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Lt. Gen. Neo Kian Hong in 2012. (Photo by United States Department of Defense )

Management consultant disappointed at SMRT appointing LG Neo as chief with zero industry experience

Two weeks ago (19 Apr), Dr Michael Loh wrote to ST Forum expressing his disappointment at appointing former Chief of Defence Neo Kian Hong as the new CEO of SMRT. Dr Loh thinks that actual experience in the transport industry should have been counted in choosing the new SMRT Chief.

Dr Loh started his letter by saying how he had visited Moscow a year ago and was impressed by its metro system, despite being built in 1935 and serving more than 10 million passengers with 12 lines across 212 stations. He added that the trains “run more speedily than those we have here, there is free Wi-Fi, carriages are longer and the frequency of trains faster”.

In his letter, he attributed the success of the Russian Metro to its head honcho Dmitry Pegov, who had degrees in electrical engineering and law before obtaining his MBA. Pegov had several roles as an assistant engineer, train driver and even a driving instructor before assuming several senior positions. Subsequently, he was promoted to be the head of Russian Metro in 2014.

LG Neo also had a degree in engineering but upon graduation, he spent the next 30 years of his career in the SAF. He held various appointments in the SAF, including:

  • Commanding Officer, 1st Battalion Singapore Guards
  • Assistant Chief of the General Staff (Operations)
  • Chief of Staff
  • Chief of Joint Staff
  • Chief of Army (2007-2010)
  • Chief of Defence Force (2010-2013)

He served as the SAF’s contingent commander for the International Force for East Timor (INTERFET) in 1999 and as the Director of Operations, Ministry of Health, during the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak, he was involved in establishing the national contact and tracing system in Singapore.

In any case, LG Neo has never driven a train before unlike Mr Pegov, who spends his entire career in Russian Metro starting from the bottom by driving a train.

Who is Michael Loh?

The writer Dr Loh is not new to writing into ST forum. He has been featured in the ST forum Writer of the Week in June 2016.

According to his website, he is a certified management consultant and almost works exclusively at the Board level. Known as the trouble-shooter for damage control of consulting projects, he also conducts leadership development training for several multinational corporations.

He is on the faculty at Deloitte University Asia Pacific and has lectured on MBA programs at several universities including the University of South Australia, University of Western Sydney, University of Hull, Burapha University, and the University of Luton.

The Straits Times has referred to Dr Loh as “Singapore’s re-engineering guru, having been consulted on over 70 projects in Asia since 1986, even before Dr Michael Hammer made re-engineering fashionable.”

In the letter to ST Forum, Dr Loh concluded by asking, “With due respect, how did the relevant decision-makers end up appointing another SMRT chief with zero experience in the transport industry, zero experience working in the private sector and zero experience at the board level of any company, let alone a $1 billion company?”