Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Making Way For Old Blood At DBS

Most corporate executives step down to make way for upcoming and younger successors. In the case of DBS, Koh Boon Hwee, 59, is being replaced by Peter Seah, 63.

Seah was a commercial banker for 33 years and retired as vice-chairman and CEO of former UOB in 2001, after latter was merged with OUB to fend off the uninvited takeover attempt by DBS. Koh started as a accounts supervisor with Hewlett Packard manufacturing after graduating from Imperial College (mechanical engineering) Havard (MBA). When HP wanted to ship him to China, he jumped over to Liang Court Holdings' property arm. Armed with family money, he ventured into various enterprises including subcontracting manufacture (emulating the successful formula of ex-HP colleague Wong Ngit Liong of Venture Manufacturing), none of which involving banking or financial institutions. After wearing chairman hats at Singapore Airlines and Singapore Telecom, he landed at DBS in 2005. Privately he was telling anyone who bothered to listen it would be his last government appointment. He has his hands full, sitting on the boards of 11 local and multinational corporations.

Seah is sorely needed in DBS, which appointed an Indian CEO in Piyush Gupta, hardly the best man to develop the China market, linguistically speaking. Under Koh, DBS has seen many CEOs come and go, including John Olds (exited early with a multi-million dollar golden handshake), Philip Paillart (short stint frog later involved in ligitinous private company tussle), Jackson Tai (left to let his hair down and play the drums), and Richard Stanley (died soon after Koh announced he was recovering from acute myelogenous leukaemia). Would Seah have handled the debacle of the DBS's High Notes 5 episode better? Time will tell.

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