SBI Offshore makes changes at the top

Struggling marine firm hopes diversification into solar energy will spark a turnaround

Struggling SBI Offshore has unveiled sweeping changes to its management, with chief executive Tan Woo Thian stepping down and chairman Chan Lai Thong taking over his role.

Non-executive director Mirzan Mahathir, 58, has been appointed chairman as the struggling offshore and marine firm continues its push for business diversification.

Mr Tan, 66, who had been CEO since 1997, stepped down with immediate effect "to facilitate the execution of the group's new business strategies and model following the diversification into the renewable energy business", SBI Offshore announced in market filings to the Singapore Exchange on March 18.

He will stay on at SBI Offshore as commercial manager.

At the same time, Mr Chan, 59, relinquished his position as chairman to take over as CEO while retaining his role as an executive director.

SWITCH IN FOCUS

In line with the emphasis on solar business, we have significantly reduced operating costs of the offshore and marine business.

SBI OFFSHORE CEO CHAN LAI THONG

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, Mr Chan said his redesignation will give him more time to build the solar energy business that SBI Offshore has targeted for diversification amid the oil price crash.

"SBI Offshore's board of directors, including Mr Tan, had decided since early 2015 that the group needed to diversify. In line with the emphasis on solar business, we have significantly reduced operating costs of the offshore and marine business."

He said: "Mr Tan decided to step down as part of this restructuring, but he remains the group's largest shareholder."

The announcements came just weeks after SBI Offshore was hit by a US$4.04 million (S$5.5 million) loss for 2015, a huge fall from the US$610,000 profit the year before.

Earlier this month, it also announced that a US$24 million contract had been formally terminated by a Middle East-Chinese consortium, as the oil and gas industry reels under the impact of weak energy prices.

Amid these headwinds, SBI Offshore is betting on its venture into the solar photovoltaic segment for growth, but even its plans on this front have hit a snag.

Its negotiations to acquire assets from photovoltaic firm Grass Group in Germany have stalled and passed the long-stop date on March 1.

However, both parties have agreed to carry on the negotiations.

"We are working on several opportunities in the solar energy business and will update shareholders when there are material updates," Mr Chan said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2016, with the headline 'SBI Offshore makes changes at the top'. Print Edition | Subscribe