Former StarHub and M1 CEO Neil Montefiore dies, aged 67

Mr Neil Montefiore in December 2011. In 2010, he left M1 to join StarHub as its chief executive.
Mr Neil Montefiore in December 2011. In 2010, he left M1 to join StarHub as its chief executive.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The former chief executive of telcos StarHub and M1, Mr Neil Montefiore, who was known for his candid nature and incredible foresight, has died. He was 67.

The Straits Times understands that the Briton died of a heart attack while in London last Saturday (July 11).

His friends and former colleagues remember him to be pleasant and approachable, even though he was a top executive.

His friend, Mr Chris Claridge, who runs a headhunting company, told ST: "Most executives are punchy and hard, but Neil was always very pleasant and made friends easily. It was very disarming."

Mr Robert Wiener, president of The Tanglin Club, which Mr Montefiore had frequented, said that Mr Montefiore was a "fantastic guy who was well respected at both M1 and StarHub".

He added: "He worked his butt off but he always had time for his family and friends. Neil was always great fun."

Mr Steve Puckett, former president of The British Chamber of Commerce Singapore, where Mr Montefiore had also served as a board member, said: "Neil had a stature that bridged the Singapore and British business communities so well."

Mr Montefiore had moved to Singapore from Hong Kong in 1996 to head MobileOne, which would later be known as M1.

At the time, the telco had been the first competitor to Singtel - StarHub did not exist then. But M1 managed to gain a 10 per cent market share in the first 30 days of its launch under Mr Montefiore's leadership, thanks to aggressive promotions and more free talktime.

In 2010, he left M1 to join StarHub as its chief executive and in his three-year term there, helped grow the company's share price by more than 80 per cent - something which he once said was one of his proudest achievements. When he retired in 2013, the telco's share price was at a record high.

Mr Montefiore was known for his straight-talking manner, often making headlines for speaking openly on a number of telco-related spats.

For example, in 2000, he disputed Singtel's claim that it was the first in the country to allow users to send an SMS "anywhere in the world", insisting that M1 had done it first.

Mr Montefiore also showed incredible foresight.

In 2000, long before the advent of smart TVs and the ubiquitous smartphone, he was quoted in an interview as saying: "In a few years' time, there will be three windows into the Internet - the personal computer, the television set and the wireless device. And that's how we will arrange our lives."

The engineer by training told a Business Times reporter in 2013 that his background had helped set him apart.

He had said: "A lot of people in telecoms didn't (have the) background I did where I'd actually worked in R&D. So, I had a slightly different view from many of the ex-monopoly type telecoms people."

Beyond his work, Mr Montefiore also made the news for having a lucky escape from the 2004 tsunami while on vacation on his birthday in Thailand with his family.

They were diving 8km off Thailand's Phi Phi island on Dec 26, 2004, when the killer tsunami tore apart the island. His family had survived as they had been underwater when the waves hit the coast.

The experience did not stop him from going out to sea again within a year, as he pointed out to reporters that it was, in fact, the diving that had saved their lives.

Mr Montefiore is survived by his wife Rosie and their six children, who are aged between 34 and 41.