Profit focus one factor for SMRT's problems: CEO

PHOTO: Profit focus one factor for SMRT's problems: CEO
Above photo is CEO Desmond Kuek.

SINGAPORE - SMRT's focus on profit is one of the many factors why the transport operator has been facing problems, according to its CEO Desmond Kuek.

Mr Kuek revealed this in an interview with Lianhe Zaobao, which SMRT reproduced on the SGX website yesterday.

The former top man of the Singapore Armed Forces became SMRT president and CEO on Oct 1, 2012, filling the hot seat vacated by Saw Phaik Hwa when she quit in January following the massive train breakdowns in December last year.

But barely two months into the job on Nov 26, 171 bus drivers from China went on strike over pay and living conditions.

The strike took place while Mr Kuek was on a family vacation in Orlando.

"I had thought about flying back to Singapore after hearing about the illegal strike," he said. "But after knowing that the drivers had agreed to go back to work after talks on the first day, I thought the issue was resolved."

But Mr Kuek learned the following day that 88 drivers refused to return to work.

As the long flight back to Singapore would prevent him from keeping abreast of the situation, he decided instead to stay put so that he could keep in constant touch with management.

Mr Kuek acknowledged that SMRT could have done better in its communication with the drivers but said that the contract terms were fair.

"In the coming months, SMRT's corporate culture, structure and processes will be strengthened to enable the company to better meet new challenges and improve service standards. He added that the restructuring exercise will be across "the breadth and depth of the organisation".

"The company's working culture, from working attitudes to mentalities, needs to change," said Mr Kuek.

"When such 'human problems' are solved and communication between staff is strengthened, service standards will rise."

Before the illegal strike, the new CEO also had to handle a major breakdown on the Circle Line caused by faulty power cables.

On the night of Oct 25, about 10,500 commuters were affected when train service on the entire Circle Line was disrupted for nearly an hour.

Mr Kuek said that the planned restructuring will restore its pride and regain public confidence.