SMRT cuts CEO Desmond Kuek's pay by nearly 20%

SMRT chief executive Desmond Kuek
SMRT chief executive Desmond KuekST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Transport operator SMRT Corp has cut the pay of its chief executive Desmond Kuek - a rare move in the corporate universe.

Mr Kuek, 53, received a total remuneration of $1.87 million for the financial year ended March 31 - down from $2.31 million the year before.

This was revealed in the company's newly-released annual report, which revealed more on Mr Kuek's compensation. It said that his basic salary was $830,955, while his variable performance pay was $1,040,759, making a total of $1,871,714.

It said Mr Kuek earned $2,311,023 the year before - $793,170 in basic salary and $1,517,853 in variable.

The number of SMRT shares awarded to him however, remained unchanged at 260,000.

Before his pay cut, Mr Kuek's compensation was the heftiest that SMRT has paid any of its chief executives.

The latest package is in the ballpark of what his predecessor, Ms Saw Phaik Hwa, got before she left.

The company did not say why Mr Kuek's pay was crimped, but last year, it defended his record remuneration. It said it was benchmarked against the pay of CEOs of peer companies, and that it was competitive and at a responsible level.

It added that Mr Kuek's tasks were more daunting than before.

SMRT has been struggling to renew ageing operating assets to improve service reliability and at the same time looking for new ways to bolster earnings eroded by higher operating expenditure.

When he joined the rail operator in October 2012, he was paid $611,000 for the six months to SMRT's financial year-end in March 2013.

If annualised, it would translate to an annual package of $1.22 million. For the year ended March 2014, he made between $1.75 million and $2 million.

Commenting on the pay cut, human resource practitioner Alex Yew, managing partner of headhunter Team Savant, said: "Some may link it to the recent mishaps and service outages, but I think it is more in line with market sentiment and company performance.

"It's still a very decent salary."

SMRT has two other senior executives in the million-dollar club, but SMRT said it was not in the interest of the company to disclose details "given the wage discrepancies in the industry, and the competitive pressures that may result from such disclosure".

Over at ComfortDelGro Corp, a much larger transport group than SMRT, chief executive Kua Hong Pak's remuneration remained unchanged at between $1.75 million and $2 million. But Mr Kua has six million outstanding share options as at end-2015.

christan@sph.com.sg