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SMRT woes: What about role of board of directors?

I find recent reports on the SMRT and its leadership issues rather incomplete.

It appears to be a public lynching of SMRT chief executive Desmond Kuek in a scheduled manner from all and sundry who wield power or the pen (Lessons to be learnt from SMRT's leadership woes; Dec 3).

SMRT is not a sole proprietorship by any means. The chief executive operates under the guidance and policies set by the board of directors.

The previous chief executive Saw Phaik Hwa was hounded out of office over claims that she focused on non-rail operations to pull in the revenue.

If the board of directors had not hired a retailer in the first instance, how else would they have grown the non-rail revenue to the extent that it overtook its core business?

Ms Saw was hung out to dry when the public heat got too much, although she was performing according to the board of directors' edict.

As in the case of the previous chief executive, the board went missing, but instead a newly minted chairman was rolled out to take the blow.

This is the standard operating procedure in Korean and Chinese dramas - to put a "good" guy in to demonstrate that changes are being made.

I feel strongly that any report on the question of leadership should be focused on the very top. They should include the role of the board of directors in judging the performance of the chief executive.

The Straits Times' editor-at-large Han Fook Kwang said one could write a book on related issues. Perhaps the relationship between the board of directors and the chief executive, and its impact on how well a company performs would be a good starting point.

Danny Chow

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 10, 2017, with the headline 'SMRT woes: What about role of board of directors?'. Print Edition | Subscribe