SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek receiving the Best Annual Report Award at the Singapore Corporate Awards Gala Dinner

Less than 6 months running his own consultancy, Ex-SMRT Chief decides to join UBS

Less than 6 months he started his consultancy company, it is reported today that former SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek would be joining the Swiss investment bank UBS as its divisional vice-chairman for global wealth management (‘Former SMRT chief Desmond Kuek joins Swiss bank UBS as a divisional vice-chairman‘, 4 Feb).

Kuek resigned from SMRT in Aug last year. Soon after he quit SMRT, he started his own “leadership consultancy company”, Genium & Co, with two fellow ex-SAF men.

UBS said that Kuek, a former Chief of Defence Force in SAF, will start work on Feb 18. He will report to UBS head of ultra-high net worth, Mr Joe Stadler, and Asia-Pacific president Edmund Koh.

Wealth management is a high-level professional service that combines financial and investment advice, accounting and tax services, retirement planning, and legal or estate planning for fees. Its not known if Kuek would have any of such wealth management skills as this is the first time he is venturing into the banking industry.

However, without a doubt, Kuek would probably know a lot of “ultra-high net worth” individuals since many of his ex-colleagues like the very senior civil servants and permanent secretaries in the ministries as well as the generals and admirals in the SAF are all millionaires.

Indeed, in its statement, UBS said that Kuek’s wealth of experience as an executive, government official and board member “will be of great value in strengthening our relationships with existing clients, forging new ones and growing our business across Asia Pacific”.

Founded consultancy company after quitting SMRT

Kuek was a military man in the SAF for many years. He was the Chief of Defence Force from 2007 to 2010. He also served as permanent secretary in the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources before moving to SMRT. He became the CEO of SMRT from 2012 to Aug 2018. His tenure in SMRT was marred by accidents and frequent incidents.

In 2017, with lapses occurring frequently in SMRT including the infamous tunnel flooding incident, Kuek told the media that the problems in SMRT was due to “deep-seated cultural issues” within SMRT. “Indeed, many of our major disruptions in the past have been attributed in some part, or all, to human error or failure. We regret that this is so,” he said.

But Neo Kian Hong, another SAF general who took over from Kuek disagreed. In a media briefing last Nov, Neo told reporters that the “deep-seated cultural issues” of human error or failure do not exist within the SMRT.

“Based on my experience, our people want to do well,” said Neo, “I do not agree with the term (deep-seated cultural issues), because that’s not my experience when I engage with the ground.” To ensure staff perform, it takes good leadership as well as engagement with the ground, he said.

In any case, when Kuek founded his own company after quitting SMRT last year, he roped in 2 of his ex-military buddies, Fred Tan and Ang Yau Choon. Tan was head of SAF Centre for Leadership Development while Ang had served as commander of the SAF Commando Training Institute. His company is supposed to offer leadership training courses to public and private sectors.

And now, Kuek has decided to join UBS. Kuek said in a statement, “I’m looking forward to starting on this exciting new role with the incredible team at UBS.”