SINGAPORE: SMRT’s interim CEO Tan Ek Kia said his successor, Mr Desmond Kuek Bak—Chye who takes over from 1 October, will need to do more to restore public confidence and trust in the public transport operator.
Speaking to Channel NewsAsia in an exclusive interview, Mr Tan said this should be a key priority, even as the company tackles challenges such as increasing costs.
Mr Tan stepped in as SMRT’s interim CEO in January, after Ms Saw Phaik Hwa quit, following major train disruptions last December.
Mr Tan said: "It was quite daunting when asked to take up this role but I felt it was very necessary at that time, because we were in quite a crisis.
"The disruption in December, overnight, painted us as a company that has very poor performance and poor reliability and that is very disheartening for the staff involved because a lot of them have put in tremendous effort to want to do the best, and to be seen that way in the public, it was quite a blow to their pride and to their morale."
However, Mr Tan saw through many improvements to boost staff morale and the network’s reliability.
And Mr Tan said these are areas the incoming CEO — who has an engineering background — will need to continue.
"Desmond has a proven track record, in his leadership abilities and strategic management capabilities.
"There are quite a number of challenges facing SMRT, I’m sure with his background, he will be very well—equipped to take SMRT to the next level of higher performance.
"I am also very pleased that he does have the engineering background, which will enable him to understand also, quite a lot of the technical challenges in the train system facing the company," Mr Tan shared.
The challenges include rising costs of maintenance for the ageing MRT lines, as well as staff salaries.
The breakdowns — which already cost SMRT some S$7.4 million — have also hurt profits.
"The key priority is still to continue to work at restoring customers confidence and trust in us, therefore to continue to work at the programme at reliability improvement and our response capability.
"At the same time, it is always very real that we are a listed company, we have got bottomline and results that we are accountable to shareholders as well we need to also work on other areas to try and improve our business all around.
"We therefore have to continue to work to improve the revenue side, in terms of promoting ridership and also looking at other ways to enhance our non—fare side of our business, to complement the revenue stream. So I think these will be some challenges that he (Desmond) will have to deal with," Mr Tan elaborated.
Mr Tan said Mr Kuek has been meeting staff in the past few weeks, to understand the issues faced on the ground.
And to assist in Mr Kuek’s transition process, Mr Tan will remain as executive director of SMRT till end of the year.
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