Thursday, February 18, 2010

Experience Not Required

Rumors surround the appointment of ex-CEO Hsieh Fu Hua of the Singapore Exchange (SGX) as special adviser to Temasek Holdings dominatrix and wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Ms Ho Ching. Latter was supposed to have resigned in the wake of multi-billion losses by Temasek, the subject of a White Paper mentioned by Chairman Dhanabalan, but which has yet to see the light of day. Of her short-lived chosen successor, Charles Goodyear, she said “Chip brings capabilities that I don’t have.” Father-in-law and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew himself was quoted as saying that Goodyear was picked to be the next CEO as “there was nobody inside Temasek equal to the job”.

Market watchers say Hsieh brings in lots of relevant experience on how to search for a CEO and identify good attributes. Which begs the question: what experience and attributes did Ho Ching have in the first place to be in charge of the nation's billions in sovereign funds? Ms Ho graduated from University of Singapore in 1976 with a Bachelor of Engineering, and Master of Science (Electrical) from Stanford University, USA. She began her career as an engineer with the Ministry of Defence, married the Prime Minister's son in 1885, quickly became Singapore Technologies Deputy Director of Engineering in 1987, and "retired" as President and Chief Executive Officer to head Temasek in 2002. Financial management may not be rocket science, but surely a dollop of the relevant track record must count for the top job. In 2006, Fortune magazine remarked that Ho had made "a spectacular misjudgment" in the purchase of Thaksin's Shin Corp shares. This she did by ignoring adviser Goldman Sach's call for due dilligience.

To be fair, brother-in-law Lee Hsien Yang also had zilch relevant job experience and track record before trading in his Brigadier-General uniform to be made head of Singapore Telecommunications in 1995. After his mysterious exit from the telecoms giant in 2007, he picked up a million dollar job as Business Consultant to Fraser & Neave, a F&B and property outfit. After much public disquiet, Lee is no longer consultant but still keeps his million smackeroos as Non-Executive Director and non-executive Chairman. On 1 July 2009, Singapore Transport Minister Mr Raymond Lim appointed Lee as the chairman of the restructured Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (nope, he doesn't fly either).

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