Mainstream media publications reported early this morning that SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek is stepping down from his post after nearly six years. Another former chief of defence force, Neo Kian Hong, has been tipped to be Kuek’s successor and it has been reported that the 54-year-old who currently serves permanent secretary for defence development may take over Kuek’s post in August 2018.
Articles from The Business Times and The Straits Times that are hidden behind a paywall are already reporting that Kuek is the outgoing CEO and that observers hope that Kuek’s expected successor can hit the ground running.
An announcement confirming Kuek’s departure is expected to come soon, perhaps as early as today.
Kuek addressed rumours that he will be resigning from his post in January this year by telling the media that such rumours are “purely speculative” in a television interview.
Rumours that the top executive will resign erupted amid mounting public frustrations over persistent train issues in recent years. Many Singaporeans have clamored for a change in SMRT’s management after the frequency of train service breakdowns appeared to increase last year.
These calls intensified after the train collision in Joo Koon in which at least 38 individuals were injured, and the unprecedented Bishan tunnel flooding that inconvenienced countless passengers after services along the North-South line were suspended for almost an entire day.
Public outrage against the transport operator grew after investigations into the tunnel flooding revealed that a maintenance team that was supposed to carry out works in the tunnel did not do so for almost one whole year but falsified records that they did.
In January, SMRT’s Vice President of Corporate Communications Patrick Nathan stepped down from his post – a move that led many to believe a top management shakeup at SMRT is impending.
The Straits Times had reported then that Kuek could be the next top executive to resign:
“The public’s call for change at SMRT has become louder since the latest spate of incidents, which included a tunnel flooding that was traced to wilful negligence of maintenance. Observers are expecting chief executive Desmond Kuek to step down as well.”
The paper also played up the role of new SMRT chairman Seah Moon Ming and reported that he will become an “active chairman” and play a more “hands-on” role.
Several sources like PeopleWorldwide Consulting’s managing director David Leong also foresaw the shift of leadership away from Quek: “The shift of leadership from the CEO to the chairman is obvious.”
Quek’s last public comment on the matter, simply calling resignation rumours “speculative,” was notable since it was neither a confirmation or a denial of speculation that he would step down.
As an unrelated but interesting side note, when The Independent reported in October 2016 that Singapore Press Holdings will retrench hundreds of staff, Deputy CEO of SPH (English Publications) Patrick Daniel responded that such rumours are speculative.
One year later, the conglomerate confirmed that it is indeed cutting hundreds of jobs