Ex-LTA head Ngien Hoon Ping to succeed Neo Kian Hong as SMRT chief

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SINGAPORE – SMRT group chief government Neo Kian Hong is stepping down after simply 4 years on the helm of the transport firm, making his tenure shorter than that of his predecessor Desmond Kuek who stayed for six years.

Former Land Transport Authority (LTA) chief Ngien Hoon Ping, 52, will succeed Mr Neo, 57, who was employed to change Mr Kuek in August 2018 after what SMRT mentioned was “a global search”.

Mr Ngien left LTA in 2020 – additionally after 4 years – to head FairPrice Group’s provide chain enterprise. He will be a part of the SMRT board from May 1 and take over the helm on Aug 1, in accordance to an inside firm memo issued on Friday afternoon (March 18).

Mr Neo will keep on as adviser until Oct 31 this yr.

The shock flip of occasions has been within the hearsay mill as early as December, however might have been within the planning sooner than that.

Neither Mr Neo nor Mr Ngien was contactable for remark.

SMRT chairman Seah Moon Ming had excessive praises for Mr Neo when he joined 4 years in the past, saying that the SMRT board was impressed together with his “appreciation of interdisciplinary collaboration, as well as his vision and experience in leveraging new technologies for public service”.

Like most of SMRT’s earlier helmsmen, Mr Ngien was from the army. He was director of joint operations within the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) between 2010 and 2013, attaining the rank of brigadier-general.

In a media assertion issued by SMRT, Mr Seah mentioned: “The board has put in place a leadership succession plan with a robust talent pipeline at different levels. We review it regularly to ensure relevance and currency.”

With Mr Ngien’s expertise at LTA and FairPrice Group, he’s effectively positioned to lead SMRT ahead in an period of disruption, Mr Seah added.

An engineer by coaching, Mr Ngien led LTA from 2016 to 2020 and, alongside together with his crew, oversaw infrastructure initiatives such as the Thomson-East Coast Line, Mandai Depot and Lornie Highway. 

Expressing the board’s appreciation for Mr Neo’s contributions, Mr Seah mentioned: “He oversaw a deepening of rail engineering capabilities and consistent delivery of high rail reliability.”

Mr Neo was Singapore’s seventh chief of defence drive within the SAF, and served as everlasting secretary within the training and defence ministries. 

Sources identified that Mr Neo was extra task-oriented, whereas his predecessor was people-centred. There was additionally stress between Mr Neo and Mr Seah, and workers have been typically “caught in between”, they added.

Mr Neo’s tenure had additionally been blemished by a number of safety-related incidents, together with a rail employee whose foot was crushed by a locomotive in 2018, a technical officer who died at Bishan depot in 2020 when a 5kg metallic piece hit him, and a technician who died in 2021 when a bus fell on him after a jack gave means.

Despite an enormous enchancment within the rail system in recent times, a large breakdown in October 2020 left greater than 6,700 passengers stranded on trains throughout three MRT traces for up to three hours and affected about 123,000 commuters immediately. It was traced to materials faults and human error.

The Straits Times had beforehand reported on a spate of resignations inside SMRT’s ranks, which embody senior engineers Chia Chun Wah, a senior vice-president of upkeep and engineering; Mario Favaits, who headed the enterprise unit Singapore Rail Engineering; and Lester Lim, who was head of rolling inventory and tracks.

An SMRT insider, who spoke on situation of anonymity,  mentioned workers are hopeful that the management change will see railway professionals get extra recognition and management positions.

“Hopefully, this will be a new beginning for SMRT,” mentioned the insider.

Dr David Leong, managing director of human useful resource advisory and search agency PeopleWorldwide Consulting, mentioned: “Mr Ngien’s former role as head of LTA will be his biggest advantage as he is fully cognizant of the challenges, gaps, troubling issues and compliance matters facing SMRT.”

He famous that Mr Kuek had beforehand talked about “deep-seated cultural issues” of human error or failure in SMRT, which Mr Neo publicly mentioned don’t exist three months after assuming the helm in November 2018. 

Dr Leong mentioned: “Mr Neo may have been too quick to dismiss Mr Kuek’s assertion.”

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