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Ho Ching says she is stepping aside at Temasek Holdings ‘to let the younger leadership lead the charge’

SINGAPORE — Madam Ho Ching said on Tuesday (Feb 9) that her retirement from her positions at Temasek Holdings will mean that she will also not hold any role on the state investment firm’s board, so as to allow the new incoming team to lead.

Madam Ho Ching said that she is “very happy, very comforted" to be leaving the team at Temasek Holdings to her successor.

Madam Ho Ching said that she is “very happy, very comforted" to be leaving the team at Temasek Holdings to her successor.

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  • Madam Ho Ching is retiring from her roles at Temasek including a position on the board
  • She believes that her successor, Mr Dilhan Pillay Sandrasegara, should have the room to lead
  • Mr Pillay had led a team that formulated Temasek’s 2030 strategy
  • Mdm Ho played a key role in leadership succession, Temasek's chairman said
  • Analysts said it would be a shame if she left Temasek completely

 

SINGAPORE — Madam Ho Ching said on Tuesday (Feb 9) that her retirement from her positions at Temasek Holdings will mean that she will also not hold any role on the state investment firm’s board, so as to allow the new incoming team to lead.

Speaking to the media following the news, she said that it was her “personal belief” and a matter of company policy that former CEOs are not encouraged to stay on in other roles.

Mdm Ho, who is the wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, will no longer be Temasek's chief executive officer and executive director from Oct 1. 

This is to allow her successor — Mr Dilhan Pillay Sandrasegara, 57 — to establish his leadership, Mdm Ho said.

“I’m very happy, very comforted that we have a team in Temasek led by Dilhan who have spent the last couple of years thinking about the future.

“So I think it is a good juncture to let the younger leadership lead the charge over the next decade,” she said.

As for whether she will be taking on an advisory role, she said that she will think about what is next only after Oct 1.

The Covid-19 pandemic had not derailed Temasek’s long-term plans, she added.

Mr Pillay, a Cambridge-educated lawyer who joined Temasek in 2010, had led an effort to formulate Temasek’s 2030 strategy, identifying trends in digitalisation and the knowledge-based economy.

These were accelerated rather than delayed by the impact of Covid-19. Sustainability will also be “front and centre” of the 2030 plan, she said.

Mr Pillay said that he took a big risk leaving his senior position in law firm WongPartnership 10 years ago, a decision that was influenced by Mdm Ho over a period of three years.

“And I’ve stayed 10 years. And sometimes, you might wonder why I’ve done that?” he said.

“Ho Ching has always wanted us, employees, to act as owners — to act responsibly and thoughtfully — even when taking huge risks, in justifying the trust reposited by our shareholders in our board, and by our board in us.”

Under Mdm Ho’s stewardship, the state investor’s net portfolio grew from S$90 billion in 2004 to more than S$300 billion last year, Temasek chairman Lim Boon Heng said.

Mr Lim added that Mdm Ho played a key role in leadership succession and helped to nurture a strong leadership bench.

Since the early 2000s, Temasek has had an annual review of leadership succession so that the board is “prepared for all eventualities, with various succession options over different time horizons,” he said.

WHAT ANALYSTS SAY

Mdm Ho’s retirement will mark the end of a more than 15-year journey in Temasek Holdings’ leadership transition plans.

She had announced plans to leave in 2009 after American businessman Charles "Chip" Goodyear was supposed to succeed her, but he quit just months after being tapped, saying there were "strategic differences".

Speaking to TODAY, two analysts said that given Mdm Ho’s experience heading a sovereign wealth fund, it would be a shame if she stepped away entirely from Temasek.

Mr Song Seng Wun from CIMB Private Banking said: “The thing about Singapore is that you never really retire when you have such experience like her. She will certainly be sought after for her very good connections and experience.”

Experts said that when Mdm Ho steps down in October, Temasek Holdings will essentially be handed over to an apolitical figure in Mr Pillay, since the latter has no connections to any political office-holder.

Professor of Finance Melvyn Teo from the Singapore Management University said: “To people outside of the organisation, Ho Ching’s departure will be seen as the organisation becoming less political, and there are some benefits to that, too.”

He explained that outsiders may wrongly perceive Temasek’s investment decisions to be influenced by the Singapore Government just because Mdm Ho is at its helm.

Although Temasek is a holding company owned by and accountable to the Singapore Government, the state is not involved in Temasek’s investments, divestments or any other business or operational decisions.

Mr Song agreed with Prof Teo, stating that the change of leadership at Temasek would mean its investment decisions will be about the “dollars and cents”, rather than be seen as political moves.

“Temasek is not a small fish in the pond, which is impressive considering the short history of Singapore,” the economist said.

Since Temasek’s founding in 1974, the company has evolved from holding equity stakes formerly held by the Ministry of Finance into an active investor of strategic industries mainly in Asia and Singapore, with a mandate to ensure good, long-term returns over a 20-year horizon.

Mdm Ho’s appointment as director in 2002 marked the start of Temasek’s move towards investing outside of Singapore. A large portion of Temasek’s portfolio is now in China, reflecting the growth opportunities around the world.

In the meantime, Temasek gave Singapore’s companies opportunities to grow and prosper, such as how Surbana Jurong, a consultancy that is wholly owned by Temasek, grew to become a global urban consultancy, Mr Song said.

On Mdm Ho’s long stint as Temasek’s CEO, Mr Song said: “What happened to Temasek is not something that happened coincidentally. It is by design. It will be crucial for the incoming leadership team to continue this evolution.”

Temasek’s falling out with Mr Goodyear in 2009 probably led it to promote someone internally, rather than pass on the reins to an external candidate, Prof Teo said.

“It’s hard to say that looking at internal candidates only limits a business from hiring the best of the best. My sense is that Temasek has built up such a strong senior bench of leaders over the years and they are able to rise to the challenge,” he added.

Related topics

Temasek Holdings Ho Ching Dilhan Pillay Sandrasegara retire CEO

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