Execs at Singapore’s Temasek Talk Hiring, Conflicts of Interest

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After more than 17 years in the job, Temasek Holdings Pte. Chief Executive Officer Ho Ching -- who is also the wife of Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong -- announced her retirement from the state-owned investment giant on Tuesday.

In a press conference, Ho, her successor Dilhan Pillay Sandrasegara, and Temasek Chairman Lim Boon Heng spoke about her achievements at the firm, avoiding conflicts of interest when discussing the S$306 billion ($230 billion) firm with the government, and how Singapore street food can assist in hiring top executives.

Here are some of their comments:

Family Firewalls

Execs at Singapore’s Temasek Talk Hiring, Conflicts of Interest

Ho’s role as Temasek CEO has made her a less-than-typical first lady. Chairman Lim explained how the firm handled that:

“People in Singapore don’t realize the great firewall between husband and wife. From time to time, when there are issues that Temasek faces with government, it is not the prime minister’s wife who talks to the prime minister to resolve the problems. It is me, as chairman, interceding with the relevant ministry or even the prime minister himself to put across Temasek’s point of view.”

“So let me state very clearly there is a great firewall between the prime minister and his wife, the CEO of Temasek Holdings,” he said.

Tasty Hirings

Execs at Singapore’s Temasek Talk Hiring, Conflicts of Interest

Incoming CEO Pillay said a wide range of factors contributed to his joining Temasek in 2010 after three years of “hard sell” from Ho. He listed a sense of greater purpose, building a strong team and a final pitch over street food in an upmarket hotel:

“I remember having lunch with [Ho] and she said, ‘it’s time for you to come,’ literally, almost. And, well, I was eating my favorite food chai tow kway [fried carrot cake] at the Four Seasons coffee shop. So I guess that also contributed to my decision.”

No Overhangs

Ho said she took heart from Temasek’s T2030 strategic plan and its focus on sustainable investments:

“I think it is a good juncture to let the younger leadership lead the charge over the next decade.”

Execs at Singapore’s Temasek Talk Hiring, Conflicts of Interest

When asked why she wasn’t staying on as a director, Ho responded it was important to give her successor and his team some space.

“My personal belief -- and this is something which we have instituted as a policy -- we generally do not encourage CEOs to remain. I think the key thing is to allow the new CEO to establish his style, his leadership with full flexibility without somebody overlooking and saying ‘this is not what I want.”

But she also declined to say whether she’d become an adviser after the transition, in comments reminiscent of her first attempt to quit the role in 2009.

“I’m still with Temasek until Oct. 1, I will think about what next after Oct. 1.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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