Incoming NKF chief Edmund Kwok has exacting standards

Mr Edmund Kwok (centre) with National Kidney Foundation employees at a healthy lifestyle walk organised for the staff. Mr Kwok, who is the charity’s current chief operating officer, will succeed Mrs Eunice Tay as its chief executive on Nov 1. -- ST
Mr Edmund Kwok (centre) with National Kidney Foundation employees at a healthy lifestyle walk organised for the staff. PHOTO: ST FILE

Experienced leader in health-care sector has big plans for the charity

Perched prominently beside the coffee maker in Mr Edmund Kwok's office is a quote that reads: "Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part."

It is perhaps no surprise that the new National Kidney Foundation (NKF) chief is already in the process of ironing out a three- and five-year blueprint, though he would officially take over the post only next month.

Mr Kwok, who is now the chief operating officer, will succeed Mrs Eunice Tay, 64, who has been NKF chief executive since 2006.

Before joining NKF last year, he was the vice-president of oncology at Parkway Healthcare.

The fastidious streak in him was fleshed out when he was a planner at transport operator SBS Transit some 30 years ago, after he graduated with a diploma in management.

For 10 years, he kept himself busy drawing up bus routes and deciding where to site bus stops and interchanges, before moving into the health-care sector in 1990.

He later pursued a Master of Science in health-care management at the University of Wales.

Now helming one of the biggest charities in Singapore, he has big plans for the outfit, which serves more than 3,000 patients.

He takes over the organisation at a time when it is on surer footing and emerging from the shadow of its 2005 scandal, when lapses in its corporate governance were exposed.

For a start, it is going back to active fund-raising. Mr Kwok is not ruling out the possibility of a television fund-raising megashow comeback. In its heyday, NKF's glitzy TV shows could easily raise over $10 million.

But after the scandal broke, it halted all its public fund-raising events and went on a belt-tightening drive.

It resumed fund-raising only in 2011, but started with small-scale events. Now, the charity is ready to step up its fund-raising again.

"We need the money to help more kidney patients and open more dialysis centres, and our services are heavily subsidised as more than 90 per cent of our patients are needy," he said.

Mr Kwok's experience will stand him in good stead.

Over the last two decades, he was a director at Tan Tock Seng Hospital and the Institute of Mental Health, among other positions.

In 2006, he was part of the team that set up Parkway Cancer Centre - the largest cancer centre in the private sector - and its revenue doubled to $97 million in 2011 under his watch.

These impressive credentials caught the eye of Mrs Tay, who used to work with him at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

One month after she came on board NKF in 2006, leadership succession was already on her mind.

For seven years, Mrs Tay called him repeatedly to say its doors were being kept open for him.

He declined initially as he relished the challenge of building up the cancer centre. But he decided to take up the offer last year - and with it a pay cut.

"The clientele at NKF is different, these are people who really need help and I hope to spend the last leg of my work life doing something for them," said Mr Kwok, who has two children aged 22 and 24 who are studying overseas. His wife is a vice-principal of a primary school.

He spent the last year learning the ropes from Mrs Tay.

And he has started to implement some changes.

To brighten the lives of kidney patients, he pushed for monthly performances of opera, getai or movie screenings.

His personal habits have also changed. The coffee drinker used to heap four or five teaspoons of sugar into his cuppa.

He now drinks kopi O kosong - black without sugar.

He said: "Prevention is better than cure and that is one message I hope to convince the community to embrace."

He added: "To those who are not yet our patients, please don't be one."