Cathay Organisation's CEO Suhaimi Rafdi leaves, managing director to take over his duties

SINGAPORE - Cathay Organisation's chief executive Suhaimi Rafdi will be leaving the company on Feb 20.

Ms Choo Meileen, its managing director, will be taking over his responsibilities. She announced this on Monday in an e-mail.

Mr Suhaimi, 47, is known for climbing the corporate ladder at Cathay, having joined the organisation in 1996 as assistant general manager in its Cathay Cineplexes arm.

Speaking to The Straits Times on Tuesday, he said that he found the grassroots work he has been doing for the past year in the Tampines West constituency to be rewarding, inspiring him to seek ways to give back to society. He is chairman of the constituency club management committee at Tampines West, and also a board member with the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association.

"I'm going to pursue other interests in the area of community work," he said. Whether that work has to do with the Malay community, or whether it is in the private or public sector, he declined to say.

He added that the two decades spent with Cathay was been "truly rewarding".

"I have learnt a lot, it has been a splendid 20 years and time has flown."

The widower and father of four (two of whom are adopted) has been held up as a community role model.

In 2012, he was given the Berita Harian Achiever of the Year Award. The prize is organised by Malay-language newspaper Berita Harian and honours Malay/Muslim role models who show perseverance, determination, integrity and a proven ability to overcome the odds.

In an interview with The Straits Times published shortly after the awards, he spoke of Malay under-representation in senior management positions.

"I would like the Malays to see themselves as equal to anybody else in this country. It's not about your education anymore. It's not about your cultural beliefs. It's about you being able to perform and deliver results," he said.

Those who know him speak of his warm and informal manner, as well as his attention to organisational detail.

At Cathay, he helped expand the the cineplex arm, from at least 21 screens when he joined to 60 screens in seven locations across the island by late 2013.

From the late 1990s, he helped set up Cathay cinemas in Malaysia - in Penang and Johor Baru. He was made president of business operations in 2006 and managed Cathay subsidiaries in Singapore and Malaysia. In 2008, he was made chief executive officer of the group.

Today, Cathay has interests in cinemas, film distribution, property, hotel management, advertising and events management.

Raised by his grand-aunt and her husband after being abandoned by his parents, he paid his way through a private A-level education with jobs at fast-food restaurants.

After stints managing restaurants in a hotel and for a fast-food chain, he was hired as housekeeping manager at the Singapore General Hospital, where he modernised operations.

Cathay got wind of his light touch with older, more stubborn members of the housekeeping staff and hired him.

The group, celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, also had its share of older employees and needed to revamp operations.

johnlui@sph.com.sg