I trust our generals wholeheartedly. I trust them to plan our national defence, and to manage the military. I trust them to muster and motivate the armed forces to war in times of need, and to show strength to keep the peace.
As a soldier, when they tell me to go, I go. When they tell me to stay, I stay. What part I need to play in the bigger plan. How the resources at their disposal work together best.
I trust them because they have done this job from the beginning of their decades-long careers, when they started at the bottom of the (officer) ranks and amassed experience and learned specific skills, handled weapon systems and technology. They are the best men for the job.
But put them in another world and they have little credibility. If I am going to scale Everest, I want a Sherpa by my side, a Sherpa with no formal education, a Sherpa who has never left his province. I do not want a general to guide me up the treacherous mountain. I do not want the Pope to lead me on that journey either. I do not want Warren Buffet to show me the way.
That’s why it is disconcerting when SMRT starts touting the military credentials of their incoming (and outgoing) CEO. Mr Neo Kian Hong is intelligent, I’m sure. He’ll learn eventually. It seems that his predecessor Mr Desmond Kuek has learned enough after six years, and is stepping down. Will Mr Neo take six years to learn as well?
Mr Kuek faced a steep learning curve when he jumped industries. Mr Neo will face the same. Did Mr Kuek successfully transition? Did he achieve what the board set out for him to do? What does his success or failure say about Mr Neo’s chances?
I think I’m most curious about the process that has put (save Ms Saw Phaik Hwa) a military man on the “throne of the trains” for the majority of the company’s existence. That alone is quite astounding. It makes one puzzle over how wide a search has been done. How unattractive could the job be to professionals in this field? Is the pay unattractive? Is the job impossible?
Good luck to Mr Neo. He has ability to shoulder big responsibilities. I hope for all our sakes that he manages to overcome the obvious disadvantages he will suffer from jumping from the public sector to the (officially-)private sector, from one industry to a completely different one. I don’t need to trust him. I hope he succeeds, but deep down I have my doubts.