Singapore Sports Hub chief executive officer Manu Sawhney set to step down

Sports Hub chief executive Manu Sawhney.
Sports Hub chief executive Manu Sawhney.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Sports Hub CEO criticised over management style and weak line-up of events till recently

Singapore Sports Hub chief executive officer Manu Sawhney is set to step down, some 19 months into his tenure as head of the $1.33 billion facility.

The Straits Times understands that Sawhney's lawyers are in talks with Sports Hub Pte Ltd (SHPL), the consortium which runs the venue, over the terms of his imminent exit.

Last week, the 50-year-old Singaporean took a leave of absence after SHPL received an anonymous complaint about his management style. He is still on leave.

An SHPL board meeting is scheduled today but it is unclear if an agreement will be reached over his exit terms. When asked about Sawhney's future and when a decision will be made, a Sports Hub spokesman said yesterday: "The Singapore Sports Hub keeps matters relating to its staff confidential and does not comment on speculation."

Sawhney, who took over from Frenchman Philippe Collin- Delavaud in October 2015, declined to comment on his future or the anonymous letter.

Those who have read the complaint told ST that it contained details about Sawhney's commercial decisions as well as his management style.

Former and current employees of the Sports Hub that ST spoke to were divided over Sawhney.

Some said his management style was aggressive, while others said they have a healthy working relationship with him.

An associate of Sawhney said: "I understand it was a 26-page rant and it appears Manu was given a very short time to respond."

Sources close to the company also said they were surprised to hear of the impending leadership change.

A person familiar with the situation said: "Does the board really need to act on an anonymous poison pen, especially one that is riddled with factual inaccuracies?"

A QUESTION OF FAIRNESS

Does the board really need to act on an anonymous poison pen, especially one that is riddled with factual inaccuracies?

A SOURCE, referring to an anonymous complaint about Manu Sawhney's management style.

Another commented that the board appeared to be moving with "remarkable speed" on the matter.

One complaint constantly lobbed at Sawhney was the National Stadium's threadbare calendar. Last year, a friendly between Singapore and Malaysia - which drew about 25,000 fans - was the main football highlight.

But the Sports Hub has since hosted several high-profile events, including British rock band Coldplay's concerts.

The 55,000-capacity National Stadium will host two-time football World Cup winners Argentina and an international rugby Test between Scotland and Italy next month, as well as football's International Champions Cup in late July.

Events aside, Sawhney, who also sits on the board of football club Manchester United, also solved the National Stadium's pitch woes.

While the pitch was panned in the venue's early years, a new "lay and play" surface has since won praise.

But his tenure also coincided with departures by senior management. They include Mark Collins, managing director at Global Spectrum Pico (GSP), one of SHPL's four consortium partners, as well as GSP director of contracts and compliance, Daphne Letournel.

In February last year, it was also reported that SHPL had intended to terminate GSP's operating contract after an audit found that there was a lack of alignment of interest between GSP, the shareholders and government stakeholders.

In an interview with ST last November, Sawhney was asked about the string of departures. Then, he said: "Whenever there is a change in leadership, often there is also a realignment in terms of team management.

"My primary objective is to basically make sure that the organisation is configured in a manner so we can deliver on our objectives."

It is understood that after news of his going on leave broke, some of his staff sent him messages of encouragement.

The Sports Hub said in an earlier statement that chief operating officer Oon Jin Teik will stand in for Sawhney in the meantime.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2017, with the headline 'Sawhney exit imminent'. Print Edition | Subscribe