Desmond Kuek - SMRT Group CEO, Singapore.

President and CEO of SMRT Corporation Limited. Former army general from Singapore. Holds a Master of Arts (Engineering Science) from Oxford University and a Masters in Public Administration from Harvard University. Father of two children, live in Singapore.

Image Source and credits:

Desmond Kuek is the President and CEO of SMRT Corporation Limited, a leading multi-modal transport operator in Singapore. Prior to entering the private sector, Desmond Kuek held key leadership roles in both the military and civil service. He retired from the Singapore Armed Forces in 2010 at the pinnacle appointment of Chief of Defence Force (2007-2010). During the course of his military career, he also held significant appointments as Commander of the 3rd Combined Arms Division (1998-2000), Director of the Joint Intelligence Directorate (2000-2003) and Chief of Army (2003-2007). 

Image Source and credits: The Straits Times

For his leadership and service, he was awarded the Public Administration Medal-Gold (Military) in 2002 and the Meritorious Service Medal in 2009. He also received military honours in recognition of his contributions to building bilateral defence relations, including the Legion of Honour (Commander) from the USA and France, and numerous foreign national awards from Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan and Thailand.

From July 2010 to September 2012, he was the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources. During his tenure, he co-chaired the Environment and Water Technologies (Clean Water) Executive Committee and the Steering Committee on CleanTech Park; was a Member of the Centre for Strategic Futures Advisory Board and the Advisory Group for Civil Service Governance & Leadership (Human Resource); and led a whole-of-government project to usher in a new wave of public sector transformation. He continues to sit on the Civil Service College Board and chairs its Audit Committee.

Desmond Kuek holds a Master of Arts (Engineering Science) from Oxford University and a Masters in Public Administration from Harvard University; and is an alumnus of Anglo-Chinese School Singapore and the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) Switzerland. He held Directorships on the Boards of the Housing Development Board from 2001-2003; International Enterprise Singapore in 2005; Jurong Town Corporation from 2007-2010.


SMRT CEO - Desmond Kuek uses "based on trust" method to handle cash inside MRT stations. 


SMRT collects some $300,000 in cash a day for top-ups, according to an estimate. On average, each MRT station can be handling as much as $3,000 a day or $90,000 a month in cash. For interchange stations like the one in Tanah Merah, they may be handling even more cash from commuters.

The cash mainly comes from commuters wanting to top up their cards at the control station.

The Straits Times reported that, according to an inside source, the handling of cash each day by the station manager is “based on trust”. When Straight Times contacted SMRT with regard to the incident, its spokesman Patrick Nathan refused to comment.

SMRT CEO still makes more than million despite pay cuts

Meanwhile, it has been reported that despite cut in income, SMRT CEO LG (NS) Desmond Kuek remains the highest paid chief in the history of SMRT.

In its Annual Report for fiscal year ended 31 March 2016, SMRT revealed that the basic salary of its CEO had increased by about $37,000, from $793,170 he earned in the previous financial year to, $830,955 he earned in the last one. The public transport operator has however cut his variable income.

Despite LG (NS) Kuek's total income for FY16 dropping by about $500,000 compared to FY15, he still earned $1.87 million. The transport operator’s previous CEO Ms Saw Phaik Hwa drew about $1.85 million when she left SMRT in 2012.


SMRT CEO asks staff for frank feedback on how to forge forward


SMRT’s CEO wrote an email to all his staff on 1st Oct explaining to them about the recently concluded SMRT Corp minority shareholders’ meeting. 98.84 percent of SMRT’s minority shareholders approved the sale of SMRT assets to the Land Transport Authority at the meeting. 84.83 percent also approved the takeover bid by Temasek Holdings.

The email was also to mark his four years as the head of the organisation and to seek their feedback. In the email, Mr Kuek wrote: “Please do let me know what is on your mind and in your heart, as we forge ahead as one to new heights of excellence.”

The following is the email Mr Kuek sent to his staff at SMRT.

From: Desmond KUEK (CEO) []
Sent: 01 October 2016 15:14
Subject: A Brand New Chapter

1 Oct 2016
Dear fellow colleagues,

Embarking on a brand new chapter

Four years ago today, when I first joined SMRT, I sent an email to all our staff asking, “What are you thinking?” You were probably surprised with the question or to receive a direct email from the new CEO. On my part, I was most pleased to receive hundreds of your responses, short and long emails, candidly telling me how you felt about the company, what you thought we were doing well, where we could improve, and what we should junk because those practices and behaviours were detrimental or unproductive.

We considered them all, and grouped the ideas under what you now know as our 5 Strategic Thrusts. Together, we acted decisively on them.

The journey has been bumpy, but we persevered. Each time we fell, we picked ourselves up, learned the lessons and committed to do better. I have been inspired by the incredible teamwork, selflessness, passion and dedication that you showed, both in good and troubled times, toward our shared vision and mission. We can all be justifiably proud of how far and fast we have progressed in all that we set out to do – in operational performance, customer experience, workforce health, organisational excellence and sustainable growth. Thank you all for your tremendous efforts.

Today, we open a new chapter. With the resounding approval (nearly 99%) for the sale of our operating assets to the Land Transport Authority at Thursday’s Extraordinary General Meeting for shareholders, our Trains Business will from today be on a new rail financing framework. It will be more sustainable for our company because we no longer have to bear the heavy financial burden of owning and replacing expensive rail assets. Going forward, we must focus all our efforts on providing quality service to commuters and maintaining our rail systems to ensure safe, reliable and efficient operations. We want our rail system to be best in class in the world. We have already seen encouraging improvements, and with your steadfast support, I am confident that we will be.

Our Bus Business already moved last month to a new fee-based contracting model that has removed fare-revenue risk from our operations. This is a crucial change because over the years, fares have been kept affordable for the public and were not adjusted to the limit allowed under the fare formula used by the Public Transport Council. Our performance will now be measured by the reliability of our bus operations, and we can expect fierce competition from other renowned international operators. Let us prove that we too are world class in our service and quality, and in our people.

On Thursday, a milestone decision was reached when shareholders at a Scheme Meeting accepted Temasek’s offer to buy over all their shares so that SMRT can be privatised and taken off the Singapore Exchange. Many of you voted as you own shares in the company. We received overwhelming support with about 85% approval of shareholders at the meeting representing 93% of the share value. The next step is to apply to the High Court for the Scheme to be sanctioned. This may take 2-3 more weeks.

After 16 years as a public-listed company, SMRT will soon be privatised under Temasek, which has stakes in a very wide portfolio of public and private companies in Singapore and around the world. Some of you are understandably sentimental about this change. But you need not be anxious, as we are all still one big SMRT family. There is no change to your existing employment terms and conditions. You will not suddenly become a Temasek or a government employee, as a few have mistakenly assumed. Our focus and direction in all our Business Units continue. Temasek has assured us about this, and as the majority shareholder before this, they already know where we have set our priorities. Without the short term pressures of earnings expectations as a listed company, we will refocus on our core mission, and retool ourselves to drive towards operational, engineering and service excellence. We can do our jobs even better in this new environment.
SMRT continues to be one of the most public facing companies in Singapore, touching the lives of all who journey with us. We carry more than 3 million passenger journeys each day, every day of the year. We move people to where they need to go, bringing a smile to them with the warmth of our service and enhancing their lives with the lifestyle conveniences we provide. Everyone knows SMRT. We will continue to do our best to be that icon of national pride and excellence.

Next year, we mark our 30 years in operation. It is a good occasion to celebrate. We have a long, rich and proud history; and all of you are a part of that story. We are also casting our sights on the future, and indeed, embarking on a brand new chapter. Together, we will bring SMRT from good to great.

So it is timely for me to ask again, four years on and with each of you on board, “What are you thinking?” Please do let me know what is on your mind and in your heart, as we forge ahead as one to new heights of excellence (you may also copy to

Desmond Kuek.