Desmond Kuek is expected to step down from his post as president and group CEO after five and a half years at the helm of SMRT Corporation Limited, according to mainstream media reports. Kuek may reportedly be replaced by Neo Kian Hong – the same man who succeeded Kuek as Chief of Defence Force (CDF) eight years ago, in 2010.
Neo, who had served in the Singapore Armed Forces since 1983, succeeded Kuek as CDF on 31 March 2010. At the time, Neo had been serving as Chief of Army – a post he passed down to current Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Chan Chun Sing – one of the ministers hotly tipped to succeed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as head of Government.
Neo retired from the Forces on 27 March 2013 and was replaced by Ng Chee Meng – a former Lieutenant-General who now serves as Minister for Education (Schools) and Second Minister for Transport.
Neo joined the civil service after leaving the Forces and presently serves as Permanent Secretary (Education Development) in the Ministry of Education – a post he has held since 1 July 2013.
Interestingly, Kuek took a very similar career route to the one Neo took. Just a year older than Neo, 55-year-old Kuek became the 6th CDF on 27 March 2007, taking over from his predecessor Ng Yat Chung. Ng went on to become an executive at national wealth fund Temasek Holdings before becoming CEO of Singapore Press Holdings last year.
Just after three years as CDF, Kuek relinquished his position to Neo. Just like Neo, Kuek took on an appointment as Permanent Secretary after retiring from the Forces. He served as a Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources between 1 July 2010 and 30 September 2012.
The very next day after he resigned from his post as Permanent Secretary, Kuek started his new job as President and Group CEO of SMRT Corporation Limited, on 1 October 2012.
Kuek’s tenure at SMRT was marked by various controversies – from the deaths of two trainees who were struck by an oncoming train, to the unprecedented flooding of an MRT tunnel and a collision between two trains that injured over 30 individuals, besides countless train service breakdowns.
Kuek was also directly responsible as group CEO for selling SMRT to Temasek on 29 September 2016, almost exactly four years since he took over as chief executive, effectively privatising the corporation.
According to annual reports published by SMRT, Kuek appears to have been well rewarded by the organisation. The following figures are his remuneration between 2013-2016, before SMRT became private, according to the annual reports:
- FY2013 (ended Mar 2013) – $611,000
- FY2014 (ended Mar 2014) – $1,750,000 to $1,999,999 band
- FY2015 (ended Mar 2015) – $2,311,023
- FY2016 (ended Mar 2016) – $1,871,714
- FY2017 (ended Mar 2017) – [no longer reported as SMRT was privatised]
- FY2018 (ended Mar 2018) – [no longer reported as SMRT was privatised]
Although Kuek’s annual earnings were not reported in 2017 and 2018, taking the lower figure of $1,750,000 from FY2014 as his earnings for FY2017 and FY2018 suggest that Kuek may have at least earned $10 million throughout the five and a half years he spent at SMRT.
It remains unclear whether Neo – or whoever else succeeds Kuek – will earn similar amounts as chief of SMRT.