Singaporeans should thank Ho Ching, Temasek CEO, for having the courage to sell our national icon, NOL, in our jubilee year.
Eight years ago, Temasek Chairman Dhanabalan complimented Ho and said she “had the courage to cut the loss”. ‘The loss’ refers to our $630 million loss in a failed investment by Ho, former CEO of Singapore Technologies. ST had acquired loss-making Micropolis, a hard disk maker, and lost $630 million within 24 months. If a former minister says losing a huge amount of tax dollars within a short period of time is courageous, then it must be so.
Since the NOL loss is at least 20 times Micropolis’, the government should consider awarding Ho a medal for bravery on 9 August 2016.
Ho Ching is not only an exceptional leader but a magician of sorts. Even though Temasek has lost tens of billions in foreign investments, its portfolio value has almost tripled from $90 billion in 2004 to $266 billion in March this year. Ho became CEO in 2004.
Thanks to Ho, who was given a free hand to shake up Temasek from its slumber, Singaporeans have also been shaken up and now pay more attention to Temasek’s courageous investments.
Investing in Singapore, which has the full support of PAP, and on the global stage is markedly different. Even though PAP could not tweak legislations in other countries to give Temasek an edge, Ho still had the guts to apply the same sky-is-the-limit investment model in overseas investing. An example:
In May 2007, Temasek invested about A$401.5 million in Australia’s ABC Learning Centres which went into receivership within, coincidentally, 2 years. Many of these centres were subsequently sold for … AS$1 each.
According to Dhanabalan, again, Ho was willing to “take calculated risks”. Ho had probably calculated Temasek would at least receive something back on its investments and a 99.999% loss was acceptable.
For all we know, Ho could have been planning to merge ABC Learning Centres with our very own NTUC childcare and kindergartens. Success would then have allowed Singaporean children to study at a leisurely pace in NTUC’s Australian branches. Wouldn’t Singaporeans be proud if NTUC had managed to open its ‘My First Stool’ branches Down Under?
Let’s look at the bright side of things – Ho’s ABC investment did not lose as much as Micropolis a decade earlier and this proves Temasek had learnt its lesson.
Ho’s mistake was her failure to explain Temasek’s rationale for the NOL disposal, leading to a lot of misunderstanding among Singaporeans. Some have speculated that the fire sale is to prevent more embarrassment in future. But if all the epic screw ups never embarrassed PAP, why should Ho, who is married to the PAP top dog, be embarrassed?
Singaporeans should have total confidence in Ho and I believe she had considered all factors before making the painful decision. Ho must have concluded NOL is a gone case because if parachuted-scholar-CEO Ng could not turn NOL around even after 4 years, no one could possibly do so. Like the PAP, Ho thinks long term, very long in fact and was taken aback when looking at NOL’s alarming statistics.
With an average annual loss of $300 million, she projected NOL will lose $3 billion in 10 years, $30 billion in 100 years.
Where NOL’s debt is concerned, it has been increasing by almost $1 billion a year . At this rate, its debt will likely balloon to more than $100 billion in 100 years time.
Under such a scenario, Ho had the following choice:
1 – Sink NOL
2 – Sink Singapore
The choice must have been obvious to Ho.
Unlike us mere mortals, leaders like Ho plan decades ahead, maybe even light years. Singaporean peasants are only able to live for the moment, contented with peanuts in handouts from PAP and vote for PAP because of a 4-cent reduction per bus trip.
Let’s be frank and admit that we do not possess Ho’s courage to sell a national icon at pasar malam prices. Don’t always be envious and give credit where it is due.
From the above, Singaporeans should now be convinced that Ho’s CEO appointment was based solely on meritocracy and not because she shares the same bed with the PM. (When Ho was appointed director in 2002, sabo king Goh Chok Tong told Business Week “there is some conflict of interest, but you know, we work for the larger good”.
Exceptionally talented, Ho does what’s best for Singapore, never mind what the people think. So talented is Ho that Temasek’s succession planning has not been successful since a decade ago – not one potential CEO from the four corners of the universe fit to fill her shoes. One should bear in mind that Ho has been constantly achieving impossible results for Temasek.
The fact that Ho is still sitting on her CEO’s chair while simultaneously sitting on huge unrealised losses is testament to her possession of a very unique skill set: she has the ability to not bat an eyelid when it comes to cutting multi-billion-dollar losses on behalf of taxpayers.
Imagine if Temasek Chairman Lim Boon Heng had been tasked with selling NOL, would he still not be crying and our losses increasing?
Singaporeans should be thankful to have a CEO with the courage to sell a national icon to foreigners and admit failure. It is unfair to keep lambasting Ho at every opportunity because if she steps down, will there be another CEO with the courage to sell SIA when the time comes?