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Does the new technological head at SMRT have sufficient relevant experience?

According to news reports, SMRT has appointed a new chief technology officer in the form of former ST Kinetics’ chief engineering officer, Mr Gan Boon Jin (Gan). This shakeup comes just months after the transport giant gained a new Group Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in the form of former army man Mr Neo Kian Hong (Neo).

When Neo was brought on board, many had questioned if he had sufficient relevant experience to take on the job. SMRT had after all faced a fair share of upheavals in the form of delays and accidents which had plagued Singapore’s public transportation services which required the most experienced person available to take the top job. In that case and despite public criticism, Neo was appointed.

Fast forward two months, the same question might be asked of Gan. Does he have sufficient relevant experience to lead in the technological aspects of SMRT?

Based on reports, Gan was seconded to SMRT from ST Kinetic’s which is a company affiliated with SMRT. Both SMRT and ST Kinetics are companies wholly owned by Temasek. While I mean no disrespect to Gan’s achievements, I wonder if we are relying too much on “internal” related talent that may be based more on personal relationships than direct relevant experience?

SMRT has faced its fair share of problems and I wonder if a fresh set of eyes – in other words, someone from outside the government-linked company family could provide a new perspective that people who are too close to the GLC set up can’t see.

Given the impact that SMRT can have on the whole of Singapore, it is important that it is not run like an “old boys club” but more in a publicly accountable and transparent way.

This observation of an “old boys club” seems prevalent throughout both public and government sectors. In line with observations of an increasingly divided society, I wonder if appointing people based on “word of mouth” and relationships could perpetuate the divides already in place. The last thing we want is for top jobs in the “public” sectors to be seen as available only to a closed group of candidates.

For a meritocracy to be a properly functioning one, opportunities must be seen as available to all sections of society – not just those who already have a certain social standing. To borrow a phrase – it cannot just be “white male meritocracy” or in our context “Chinese male meritocracy”.

Perhaps none of this is deliberate but those in recruitment should be mindful of their own unconscious bias.