Covid-19 did not affect Temasek's succession plan, Ho Ching says

Temasek Holdings chief executive Ho Ching will retire from the state investment firm on Oct 1, 2021. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Temasek Holdings chief executive Ho Ching said she feels "relaxed" at having announced her retirement, while noting that Covid-19 did not disrupt her intention to step down this year.

Her successor Dilhan Pillay, 57, will take over on Oct 1. He is the chief executive of Temasek International, the commercial arm of Temasek driving its investments.

"The pandemic did not derail our long-term plans," she said at a briefing on Tuesday (Feb 9) helmed by Temasek Holdings chairman Lim Boon Heng at its Dhoby Ghaut office. "I am actually very happy and very comforted to have a team in Temasek under Dilhan, who have spent the last couple of years thinking ahead... what the future means."

She noted that many trends that Temasek has identified have been accelerated, rather than been derailed, by Covid-19. These include digitalisation and the knowledge economy.

Mr Pillay, a Cambridge-educated lawyer, will retain his position at Temasek International.

He told the briefing "I don't feel any additional burden as yet", and added that he felt excited about Temasek's future, having taken a lead role in formulating its 2030 strategy, which has a strong focus on sustainability.

Ms Ho, 67, who is the wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, said she has not thought about her post-Temasek future, and will continue to be focused on her current job until October.

"I am still in Temasek until Oct 1. I will think about what's next after Oct 1," she said.

However, it is her "personal belief" not to remain as a board member at Temasek.

"This is something that we have instituted as a policy - we generally do not encourage CEOs to remain. The key thing is to allow the new CEO to establish his leadership... without somebody overlooking and saying, 'This is not what I want'."

Mr Pillay is not the first candidate chosen to succeed Ms Ho. Former BHP Billiton chief executive Charles "Chip" Goodyear was originally slated to succeed Ms Ho as CEO from Oct 1, 2009, but that did not materialise due to differences in opinion.

Ms Ho revealed that it took her around three years to convince Mr Pillay to leave his senior legal position at law firm WongPartnership 10 years ago and join Temasek.

They would meet on weekends, while the final get-together before he agreed to take on the job was over lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel in May 2010, recalled Mr Pillay, who has over 20 years of legal experience.

Their conversations included Ms Ho outlining Temasek's roles, mission and prospects.

Ms Ho said: "I remember that it was a hard sell... it wasn't like a slam dunk. But if you want to recruit the best people, it'll always be a hard sell."

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Will it matter that Mr Pillay will not have a link to the PM?

To this, Mr Lim responded: "People in Singapore won't realise the great firewall between husband and wife.

"From time to time, when there are issues that Temasek faces, it is not the Prime Minister's wife who talks to the Prime Minister - it's me, as the chairman, interceding with the relevant ministries or even the Prime Minister himself, to put across Temasek's point of view."

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