SMRT turns defensive; claims new CEO meets key criteria amid widespread criticism

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SMRT defended the appointment of it’s next CEO Neo Kian Hong today, amid widespread criticism that the transport operator has hired yet another ex-General who does not have prior rail industry experience, that too after a global search.

In a letter published today, the corporation’s vice-president for corporate communications Margaret Teo listed the “key criteria and considerations” the organisation relied on in selecting its new chief executive. These requirements are: “Personal values, leadership qualities, relevant engineering knowledge, track record in operations and people management, and the ability to collaborate with multiple stakeholders.”

Teo revealed that a recruitment agency was engaged to help identify a group of candidates who match SMRT’s requirements: “An executive search firm was engaged to conduct a comprehensive global search based on the selection criteria. The interview panel finally decided on Mr Neo Kian Hong as they were particularly impressed with his personal values and leadership qualities.”

SMRT’s representative was responding to criticism over the appointment of 54-year-old Neo – particularly a letter written by Dr Michael Loh Toon Seng who had asked: “With due respect, how did the relevant decision-makers end up appointing another SMRT chief with zero experience in the transport industry, zero experience working in the private sector and zero experience at the board level of any company, let alone a $1 billion company?”

Replying that industry experience was also “considered in the process”, Teo added:

“Of course, a key attribute considered in the final selection was the candidate’s understanding of the needs of Singapore’s commuters and public transport system. 

“The panel recognised that Mr Neo has engineering qualifications and can be well supported by a team of committed and professional rail engineers.

“As the chairman of DSO National Laboratories and the Defence Science and Technology Agency, he has knowledge and good experience in building strong engineering, system acquisition and maintenance capabilities.”

Asserting that Neo has the ability to keep morale high and motivate SMRT staff, Teo concluded that these were the reasons why SMRT chose to give the top position “to a Singaporean with strong leadership qualities and the right heart to serve SMRT and, most importantly, our commuters”.