Ex-SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek to leave UBS for Temasek Trust

Mr Desmond Kuek paid tribute to UBS' strong collaborative culture, when asked about his time there. PHOTO: UBS

SINGAPORE - Former SMRT chief Desmond Kuek will be joining Temasek Trust, the philanthropic arm of state investment company Temasek, as its chief executive from January next year, Temasek Trust has confirmed.

He is currently serving notice at Swiss private bank UBS, which he joined in February 2019 as head of sustainable finance for the Asia-Pacific region.

He is also global head of the bank's sustainable finance group, where he supports the implementation of sustainability and impact strategy across the firm.

At UBS Singapore, Mr Kuek chairs the UBS Optimus Foundation, which gives clients a platform to use their wealth to drive social and environmental change by giving out grants to programmes related to children's health, education and protection as well as those that tackle environmental and climate issues.

When asked about his time there, the 59-year-old paid tribute to the bank's strong collaborative culture.

He said he is looking forward to starting at Temasek Trust, where he will be part of a team which seeks to advance philanthropy as a force for good.

Mr Edmund Koh, president of UBS Asia-Pacific, said the bank hopes to work together with Mr Kuek and Temasek Trust on future opportunities to advance sustainable outcomes for the wider community.

Prior to UBS, Mr Kuek was chief executive of transport operator SMRT for close to 6 years, from October 2012 to July 2018.

He faced several crises during the period, including a power failure during the evening rush hour in July 2015 which resulted in massive disruption on SMRT's North-South and East-West lines.

The deaths of two SMRT maintenance staff, who were hit by an oncoming train on their way to inspect faulty equipment at Pasir Ris MRT station in 2016, and the flooding of train tunnels near Bishan MRT station due to a lack of maintenance of flood prevention measures in 2017, also occurred under his watch.

SMRT marked several milestones during his tenure - he was involved in the privatisation of the transport operator, which was delisted from the Singapore Exchange in October 2016, and was part of the team that rebuilt the reliability of the North-South and East-West lines.

The two lines were the oldest MRT lines in Singapore and in need of more regular maintenance works, as the major disruptions in 2015 showed.

It was under Mr Kuek that a New Rail Financing Framework was implemented in 2016 where the Government took over ownership of all rail assets, allowing for more timely replacement of these assets so major breakdowns can be minimised.

Mr Kuek also overhauled the entire train system, including the third rail, which supplies electricity to the trains and the signalling system, which allows trains to run more closely to each other.

The measures improved SMRT's reliability in financial year 2018, with the East-West Line seeing an improvement in mean kilometres between failure (MKBF)  compared to the year before.

SMRT measures reliability by the number of kilometres clocked before a delay of more than five minutes occurs.

A higher MKBF indicates an improvement in rail reliability.

Before SMRT, Mr Kuek served as permanent secretary for the environment and water resources and as chief of defence force at the Singapore Armed Forces.

He also has a leadership role at consultant firm Genium & Co, which he set up in 2018 with two former military colleagues.

The firm advises clients in areas including organisational transformation, strategy execution and crisis leadership.

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