Lieutenant-General. Before that, he served as the Chief of the Singapore Army from 2007–2010. After retiring from active military service in 2013, Neo joined the civil service and became the Permanent Secretary (Education Development) in the Ministry of Education.

Neo received his secondary education in Victoria School, where he was also a National Cadet Corps cadet, and his pre-university education in Nanyang Junior College.

Mr Neo was awarded the Singapore Armed Forces Overseas Scholarship in 1985 and graduated with a Bachelor of Engineering (Upper Second Class Honours) degree in electrical and electronic engineering from King’s College London. He subsequently completed a Master of Science degree in management of technology from the MIT Sloan School of Management. He also completed the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School in 2013.

Neo joined the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) in 1983. Throughout his career in the SAF, he has held various appointments, including: Commanding Officer, 1st Battalion Singapore Guards; Commander, 7th Singapore Infantry Brigade; Assistant Chief of the General Staff (Operations); Commander, 9th Division; Commander, Army Training and Doctrine Command; Chief of Staff, Joint Staff; Chief of Army (2007–2010).

He attended the Indonesian Army Command and Staff Course (SESKOAD) in 1994. He also served as the SAF’s contingent commander for the International Force for East Timor (INTERFET) in 1999 and was involved in establishing the national contact and tracing system in Singapore during the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak.

Neo succeeded Desmond Kuek as the Chief of Defence Force (CDF) of the SAF on 31 March 2010 and relinquished his previous appointment as the Chief of Army to Chan Chun Sing on 26 March. He was promoted from the rank of Major-General to Lieutenant-General on 1 July 2010.

Neo retired from the SAF on 27 March 2013 and was succeeded by Ng Chee Meng as the CDF.

After leaving the SAF, Neo joined the civil service and was appointed as the Permanent Secretary (Education Development) in the Ministry of Education on 1 July 2013.

Mr Kuek, who was also a former permanent secretary, took over the helm of the rail operator in 2012. He replaced retailer Saw Phaik Hwa, who spearheaded SMRT’s diversification during her 10-year tenure.

Under Mr Kuek’s leadership, the operator faced many breakdowns and major challenges as the infrastructure is ageing.

In July 2015, the North-South and East-West line experienced a broke down during evening peak hour, affecting nearly half a million commuters.

Another horrific incident, involving two trainees who got killed during maintanance along Pasir Ris railway, also happened during his leadership.

By the end of last year, train tunnels in Bishan were flooded and, shortly after the incident, there was a train collision at Joo Koon collision, injuring more than 30 people.

However, there were major changes in the company under his leadership, such as the privatisation of SMRT and the implementation of a New Rail Financing Framework, where the government assumes ownership of all rail assets.

There were also replacements of several major components of the ageing system, such as power supplying third rail and the signalling system.

He was also helped to turn SMRT’s loss-incurring bus business around. He started up a private-hire car division, responding to disruption from ride-hailing application providers, Uber and Grab.

According to ST, Mr Kuek also addressed deep-seated cultural issues within SMRT’s 10,000 strong workforce, which he identified in the first week of his term. It is said that although it is not clear how successful he has been, SMRT’s rail performance has improved significantly.

In 2017, the North-South line averaged 336,000 km before the delay occurred, up from 70,000 km in 2012.

It is said that the figure excluded disruptions related to the resignalling project, however, ST stated that even if it was included, the system was twice as reliable as it was in 2012.

Meanwhile, the East-West line hit 278,000 km, up from 60,000 km in 2012.

Mr Kuek also put up a target during annual performance review in March, which is to be at least three times as reliable in 2020 and to eliminate major delays, those exceeding 30 minutes.