SINGAPORE - Temasek Holdings chairman S. Dhanabalan is retiring after 17 years at the helm of the investment firm and handing the reins to former Cabinet minister and labour union chief Lim Boon Heng.
Mr Lim will take over on Aug 1, in a move signalling a new chapter for Temasek after what has been a remarkable era of transformation.
Mr Dhanabalan's 17 years have included some tumultuous times for stock markets, including the terror attacks in September 2001, and the global financial crisis.
But Mr Dhanabalan, 75, will retire at a high point, with Temasek's portfolio valued at a record $215 billion as at March 31.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong thanked him warmly for his years of dedicated service in a personal letter on Monday.
He described Mr Dhanabalan as an exemplary chairman who provided strong leadership that helped Temasek distinguish itself as an active investor, a forward- looking institution and a trusted steward.
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said that Temasek has delivered good, long-term returns and praised Mr Dhanabalan's "intellect, humility and deep sense of integrity", while Temasek chief executive Ho Ching paid tribute to his "strong moral compass and wise counsel".
Mr Dhanabalan, who will serve as honorary adviser, told a briefing on Monday how he felt "satisfaction" in helping to transform Temasek into an internationally respected Singapore institution.
Post 2000, Temasek expanded into Asian growth markets, making its portfolio more diversified and resilient.
Another area was better governance and transparency. A Temasek charter laid out guiding principles for the firm and it began publishing the annual Temasek Review. The firm also issued bonds.
These moves improved Temasek's position as a professionally managed investment firm. Mr Dhanabalan also made it clearer, that the responsibility of looking after the interests of the Temasek portfolio companies and their shareholders lay with their boards.
On Monday, he warned of challenges ahead in an increasingly volatile world. "The challenge will be to establish over the next five, eight, 10 years in spite of the ups and downs, a steady trend of increase," he said.
On fluctuations in the investment portfolio, he said: "We cannot be affected in our job by what the market perception is. We have to focus on producing results."
Mr Dhanabalan highlighted his successor's ability and experience in the public and private sectors. Mr Lim's "strong connection with people on the ground.... his people orientation will be a great help in his new role", he added.
Mr Tharman said Mr Lim, 65, has a strong track record of leadership in various roles and is wellplaced to lead Temasek in its next phase of development in a challenging global environment.
With the new chairman's appointment out of the way, the issue of CEO succession is bound to crop up again. This has been a perennial topic since one-time successor Charles Goodyear abruptly resigned in 2009.
Mr Dhanabalan, noting that one of his most important decisions as chairman was to bring Ms Ho into the management team in 2002, would only say: "The board is constantly looking at succession. At some point, the CEO will be succeeded; over the next three, five years, there will be changes."
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