At a visit to Bishan Depot, newly minted CEO of SMRT, Mr Neo Kian Hong, told reporters in what was his first interview with the press since his appointment that he had sold his car to take public transport to better understand the experience of the commuters. Further, he divulged that he has moved to Shunfu so as to facilitate taking the trains easily to work. As far as first impressions go, Mr Neo has said all the right words and made all the right noises. He has attempted to display his commitment to understanding the issues faced by commuters. I can only hope that his sincerity is genuine and that his apparent earnestness will translate into a better run public transportation system.
At this juncture, it is important to note that although the main shareholder of SMRT is Temasek Holdings (a private entity with government links), it is ostensibly a private company. Mr Neo is therefore not a politician but a CEO. As far as CEOs are concerned, I don’t think the public would begrudge how he chooses to go to work or where he lives as long as the public services run smoothly and on time. He does not need to set an example of virtuous mandarin. He just needs to do his job well. Where he lives and how often he takes the MRT will all come to naught if delays and breakdowns do not abate.
Mr Neo was apparently the best candidate for the job as CEO of SMRT after “a global search for talent” despite having no relevant experience in relation to public transportation systems. This appointment has been heavily criticised by members of the public leading SMRT having to defend its appointment of Mr Neo even before he officially took the lead at SMRT.
In relation to a letter of criticism from the public, SMRT spokesperson Margaret Teo cited Mr Neo’s “personal values” and “leadership qualities” as key reasons for his appointment. Is this why Mr Neo made a point of divulging his house move and car sales to demonstrate his values and leadership qualities? Is it genuine or is it just lip service?
Given the poor performance of the SMRT in recent years, I can only hope that Neo would succeed in turning it around. However, can a man with no relevant experience do the job even if he has the best of intentions? This remains to be seen. In appointing someone with zero relevant experience, SMRT has taken a huge gamble which I can only hope will be pay off. Earnestness does not always translate into good results.