Ho Ching remains Temasek CEO nearly a decade after failed leadership succession plans

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The head of Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund is a familiar face to many and interest in the fund’s chief executive has always been rife, considering that she is also Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s wife.

This year, Ho Ching will complete 16 years at Temasek. She joined the organisation, then called Temasek Holdings, as a director in January 2002 before she was promoted to executive director just four months later, in May. Two years after she joined Temasek, Ho Ching became its Chief Executive Officer on 1 January 2004 – a role she has held for the past 14 years.

Interestingly, next year (2019) will not only mark a decade and a half since Ho Ching took the reins of Temasek, it will also mark a decade after leadership succession plans for a new CEO to replace Ho Ching fell through in a boardroom bust-up in 2009 – just three months before the new CEO was supposed to take over.

In 2009, public sentiment against Temasek Holdings was high after the sovereign wealth fund reported that the value of investments had dropped by over 30%. Due to mounting public pressure, the fund’s board announced that Ho Ching would step down in August 2009.

Temasek Holdings’ board then brought in Charles “Chip” Waterhouse Goodyear IV to take over from Ho Ching. The former CEO of multinational mining company BHP Billiton, Chip Goodyear – a US-born member of the reputed Goodyear family – Chip was brought into the board in March and was due to become CEO in October.

According to international newspaper The Guardian, Ho Ching was not happy about these plans: “But with just a few months to go until Goodyear was due to take the helm, it had become increasingly clear that Ho Ching had no plans to leave her post, and that her stance was supported by government.”

Just three months before he was supposed to be installed as CEO, Chip resigned following a boardroom bust-up. Citing analysts in Singapore, The Guardian reported that Chip “had been squeezed out by Ho Ching, who was reluctant to leave”.

According to the publication, Chip is believed to have become frustrated with the bureaucratic structure of Temasek Holdings and is thought to have left the organisation after it became apparent that he would not be granted the freedom of action that he sought after he was appointed to the board.

Noting that “Although it is nominally independent of government, Temasek has traditionally been viewed as an arm of the Singaporean state and symbol of the country’s growing economic power,” the Guardian cited Singapore analysts who claimed that the “Singaporean establishment had never been happy that Temasek would be headed by an outsider”.

Temasek Holdings and Chip parted ways after accepting that “there are differences regarding certain strategic issues that could not be resolved.” 

Temasek Holdings’ then chairman echoed that Chip’s resignation had come after a “clash of cultures” when he said: “A future CEO has to be someone who understands and shares our values, and who is also a builder of people, institutions and opportunities. Unfortunately, at this halfway mark, both the board and Chip have come to the conclusion that it is in our mutual interest not to proceed with the planned leadership change.”

Nearly a decade has gone by since then and Ho Ching remains the CEO of Temasek, with no public signs of leadership renewal in sight.

Why doesn’t Temasek disclose management costs and annual salary paid to CEO like other sovereign wealth funds?