SMRT confirms ex-general Neo Kian Hong as new CEO

Rail operator SMRT yesterday announced that it had conducted a "global search" before deciding on former general Neo Kian Hong, 54, as the man to replace Mr Desmond Kuek as its chief executive.

The Straits Times understands that the search for a new chief executive was initiated when Mr Kuek, 55, offered to resign soon after last October's tunnel-flooding incident.

The new chief was among 20 candidates considered for the role.

In a media statement yesterday, a day after The Straits Times broke the news of Mr Kuek's departure and Mr Neo's imminent appointment, SMRT chairman Seah Moon Ming said that he was "confident that (Mr Neo) will be able to lead SMRT towards achieving operation excellence".

He added: "I have had the opportunity to work alongside Kian Hong during the Sars crisis and witnessed his sense of mission, hands-on approach to problem-solving and decisive leadership."

Currently the Permanent Secretary for Defence Development at the Ministry of Defence, Mr Neo was Singapore's seventh chief of defence force in the Singapore Armed Forces.

He will be retiring from the Administrative Service and taking over the helm of the transport operator on Aug 1 after serving 35 years in the Singapore Armed Forces and the Administrative Service.

Mr Neo said in the statement: "I am conscious that there will be challenges ahead. I know the public expects safe and reliable train services. I will work very hard to meet their expectations."

Mr Seah thanked Mr Kuek, who has helmed the rail operator since October 2012, for his contributions.

"The board would also like to express its appreciation to Desmond for his deep commitment and significant contributions to strengthen SMRT's overall capabilities over the last six years,"said Mr Seah.

Mr Kuek said it was his privilege to have served alongside "a most professional and dedicated team in SMRT" and to have led the company through a critical period of transformation and system renewal.

He sent a heartfelt farewell e-mail to staff yesterday, saying he has had a "most meaningful and memorable journey" and giving them "full credit" for helping to transform the company, and taking responsibility for "the times we fell along the way".