PM: Keppel's journey mirrors Singapore's nation-building story

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong witnessing Keppel's donation of $10 million to the Institute of Technical Education to mark Keppel's 50th anniversary. With him are (from left) Keppel Corporation chief executive Loh Chin Hua, Keppel chairman Lee Boon Y
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong witnessing Keppel's donation of $10 million to the Institute of Technical Education to mark Keppel's 50th anniversary. With him are (from left) Keppel Corporation chief executive Loh Chin Hua, Keppel chairman Lee Boon Yang, ITE chairman Bob Tan and ITE chief executive Low Khah Gek.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Even as it grows abroad, Keppel must uphold its integrity, he says

The journey of Keppel Corporation over the past 50 years mirrors Singapore's own story of nation-building, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday at a dinner to mark the conglomerate's 50th anniversary.

Over the years, Keppel has turned adversity into opportunity, looked outward and broken new ground in external markets, businesses and technologies, he said.

Citing how Keppel has successfully ventured abroad with a significant presence in more than 20 countries and having more than half of its total revenues coming from overseas markets, Mr Lee said it is "absolutely necessary" for Keppel to expand overseas.

But it is "equally necessary" for the company to maintain high standards of integrity and performance, and keep its own operations and culture clean and transparent, PM Lee said, even when operating in complicated environments where different norms prevail.

PM Lee told guests and staff at the Shangri-La Hotel: "When things go awry from time to time, it is important that the company is resolute in putting things right, as Keppel has done in the recent case in Brazil."

Last December, Keppel Offshore & Marine (O&M) agreed to pay US$422 million (S$578 million) in fines as part of a global resolution with the criminal authorities in Singapore, Brazil and the United States. This was in relation to corrupt payments made by a former agent in Brazil between 2001 and 2014.

  • ST business editor Lee Su Shyan, who wrote a book charting Keppel's growth, with PM Lee and Keppel chairman Dr Lee.
    ST business editor Lee Su Shyan, who wrote a book charting Keppel's growth, with PM Lee and Keppel chairman Dr Lee. PHOTO: KEPPEL CORPORATION

    ST business editor Lee Su Shyan chronicles Keppel Corporation's 50-year rise from small shipyard to global conglomerate. See Life

From a small local ship repair yard, Keppel went on to become a world-class player in ship repair and later, a world leader in building offshore platforms.

PM Lee said other multinational corporations face similar challenges when operating overseas, and it is essential to maintain the reputation of Keppel, and Singapore, which has been built up with enormous effort over many years.

The Prime Minister noted that in 1968, when Keppel was formed, Britain had announced it would withdraw its troops from Singapore earlier than expected. There was an urgent need to put facilities the British would leave behind to economic use and keep thousands of workers in their jobs.

In the early days, PM Lee said Keppel and another company - alluding to Sembcorp Marine - were a critical piece of the Government's industrialisation plan, creating well-paid jobs for many Singaporeans.

From a small local ship repair yard, Keppel went on to become a world-class player in ship repair and later, a world leader in building offshore platforms.

"Keppel Corporation has evolved to become a diversified conglomerate," he said. It now has four core businesses in offshore and marine (O&M), property, infrastructure and investments.

He said Keppel is also an example of a successful government-linked company that is run completely on a commercial basis.

While Keppel is a public-listed company with Temasek as its largest shareholder, its operations and investments are not directed by the Government or Temasek, nor does either have a board seat, PM Lee said.

"The Keppel board and management are fully responsible for running the company, and they are accountable to all the company's shareholders," he added.

In his speech, Keppel chairman Lee Boon Yang also referred to the Brazil episode, saying the company closed a "painful chapter" with the global resolution with the criminal authorities.

Dr Lee said that the board and management are determined to hold the company to the highest ethical standards.

To mark its 50th anniversary, Keppel made a $10 million donation to the Institute of Technical Education, which will benefit financially disadvantaged students.

Keppel's more than 20,000 staff will also each receive a $200 cash gift. A commemorative book capturing Keppel's growth over the years, written by The Straits Times' business editor, Ms Lee Su Shyan, was also launched.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 04, 2018, with the headline 'PM: Keppel's journey mirrors S'pore's nation-building story '. Print Edition | Subscribe