Time to be really stupid about DBS – after Richard Stanley

I want to repeat, firstly, the comments posted in a previous blog, that when a man dies, you leave him alone and you remember all that is the best about him. I have known Richard Stanley casually since about 2002 when we kept running into each other in China. Whether or not he was the best possible choice of CEO for DBS is now a moot point. He was not in essence a personal friend, and so my assessment of him is limited to the professional arena.

But I do want to remember that in my honest view, he was in essence a good man. A very good man. He was a suitable point man for Citibank in China, taking all the hits that the regulators were throwing at the bank as it slid in the quality of its operations. He was an exemplary, very lucky and very happy family man. But most of all, he was a man who did the best he could in all that was given to him. So, even as I take issue with DBS for having appointed him as CEO, I would not fault him for having taken the job and doing what he could in his own special way.

Those who have worked with him remember fondly that he needed help in being organised, but no help in dealing with people of all nationalities and ranks. He was a star with people. That was his special gift. When someone like Richard passes away, you recognise the void immediately, the roles that only someone as pleasant as he was and no one else could have played in the scheme of things.

Which now brings me to someone who is very much alive and needs some immediate attention. Mr Koh Boon Hwee, the chairman and CEO after Richard Stanley illness was revealed early this year.

I think that the first and immediate questions that we need to ask Koh again and again until we see some clarity are:
– When exactly did you know that Richard Stanley was probably not going to make it?
– In hindsight, why were you so optimistic in your comments that Richard was going to make it, when the prognosis for acute myelogenous leukemia is usually not good?
– Was Francis Rozario ever brought into dialogue with the bank and at which stage and for what reason? Were you telling shareholders one thing, that you are holding the fort for Richard, but indeed negotiating something else – his succession – behind the scenes?

His answers to these questions are very important because now that Richard is dead, we snap our fingers and wake up from the trance we have been put into the past few months – that Koh Boon Hwee and Koh Boon Hwee alone will be the answer for DBS going forward.

We – meaning shareholders, analysts even employees – have ourselves to blame for allowing Mr Koh Boon Hwee to lead us to believe that all he was doing was holding the fort for Richard Stanley’s return.

Nobody, not the media, not the analyst, nor the shareholders at the recent annual meeting, ever pushed the SUCCESSION question. How could it be? That’s how weak we are. My colleagues who attended press conferences with Mr Koh tell me that the question of succession was indeed asked in several different ways, but that every time he managed to side step it.

Why was the succession plan not put into place and if there was one, why was it not communicated? Because Mr Koh was enjoying himself too much as the undisputed CEO making all the decisions and putting all the pieces in place as he saw fit?

This is the country where the government has built an incredible reputation for being open about disruptive matters. When the current prime minister Lee Hsien Loong and a former very popular president, Mr Ong Teng Chong were diagnosed with cancer, both in 1992, the government came out very transparently, giving the public a very clear account of their conditions and led us through their chances of survival.

When many governments around the region were mucking around with their numbers during the SARS pandemic, this is also the government that led the way in showing that dealing with the numbers in a transparent and objective manner was the best way to garner public cooperation, instead of hiding away for fear of losing tourist revenue.

Most recently, as the great global crisis deepened in the region, the Singapore government was the first to come out admitting to the possible downside risks and working that into their projections. So even as other governments in the region were thinking that the situation in Singapore was worse than their own countries, they fell one by one themselves.

In the light of this high level of quality in dealing with the truth of any important situation of public interest, the quality of disclosure from DBS in the past few months, whether inadvertently or otherwise, brought us right back to the stone ages.

What we were getting these past few months were, “Don’t worry, I am holding the fort as CEO while he is away. Don’t worry, I am not going to change anything.” Let’s snap our fingers and come out of our trance – the standards of disclosure we should expect from DBS and its chairman are much higher than what we got.

I don’t think that many people catch on to why I am irked by the quality of Koh Boon Hwee’s words in a number of situations. I know that some people in official circles think that Mr Koh Boon Hwee is brilliant. I am sure he is, but even if he is, why should he go without scrutiny? Deep, rigorous scrutiny.

For example, he was quoted in the local newspapers as saying at the recent annual shareholders meeting that “DBS has deep management bench strength”. Nobody at that shareholders meeting had the balls to stand up and ask him, “What bench strength are you talking about, Mr Koh? You just sacked 900 of your senior-most and best managers in January.” You consider Rajan Raju bench strength?

In another remark also captured by the local amanuensis, Mr Koh Boon Hwee was quoted as saying “there will be no change in strategy while Richard Stanley is away (on sick leave).” I was not there to know the context in which he said that. But after enquiring around, my first reaction was that nobody was asking him for that assurance in the first place. In fact, if anything, it is understandable that strategy is an evolving thing, especially in the midst of a global economic crisis when nobody knows what the next step should be. By the way, they were indeed changing strategy in respect to shoring up capital, which I am sure was the result of many discussions held without Richad Stanley in the room. So what was the purpose of the assurance?

The statement reminded me of a cat’s assurances to the little lizard in his paw that nothing was going to happen to him before doing what cats do to lizards in their paw.

Mr Koh Boon Hwee bears only half the blame for this intellectual charade. The quality of inquiry in this little “intelligent” island takes the other half. Here is a man who has been given the reins of the most important financial institution in the region, and he just tells us whatever he wants and we accepted them without question. We have no one else to blame.

When I think about the way in which Alan Greenspan has been able to get away by telling the world whatever gibberish he wanted (which was mostly unintelligible) during his tenure as Fed chairman, I think we have only ourselves to blame for giving him the leeway. Nobody put up their hand to ask, “I am sorry, Mr Chairman, I am stupid, but I do not understand what you mean by entrepreneurship in finance.” Nobody said, “I am sorry Mr Chairman, I am really stupid, I don’t understand why hedge funds, which leverage the financial services industry 40X, should not be regulated,” or “sorry Mr Chairman, I don’t understand why the Fed does not even see the reason to publish the size of the leverage and in what instruments.”

Ditto Mr Koh Boon Hwee: “I am sorry, I am really stupid Mr Koh Boon Hwee. We just accepted your statements as if Richard Stanley was coming back. We were silly not to press you on the topic of succession in DBS….. you are in the sweet spot of being seen as the solution to the problem.”

I heard rumours this week that the bank was speaking to Francis Rozario. Now, Francis was one of Temasek’s original choices of CEO of DBS. In my opinion, he would have made an excellent CEO, except that from pieces of information I can put together, I was told last year that “the DBS board rejected Temasek’s choice.” So, I took a look at the DBS board, and I almost fell off my chair to see how much it had changed since the days of Jackson Tai.

To his credit, Jack had pulled together what I would call a board that appealed to the aspirational values of DBS. In other words, his board was made up of giants in different industries who had built up global businesses, and whose insights and goodwill could help DBS grow to where they came from. People who would have had no time for DBS unless he had practically begged them to become board members. The DBS board today, in my view, is made up of fund management entrepreneurs and sales types who, net-net, have more to gain from being directors of DBS than to give to DBS. In my world – “wanna bes”.

So, I am guessing that now they may are talking to Francis Rozario because he is the nearest replacement in sight, unless of course they get Mike Denoma again, whom they previously rejected in favour of Richard.

(This Singaporean pre-occupation with throwing money at white men more than 50 years after the end of colonialism makes for an amusing side conversation. I feel sorry for my white friends who are actually good at their jobs, an integral part of our society, and should be considered for top jobs along with yellow, brown and black. In Singapore, he can’t be sure if he was hired because he is good or if he is a good dog.)

But if indeed Francis is appointed CEO, the clash with Mr Koh Boon Hwee will be immediate. One will have to go. Since I do not think that Mr Koh, having found that cushy spot from where he can direct everything, is going to allow that, the bank will probably say that they can do without a CEO until they find the next one.

In all of these movements, we are all forgetting the long journey that DBS has gone through in trying to become a bank of some substance since 1998. I would submit that it has now completely lost the leadership it had in its own home ground. BILLIONS AFTER BILLIONS AFTER BILLIONS OF DOLLARS WASTED ALREADY.

We have forgotten the billions of dollars of past mistakes: the POSB integration, the Dao Heng Bank goodwill write-off, Thai Danu Bank write-down, the Thai Military Bank fiasco, that Indian finance company that Rajan Raju messed up. The Bank of the Philippine Islands sitting on the shelf. That is why the current situation that the bank is in is completely untenable.

In our annual assessment for the various awards that we give to banks, we see data that suggests that DBS market share in a number of its core businesses is eroding very quickly. It’s ROA is falling, its market share especially in Hong Kong is falling. It’s really a business without a rudder.

I see in this tragedy that is DBS, the cushy, small minded, compliant microcosm that the Singaporean corporate scene has become today. This is NOT the country that is going to give rise to the global corporate giants of the future.

Despite the apparent sophistication in lifestyle, there is no sophistication in inquiry. A community that strains at gnats and swallow the camels dished at them wholesale. The wealth and egos are there for everyone to see, but not the clash of inquiring minds that makes for a truly world class corporate environment. A case of pearls and swine in picture perfect harmony. Is this society truly capable of generating world class institutions? How can it? At best, they are imported.

Objectively, I have no gripe with Mr Koh Boon Hwee personally. He is entitled to be anything he wants to be. My concern stems from DBS Bank finding itself in a position of being influenced by someone who, appointed as a non-executive chairman, engineeers his way to the most executives of roles without any experience.

If you take that journey that started in 1997 when the stated intention from the very top was to revamp Singapore’s financial services sector, the comings and goings of John Olds, Jackson Tai, Philippe Paillart and several sundry others, shaped the scene for better or for worse.

At the very least, you would expect there to be someone, anyone, up there in the Singapore system who keeps track of the evolution of this very expensive asset of the country and who connects the dots, so that we don’t keep building on mistake after mistake.

I am just saying that Mr Koh Boon Hwee, by virtue of his activist personality, his previous track record and the fact that he has no experience in the financial services industry raises alarm bells in me that tells me that he is not going to serve the future of this industry well.

I don’t like what I saw happening in the previous organisations where he was chairman, especially Singapore Airlines. I see some of the issues relating to the employees emanating from the implementation of his ideas at Singapore Airlines being replayed in DBS.

I also do not like what I see in the trail of his M&A bids for the various IT companies he was involved in as an entrepreneur. They tell me that here is one man who is very determined to find a platform for implementing his ideas of what a business should be, whether rightly or wrongly, and it is my opinion that the future of the financial services industry of Singapore is not the place for him to try them.

The fact that despite these concerns, he has been finding himself in a sweet spot handed to him through the turn of events, and by his own ingenuity makes me even more concerned.

For all the negative remarks that are being thrown at Ho Ching, the CEO of Temasek, at least I could see where her vision thing was coming from. Without saying a word, she was trying to figure out a way to build the financial services industry that could become a truly core pillar of Singapore’s economy, that could dwarf all the bells and whistles type of things, such as the casinoes and F1 rallies, that Singapore has to do these days to grow out of its current giant self.

Prior to the global economic crisis who would have known? Work towards building a truly large global financial institution by doing whatever was necessary (merge StanChart, DBS and ICICI?) that could make this tiny little island a giant financial hub that far outweighs the size of its organic economy? Now, today some would say that is dangerous – look at what happened to Switzerland. But it is a wholly unanswered question: the illness of UBS was because about 40% of its business was dabbling in financial markets, whilst a commercial banking business with no more than say 10% of its total assets in markets might have been pliable, like a giant telco company in different markets.

To be accurate, some of her core assumptions were indeed wrong. They could or should have benefited from her own access to a well debated body of knowledge. But “discussions” on Singaporean internet chat sites are often nothing more than a series of juvenile grunts.

Even in countries like China or India, the quality of discussion on the internet can be unbelievably refreshing, of high quality, productive and useful. All serious minded people can take some value out of such dialogues. What we find in Singapore are just snide, inane peripheral gossip on things like whether someone resigned before or after announcing the annual results.

In a material discussion, you can see the building of a shared knowledge base that a people can grow from, and you wished that th work put in the past seven years or so will not go in vain. Some of the challenges that Temasek faces today are exactly the same as DBS has faced in the past 10 years or so. What will be really funny is if 7-8 years down the road from today, nobody remembers what Temasek learnt from its past that can become a bulwark against future mistakes and future Koh Boon Hwees who can rewrite the DNA of an organisation, shaped as they are by expensive mistakes.

The point is not whether Ho Ching made mistakes that cost billions of dollars. Everyone made mistakes in this crisis, including Warren Buffet, for goodness sake. But I have not seen a single discussion on the assumptions that she was working on, how much of it can be salvaged so that we can build on what she has already achieved. For all its weaknesses, Temasek’s bench-strength is still as an investor in financial services more than any other industry. How can we build on that instead of taking on a different tack that is going to cost another many years, many more mistakes at billions of more dollars?

But Singapore is intellectually …. a limited… city state, where the comforts of ostensible wealth and a false sense of intellectual superiority have arrested its people – both the locals and the foreigners in it – into a dangerous smug sense of collective stupidity. When during the Lehman minibond scandal, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), caught completely flat-footed, barked at the banks to select someone, anyone, pay him and use him as an “independent” adjudicator of the complaints hurled at them by the screaming public, it struck nobody to say….wait a minute, how can someone selected and paid by the erring bank be called “independent” by any stretch of the imagination.

In the larger scheme of things, for all the unuseful things that have been said about Ho Ching, the one thing you should respect her for is that she knew when to give up. Nobody could have retired Ho Ching, except Ho Ching herself, and when she did that, she was saying without saying a word that “I will not kid these people, I will treat them with respect.” The same people then comment snidely on mistakes already made, completely miss the point about what she is really all about and can’t carry the dicussion forward to build on the future. That is what I mean by a small minded people.

Any number of other people in leadership positions, not just in Singapore but in any number of countries, would have hung on to their positions because they would not know what else to do.

Sure, there is always the threat of that “invisible hand” serving no better purpose than to remind us that intellectual inquiry in Singapore is a high price to pay for those of us who care enough. But the lack of inquiry, the lack of building of a collective body of knowledge is the much higher price to pay, that forfeits us from exactly the destination that this country wants to go.

It is this lack of inquiry that has put someone like Mr Koh Boon Hwee in his sweet spot today. Our only protection against that is to be stupid, really stupid and ask, “what were you saying again?”

——————————
A note to interested readers: Could you do me a favour and link with me through LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter. Whichever you prefer. The links are on this site in a page called “Subscribe to me”. It links you to “The Banking Conversation”, and not to me directly, but it is the one consolidated site from where I want to keep you informed of my postings and other thoughts as I travel. I hope you will find the link useful. Thank you. ED


Comments

  1. Insightful analysis. I will be leading more readers onto your blog, especially DBS shareholders.

  2. Good points mostly. It's true that the Nov08 retrenchment was not done at the best surgical way. It removed a lot of fat but introduced more inefficiences imho.

    • All these GLC and govt -owned entities are just rnnniug out of ideas,and banks are squeezing their customers with all sort of fees Credit card holders are charged with 24percent interest per annum on unpaid balance,while they pay less than 1percent on fixed deposits.Are they any different from loan sharks,except they are legitimized by the Authority.

  3. Talking about Jackson Tai.

    Why did he leave DBS around the sub-prime fiasco? To me, it was an obvious reason, adding to the fact what background he was from.

  4. I disagree with your position on KBH / HC. You dislike dogs, but love canines?

  5. OCBC Shareholder

    With so many senior people at DBS purged already, Koh is untouchable now.

    Board and the top management is decimated. The few recognisable heavyweights like Ross and Buxton are too old and too far away from Singapore.

    Koh will get another couple years run at least. I am surprised nobody has pointed out yet that since Koh Boon Hwee took up the chairmanship in 2006, DBS has been the worst performing bank in Singapore, despite the value of the POSB franchise and the deep pockets of the Temasek sugar mommy. A quick and dirty check on Bloomberg shows that during Koh's tenure, DBS share price has been down 38%, compared to 18% for OCBC and 27% for UOB.

    Maybe thats why I would bank with DBS but I wouldnt buy their shares.

  6. If KBH wants to be CEO, they should make HC Chairwoman!

  7. Very insightful article. It's amazing how some people can take for granted their position and reputation and try to fool the ordinary investors. Utterly disgraceful action from KBH.

  8. Dear DS, you may think this strange, but when I write to counter what I think is not in the interest of a bank or an industry, I do not for one second mean that the person I am countering is evil or disgraceful. Life is an open book for anyone to write on in the way they want, as long as they are not acting illegally. On this score, a KBH or anyone else is neither right nor wrong in working to their self-interest, in fact all of us do. DBS is a public institution, in which I have a professional and personal interest, and so its key exectuvies are not beyond my comment or question, otherwise they should not be there. I have stated my own opinions, but they are also not sacroscant. So I am be prepared to be corrected as well. Without the clash of ideas, truths don't get tested for validity. Truth is neither on my side or someone else's side. So reading into my ideas to say that I think that KBH is a bad person will be to make a mockery of this discourse.

  9. Good analysis and observation of the situation. DBS has been in bad shape for a long time already. Let me give my few cents worth. First, the retrenchment decision was a really bad one. The implementation of the retrenchment exercise was even worst! It caused pain to not only the affected employees, but also their families and all the bad press coverage! Despite the poor implementation of the retrenchment, no heads rolled.
    Looking at DBS' history, there seems to be a tendency for DBS to not only appoint other banks' rejects for the CEO position but they must also be foreigners. Looking at the senior management team at DBS, one would think that it is a foreign bank because there are more foreigners than locals.
    Recently, DBS hired a number of MDs into the bank after retrenching only a couple of months ago. Is this not against the redundancy practice. I had thought that the 900 people were made redundant and therefore, these positions are no longer needed?

  10. ED,

    Even with a diagnosis such as acute myelogenous leukemia, in the worst case, there is still 15% survival chance. So, when exactly would someone know when a person is not going to make it? When that person is not responding to treatment anymore. Or chose not to continue the treatment. Was Stanley continuing his treatment? Yes. Was Stanley responding to treatment? Yes. In fact, according to his doctors, his cancer was in remission after the latest round of treatment.

    Being optimistic about the prognosis? What do you think someone high-profile like KBH would've have come out and said to his employees? All doom and gloom? Of course he had to be optimistic. It's called keeping the staff morale up. There was, after all, a genuine chance of survival.

    And you keep asking about succession, how was it possible to start planning a successor to Stanley when he was in hospital seeking treatment? He was sick after all, not dead.

  11. Utterly Disgusted

    Stumble upon this post… I will say this in earnest… Please think more humanely before you rattle on full blast in this “righteous” tone that what you said here makes sense. Do you honestly for a moment think that it is really appropriate to start a discussion on succession planning when the CEO is only ill and not dead? Try putting yourself into the patient position, then into KBH's position then start thinking again how would you address this topic to the public and the press. To me you pretty much want to bash KBH but from this angle and reasoning, I could see that you are indeed trying “very hard”.

  12. Dear Unconvinced and Utterly Disgusted, I am already familiar with your argument “how to talk about successor when the person is still alive”. In fact, that was the one point that I had not discussed in my blog entry. The answers to that argument are: (1) all major businesses that employ 9000 people and are blue chip stocks on their domestic bourses must have a succession plan every single day – it is negligence not to do so. (2) the terminologies such as “deputy” CEO, “acting” president were never used in DBS all through this episode, precisely because there were no “deputy” or “acting” anything. It was the intention of the board to rest all powers in one man. (3) The most compelling rebuttal against your argument is what happened on the day after Richard died…. nothing! Ergo: It was the intention of the board to rest all powers in one man.

    You are asking me to be sympathetic towards Richard's condition, which I really am (in fact, please let us not discuss Richard in this blog, because it is really not fair to his family to see his name being brandied around unnecessarily in their time of grief). But the DBS board's job was to also worry about the fate of the 9000 other employees as well, which I am sure they did. So, please don't tell me that they did not have Plan B, and Plan C and Plan D just because they did not discuss them in the open when the CEO was still alive. Very simply, Plan B was “don't worry, we have KBH” and that exactly is my point. I have no doubt that Plans C, D and E will come in due course, but all of them will now be dependent on this one man and his idea of the world.

    Every step of the way, from way back in 1997 to way in the future to say 2020, we will have to be answering one silly question, “How did DBS get into this position?” The answer to this question is two fold: (1) Because they made choices (2) Because there was no one connecting the dots along the way, so they kept making choices that had no bearing on the previous one.

    When I look at what is happening in New York and London today, I know that it is a question we have to answer every single day, especially when we discuss people with huge egos in leadership positions, as banking has in abundance. If the choices are right, I have no problems with that – KBH is an extremely good CEO, the bank does extremely well in 2012. But unfortunately some of us will have to keep asking the question, no matter how stupid or irreverant you think we are today.

  13. You seem to have put on a veil of prejudice in this argument and seem to be sold to this idea that there is 1 man that will totally determine the bank's fate and that this leadership vacuum left behind will led to the demise of the bank. Given this assumption that you have taken, can I also make my own assumption given the actual company's share price performance for the past 2 days, no “shareholders” seem to be concern themselves with this “grave” problem other than you (bearing in mind the fact that DBS had just XD)?

  14. Interested Investor

    Isn't it interesting that the share price of DBS went up despite the lack of a visible successor for CEO?

  15. Just a thought

    KBH is highly regarded in LKY's books, so he's untouchable, no questions are required. 😛

    >Interested Investor
    Isn't it interesting that the share prices of insignificant penny stocks went up as well? Every 'tom, dick & harry' stocks are going up!! 😛

    • My advice to any loacls aspiring to head DBS is not to join DBS. They need exposure in foreign banks. So join a foreign bank, preferably American. Then they will stand a better chance of being recruited for the CEO position.A thorough bred, born and bred in DBS will not fit the bill.

  16. There are plenty of fools around. The issue is not that DBS share price has gone up. The issue is how can a blue chip bank not have a succession plan. In fact, the argument that when a CEO is alive succession should not be discussed is extremely stupid! Succession planning is a core requirement of good corporate strategy, period. Those who do not see it and worse, argue against it is just plain stupid, period.

  17. KBH is a flash, permed-hair, attention deprived man's version of Cheong Choong Kong.

    He's of that class of Singaporean in that he surrounds himself with eager to please number twos, interpersed with several token has-beens. No way KBH will allow a Mike Denoma (much more charismatic) or Francis Rozario (widely regarded to be smarter) unless Temasek twists his arm.

    Right now, you know a headhunter is sniffing around for the candidate that possesses KBH's ideal profile of competence, respectability, and yes, subservience.

    Where can I fill in the application? What I lack in competence, I make up in subservience.

  18. DBS - A Tragi-comedy in 10 Parts

    they cant stay out of the frontpage. First were illiterate grannies crying over money slick DBS relationship managers ignorant of their own products suckered them into buying. Next, a horrendous cockup of a retrenchment exercise. My office is next to DBS building and many colleagues ran out to be entertained by retrenched DBS staff hauling boxes, spewing vulgarities.

    Now we have 1 rambling criticism of DBS (lord,Daniel can you be less longwinded?). Out leaps 'Utterly Disgusted' and 'Unconvinced' to defend their bank (comeon guys, you fool nobody). If you 2are DBS corp comm, why arent you already sacked for not steering DBS out of the PR disasters of the last half year. If you are DBS management…..are you kidding me about the 'impossibility' of succession planning? LSL had a greater chance of surviving his cancer and he had succession planning. You only dont need planning when the biggest banana aka KBH is unaffected.

    The question is whether KBH should dominate DBS so

  19. read the straits times interview with ocbc over the weekend. a senior ocbc executive, whom we all will know to be a private and modest individual, was basically throwing the gauntlet down at dbs' retail franchise. senior uob management are rubbing their hands in glee as dbs falters on the business banking side.

    http://www.straitstimes.com/Breaking%2BNews/Money/Story/STIStory_362073.html

    been an investor and banker for 20 years and never thought i'd see the day when very senior and credible uob, ocbc executives publicly disrespect dbs to this degree.

    simply extraordinary. not that i think dbs will crash and burn to the extent citi has, but this reminds me of the beginning of citi's fall from alpha dog position several years back.

  20. btw, 'Unconvinced' and ED, leukemia can be detected by a simple blood test. Did DBS and KBH not put Richard through a standard comprehensive medical before confirmation?

    'bystander', I also read that ST article but never connected it to DBS. Now, DBS retreated from China recently (the uncharitable call it 'the China for Clementi exchange'). It looks like they might not even defend Clementi from Andrew Lee! I am surprised how uncharacteristically bold Andrew is. In particular, I like his quote:
    'In banking, we talk about providing service from cradle to grave. Well, cradle is everything. Every year, 93 per cent of babies, or 37,200 a year, choose us. In 10 years, we'll be a very different bank.'

    I think KBH stays and they turn to internal candidates. Jeanette or Euleen are credible, Raju is not – his track record speaks for itself. I predict Raju will get his head handed to him by Andrew within 18 months and KBH will sacrifice him.

  21. Interesting development with Josie Lau and Aware.

    I can perfectly understand why DBS (and indeed any company) would prefer not to have their staff working in such a demanding and visible role which also has a lot of scope for controversy. (“Yes Sir/M'am. Our VP for Cards does/does not support the concept of spousal rape”).

    Nonetheless, this has the potential to open up a real can of worms. Con Raj�s editorial in the Today newspaper already hinted at this. Despite the merits (or lack thereof) people could start taking partisan positions on the irrevocable axis:

    Men vs. Women
    Mandarins vs. Peasants

  22. http://www.straitstimes.com/Breaking%2BNews/Singapore/Story/STIStory_364774.html

    Why did DBS have to print their official position in the newspapers instead of taking it up with Josie Lau?

    Now it simply looks like they can't even manage their people internally. Right after minibonds, retrenchment and Stanley too. Unbelievable

    What are their IR people thinking……

  23. They are not thinking!

    • The Problems of having loacls to be CEOs of Local Giants maybe due to the Incumbents’ incompetencies. Me likened it to the difficulties of attracting Singaporeans to run Singapore(parliamentarians). The only difference here is that it is perceived that most of the more talented loacls are not aligned with the political aims of the incumbent Ruling Politicians that resulted in the shortage rather than the lack of talents.It is also not just the arts of running a nation per se for aspiring politicians. Singaporeans are not clear about much of the performances and records of the Parliamentarians since Independence. Much are suspected to be in the Closets and who in their right mind will want to have to open it? The Local Talents are very wary of hiddened agenda and unrevealed informations(records) of the Organizations.If loacls are not qualified or good for CEO Posts, why are they employed by foreign multi-nationals to be regional and local chief?patriot

  24. I saw in the ST today that one of the DBS boardmembers, Christopher Cheng, sits on the board of 152 companies!!!

    And if that is not ridiculous enough, Koh Boon Hwee's response to that was that Mr Cheng was a particularly dilligent man. In that case, people like Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Ho Ching, etc, needs to be publicly shamed for their laziness in holding so few board committments.

    I run my own company and sit on 3 boards besides, and its as much as I can handle. That makes me 50 times stupider and lazier than DBS directors and twice as smart as the real dunces on the HSBC and JP Morgan board who have only 1 or 2 board committments.

  25. nice comments. very nice.

    your comments about rajan raju is very apt. all he did was come in at the right time under the right people, implemented a couple of systems in the T&M department, and got to be where he is because of his color, and his “indian” connections.

    as for KBH…. isn't DBS but a microcosm of how Singapore Inc goes about running its economy and

  26. Very insightful and worthy comments. But I would respectfully disagree with you about Singaporeans' lack of intellect – on the contrary – they have varied opinions, interest and can stage coups (AWARE) but do not want to broach any subject closely linked to country politics. The profesional/executive class atitudes skate around apathy, complacency, fear and often – the perception that activism will not lead to change, but rather scorn and shame served by the abiding media.

    we are still an evolving society and the boundaries on how to speak , how to act and what to say are constantly drawn and redrawn.Singapore needs more of us to speak up – wtih balanced, reflective and thoughtful views – and only then will we create this vibrant and progressive societry that we all so desire.

  27. Mr. Koh gave away his $2mm Director's fee to charity. Then there is a small item in the Annual Shareholder's meeting to give him $2mm in a one-off compensation for taking on additional duties while awaiting Richard Stanley's arrival. How many employees at DBS have not been asked to take on more responsibilities…without the extra pay? Now that Richard is gone and Mr. Koh is again “double hatting,” will there be another item in next year's Annual Sharehold Meeting for extra compensation? Not a bad gig if you can get away with it.

  28. any legs to the rumour that jackson tai could be brought in on an interim basis?

    i'm guessing probably not.

  29. Giving $2m to charity is about right for tax planning purposes for someone in the $7m-$8m annual income bracket. You bet that next year we will have to fork out $5m for the sacrifices made by the chairman of DBS in running the bank whilst there was no CEO.

    In my view, the point about Christopher Cheng is not that he sits on 152 shell companies, but that he is from Wing Tai, which is a second tier conglomerate. Li & Fung would have been more desirable. What could someone from Wing Tai ever hope to be useful to a DBS?

    • DBS has been the meanest when it comes to coampnsetion as reflected in their measly $7mil paid. They have set aside 10times more than this amount so if they really care about reputational risk of DBS, they can settle out of court and save a lot of bad taste with customers ever after. My best wishes to the small people on the street who now stand up to challenge the mighty Bank.

  30. as an ex dbser i have been involved in strategy discussions at various levels in the bank for expansions . now that i work for a rival institution, i realise that most of the strategy is driven by how singapore thinks and there is virtually no appetite to excute long term action plans. banking is a close to the ground business, and getting dirty is a part of the solution. most countries in asia are not a patch on singapore systems and laws, and may not feel the need to even emulate given their political structures. the bank has been trying to run itself like singapore airlines, where one visits markets but runs them out of home base. most international disasters, therefore, are a microcosm , of this thinking. whether this can be attributed to kbh, the bank, the board is debatable, but the bank does need to stick its neck out and look at long term dirty investments which embed it in the markets it wants to be in. the way it looks now it is being out thought and out worked currently

  31. Almost 2 months have passed, and we are left wondering who will be leading this bank. In perspective, 2 months is 16% of a year, 66% of a quarter.

    It means that much time has transpired without a leader in moulding a team, in shaping and executing a strategy, in taking risks, etc.

    It means that much time has transpired affording the opportunity for grandstanding, infighting with impunity, looking outside the bank for opportunities, etc.

    If someone buries his head in the sand, insisting that the continuing leadership void has no impact on the bottomline or performance for the bank, let him be the first to support not wasting resources in looking for a CEO.

    Let there be some enlightenment please.

  32. Not so sure Ho Ching and WarrenBuffet made the same mistakes in this crisis. WB failed to get out of the frying pan, Ho Ching chose to jump into the blazing fire.

    Any thoughts about the new CEO designate of DBS Piyush Gupta. Looks like they have given up on China which then gives rise to the question of what is the point of DBS Hong Kong…. it used to be considered a beach head into China Pearl river delta region.

    • Redbean, or Mr Bean,you must be kidding to think that they will do away with $2. You’ll be glad if they didn’t raise it to $4 with exscue like rising operational cost.You see, our government clowns only recognise money and always find ways to dig money out of this gold-land. The gold refers to the public, just like squeezing milk from cows FOC.

  33. Piyush – great choice for DBS!

  34. Lee Ching Yan

    You must be the most hopelessly honest and straight shooting journalist the world ever had!

  35. china marketing

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  36. Luosuo. Very luosuo.

    • Most of the Australian ‘talents’ who have made it in the private setocr either didn’t go or dropped out of university. Other than that, Redbean’s article hits the spot. Anyway in the commercial setocr it doesn’t matter if yu have a bucket of degrees or not. CAN YOU MAKE LOTS OF MONEY IN THE LONG TERM AND NOT DESTROY THE BUSINESS? are the only questions requiring an affirmative answer, and hard core PROOF eventually.

  37. Whatever the case,reserve the counter jobs for local aieutns who speak local languages and dialects.One fine day,I hope SingPost also accept bets on 4D and Chap Jee Kee.Since its the people’s national bank,there are chances that they will do away with the $2.Keep it up.

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