What has the former CEO of SMRT, Desmond Kuek been up to after he stepped down from his high profile role?
According to Lianhe Zaobao, Kuek is setting up a new company with two partners of similar military background and pedigree as him (Kuek was the sixth Chief of Defence Force of the Singapore Armed Forces from 2007 to 2010 and held the rank of Lieutenant-General) to provide training on leadership and corporate strategies, leveraging on their combined extensive experiences.
Let’s take a look at Desmond Kuek’s impression resume to see why he would likely be a highly sought-after consultant and trainer with the setting up of his new company.
Kuek is extremely smart and did well in his studies since he was a little boy, having studied at two of the top universities in the world, Oxford and Harvard. If you are hiring a consultant or trainer, you would want someone who is as smart as Kuek.
In his teens, Kuek studied at the elite Anglo-Chinese School and Anglo-Chinese Junior College. He was awarded the Singapore Armed Forces Overseas Scholarship in 1982 and holds Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees in Engineering Science from the University of Oxford, as well as a Master of Public Administration degree (Macroeconomics and Statistics) from Harvard University.
Singapore Armed Forces (1981 – 2010)
After completing his studies, Kuek enlisted in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) in 1981 and was a super high-flyer in the military; he was promoted to the rank of Chief of Army in just 12 years and attained the position of Chief of Defence Force (CDF) in just 19 years.
Kuek also attended the Infantry Officer Basic Course in Fort Benning, USA and was awarded the Distinguished Allied Leadership Graduate in 1985. He was the top student at the Army’s Company Tactics Course in 1987 and Battalion Tactics Course in 1989, held in SAFTI, Singapore. He also attended the Command and Staff Course at Camberley Staff College in the United Kingdom in 1991.
As a scholar, he rose rapidly through the ranks, receiving the following appointments: Commanding Officer, 41st Battalion Singapore Armoured Regiment; Head of Defence Studies Department, Ministry of Defence; Commander, 4th Singapore Armoured Brigade; Assistant Chief of the General Staff (Operations); Commander, 3rd Division; Director, Joint Intelligence Directorate; Chief of Staff, General Staff; Chief of Army (2003–2007).
On 23 March 2007, he succeeded Ng Yat Chung as the Chief of Defence Force. Kuek relinquished his appointment as the CDF on 31 March 2010 and was succeeded by Neo Kian Hong.
Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (2010 – 2012)
Before he joined SMRT and became a famous public figure, Kuek had a brief two-year stint in the public sector, serving as a Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources from 1 July 2010 to 30 September 2012 after he left the military.
During his tenure, he co-chaired the Environment and Water Technologies (Clean Water) Executive Committee and the Steering Committee on CleanTech Park.
SMRT Corporation Limited (2012 – 2018)
On 1 October 2012, Kuek was appointed President and Group CEO of SMRT Corporation Limited (SMRT), a transport company providing rail, bus, and taxi services. As group CEO, he was also responsible for making the company private by selling it to Temasek Holdings on 29 September 2016.
Singapore’s Transport Minister Khaw Boon revealed that Desmond Kuek had volunteered for the SMRT CEO position in 2012 when the role was widely seen as a particularly difficult one which not many high calibre candidates would be prepared to take on. “He wasn’t parachuted in or being asked to go and fix this, he volunteered for this job. As the former chief of defence force, I know his heart is in the right place,” Minister Khaw Boon Wan once shared.
During his tenure, Kuek was able to fix some of the teething problems at SMRT and was a well-loved leader. SMRT chairman Seah Moon Ming said the achievements of outgoing CEO Desmond Kuek have “placed SMRT in a stronger position to deliver better journeys for commuters” in a message to employees. He also added that under Kuek’s leadership, bus operations turned profitable following four years of losses, while Kuek pioneered new developments in urban mobility to provide better connectivity as a service to commuters.
Nonetheless, not all things at SMRT were smooth-sailing under Kuek’s watch.
Addressing the media on 16 October 2017, a week after Singapore experienced its worst train disruption and first-time flooding of MRT tunnels, Kuek blamed “deep-seated cultural issues” within the organisation and “human error” as factors that contribute to the litany of train disruptions.
Without elaborating how, he said he took full responsibility for all that has happened under his watch as group CEO.
In a press statement on 18 April 2018, SMRT announced that former Chief of Defence Force (CDF) Neo Kian Hong will replace Desmond Kuek as group CEO from 1 August. Kuek‘s tenure was marked by increased rail breakdowns and numerous incidents such as falsification of maintenance records that resulted in unprecedented MRT tunnel flooding and consequent 20-hour service disruption, train collision that injured 38 people and safety lapses that resulted in the death of two SMRT trainees who were struck by a train while doing an inspection.