SMRT’s new boss, Desmond Kuek, has his work cut for him.
Mr. Kuek takes over the reins of one of the country’s PTOs (public transport operator) at a tumultuous time.
Public confidence in the PTO is at an all time low with last year’s major disruptions still fresh within the public memory. The 10 million dollar commission of inquiry (COI) that was convened only served to further crater that public confidence. The COI has not done anything to restore confidence in the operator’s ability to run their operations. YET.
To make matters worse, SMRT employee morale is now at an all time low with the news that their labor union failed to look out for their interests (link) over the company’s so called more pay but more working hours scheme (link).
The public image of the PTO’s CEO is also at a time low thanks to Kuek’s predecessor’s famous statement in reply to crowded train conditions: “People can board the train - it is whether they choose to. (link)” Ms. Saw’s image of being uncaring and out of touch with what the company’s customers go through everyday as they struggle to go to work on time has not helped the company’s image at all.
SMRT’s service standards also nose dived while under Ms. Saw’s leadership. There had been no change at all in the company’s maintenance budget for the duration of Saw’s tenure as SMRT chief (link). This is despite the fact that the equipment was under increased stress from frequent usage and was rapidly aging due to the additional stress.
Under Ms. Saw, SMRT saw itself transition from a PTO to a retail operator. It lost sight of what its primary mission was and that represented the start of its problems. Ms. Saw stepping down as SMRT CEO at the height of last year’s fiasco was probably seen by the public as an act of euthanasia that the PTO had been in need of for a long time.
October 1st, 2012. Enter new SMRT CEO Mr. Desmond Kuek. Mr. Kuek began his first day on the job by taking a very public train ride (link) doing something that Ms. Saw was unheard of doing. If Mr. Kuek was looking to dramatically show that SMRT will be very different animal while under his leadership he has our attention.
Making public statements such as "we are first and foremost a public transport operator," shows that he is at least committed to moving the PTO back towards its roots of being a transport operator. Whatever future initiatives he spearheads at SMRT will be watched carefully to see how this goal is achieved.
But right now Mr. Kuek has 2 pressing issues he needs to tend to:
1. How does he intend to implement the 24 recommendations that came out of the COI’s findings?
More importantly and more immediately: How will Mr Keuk resolve the morale issue faced by SMRT’s bus drivers that was inadvertently made worse by the NTUC (link)?
How these two issues are dealt with will be what defines Mr. Keuk’s tenure as the new captain of ship named SMRT. If the little public gestures he has taken on his first day are an indicator of anything, it seems that SMRT will be in very good hands to beginning bridging the deficit of trust that has erupted between the public and the PTO.