Photo of Ng Yat Chung by Straits Times.

by Brad Bowyer

While there are many things I agree with here in Heng Swee Keat’s statement there are two fundamental flaws and those are competency and core Key Peformance Indexes (KPIs)

I have no doubt that when Ng Yat Chung ran NOL he worked very hard and to the best of his ability he tried to make what used to be our national shipping line a success. His fundamental problem was that he was a government scholar and former Chief of Army and not a businessman or entrepreneur and he knew nothing about the highly competitive international shipping business and so we saw the result.

The other issue is clear when we look at SMRT. We had Saw Phaik Hwa, who was a businesswoman, but with a background in retail so the system became a network of shopping malls that happened to have trains running between them. She was successful at the retail part and making money (the seeming core KPI) but failed at the fundamental reason for being which was running a public transport system because that was not in her wheelhouse.

Now we have Neo Kian Hong, preceded by Desmond Quek, two scholars with military backgrounds. In the case of Desmond Quek we could say okay they needed discipline to fix what was wrong so ignored the fact that he had no transport experience and again was not a businessman or entrepreneur but why did we end up with Neo Kian Hong when Desmond inevitably failed, not for want of trying I might add? In Neo’s case we even had a “global search” for talent but we ended up with another scholar with no transport or business background.

The CEO of SMRT gets over $2 million dollars, more than double the head of any MRT system in the world so we should have had the pick of the talent, but we were told we got Neo as he had other talents? Other talents like Ng and Quek had?

Not the fundamental talents needed to do the job but ones the system has defined override the appropriate experience to be competent at the task like protecting the status quo, driving profit for shareholders above all else while keeping the problems out of the public eye maybe?

Robert Kiyosaki coined a saying when he said A students work for C students and B students work for the government. By that he meant that the best creators, entrepreneurs, businessmen and leaders are not necessarily the best scholars, but they recognize a need for them and hire them to support their organisations and those left over join public service. A generalisation but a truism around the world, except here in Singapore.

Here in Singapore our scholars, our A students, are trying to be what they don’t have the DNA for. They may be good, diligent and hardworking in their areas of expertise, but they are not natural leaders, entrepreneurs, creatives and business people and their fundamental KPIs driven by stability, profit and safety in a sheltered environment don’t lend themselves to the results that the citizens of Singapore need.

They say to a hammer every problem looks like a nail. Well to a scholar every problem looks like a school report and faithfully repeating what they are taught so we have committee after committee writing reports and at most tweaking the past and never really changing anything until absolutely forced to.

Not for want of working hard and trying but because at the fundamental level their expertise should be a supporting role for the real leaders. Sadly, real leaders we have yet to see as the PAP hardcore also spend a lot of time stopping or “fixing” those leaders from emerging in their efforts to sustain a flawed status quo whose mistakes are starting to compound on each other, and the effects are being felt more and more by us all every day.

If they could learn this most basic lesson maybe we could all work together to fix Singapore instead of standing on opposing sides and fixing each other?

This post was first published on Mr Bowyer’s Facebook page and reproduced with permission

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