Jul 24, 2009

Same Old Temasek Again

An article from Today:

Did somebody forget this thing called culture?
by PN Balji

AS THE buzz about Mr Charles Goodyear's sudden departure from Temasek Holdings continues to dominate discussions, one can't help but ask this question: Could a no-nonsense CEO who bulldozed his way through a traumatic merger to form mining giant BHP Billiton, retrenching thousands in the process, have fitted into a Singapore culture, which for all its outward glow of modernity, is essentially conservative?

Temasek is no ordinary company. To run it, having good business acumen is not enough. You need to understand not just the dynamics of the company, but that of its associate companies, the Ministry of Finance, the Cabinet and the people of Singapore. It is a jewel in Singapore's crown and the person protecting and growing it must have the clout to push through his initiatives. If not the clout, then at least the savvy to win over its stakeholders.

Pity Mr Goodyear. It looks like he did not even have the time to go on a charm offensive, assuming that plan was in his briefcase at all.

Just four months after he was appointed to the Temasek board and just two-and-a-half months before becoming the CEO of the sovereign wealth fund, the 51-year-old American businessman is leaving with questions being asked about not only his style but about Temasek's ability to pick the right person and about whether a foreigner can ever run an outfit like Temasek.

His credentials are impeccable, they have been talking to him for two years, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew described him as one who had an affinity for Temasek's values, yet Temasek and Mr Goodyear are parting ways. Strategic differences was given as the official reason. How could that be?
PN Balji, you'll never know. You can speculate, and make your guesses. Maybe from somewhere within your personal network, you might even hear some rumours of the "inside" story. But you'll never know for sure.

Why? Because this is Temasek. You know their style. Through all these years, it has not changed. Basically, Temasek will never tell you anything, except perhaps the reasons why it will never tell you anything. And even those reasons will be vague and obscure.

Take Goodyear's departure, for instance. It is revealed that he left because there were "strategic differences". No further details. This kind of answer could mean anything and everything, and therefore means nothing.

Except one thing. It means - Temasek doesn't want to tell you, lah.

Perhaps one day, Singaporeans will understand - how risky it is, for so much of the nation's money to be managed in this way.


Anonymous said...

THis goodyear guy is strange. Where did he come from? His only high profile appointment is at BHP.

Alan Wong said...

I can't help thinking of one scenario which maybe can explain what these 'strategic differences' are :

Goodyear wanted those responsible for some hanky panky business to be held accountable while Ho Ching would like it to be covered up as it would be too big a political gamble for her PM husband.

Just my imagination, hope it's not true.

Anonymous said...

Is it about the accountability and transparency that he is not getting?

Suppose one gets appointed to head a battered ship, the first task is to do an audit run through all the items in the book, and then create demarcate point through public exhibit. This is a way to declare to the world that whatever fault points or deeds carried out to that moment is not attributable to him. This will also set a baseline to which if market situation improve, he have a metric to claim victory.

Could it be that when performing this due diligence check, that he faced uncooperative action by various parties, or that he uncovered some 'skeletons' in the closets ??

I recalled that our former president also faced many difficulties when he wanted to dig deep into the book.

This is just my conspiracy theory...

Anonymous said...

"This kind of answer could mean anything and everything, and therefore means nothing."

This remark is very meaningful.

Mr Wang, will you one day consider writing political poem ? The above words of yours make a very good poem line.

Anonymous said...

In the world of high finance and investments, you can never predict. That's why losses can run into billions.

The same can also be said of those CEOs running it. You can never predict how they will turn out later. Even if the recruitment process goes through the board, the cabinet and even the President! Things can still go wrong!

But one thing they can predict with accuracy (and which I also can) is that every election there will be 50% walkovers, 66% mandate and 98% seats for the PAP.

This one cannot and will not go wrong. Because MM Lee is around to mentor on it. He never got it wrong for the past 44 years!

mrdes said...

Someone once told me that this is all just an act. After the financial loss under Ho Ching, she needs something to let her carry on...as something is definitely being covered up. Of course, this could only come from someone with conspiracy theories aplenty.

月下影子 said...

"Even if the recruitment process goes through the board, the cabinet and even the President! "

So what if it went through THE president? Does it make a difference?

Anonymous said...

The mere explanation with two words - 'strategic differences' sounds exactly the way how Temasek/GIC works. No reasons need to be given for whatever happens.

We can never know the real answer because we are presumed too simple minded to understand how great minds work.

Perhaps Chip was trying too hard to emulate Ong Teng Cheong and was getting too close to the skeletons in the cupboard. He therefore does not fit into Temasek's structure of secrecy.

Lost Citizen

Anonymous said...

He is an American CEO. Values during courtship days and getting toward what it means to run TH as a CEO etc are two different situations.

Maybe it's abt skeletons, maybe it's abt accounting and accountability, maybe it's abt power and authority, maybe it's abt key management changes (like he wanting to bring in his team), maybe he got to understand what is SWF versus CPF Fund nexus and constraints ....

Maybe ........

coder said...

This sounded similar to the Micropolis episode.

ILMA said...

Mr Wang, I wonder though how else should Temasek be run. I wonder if we would really be happier if Temasek is run less like a state controlled mafia, and more like say, Goldman Sachs?

Anonymous said...

Why should the citizen's money be managed by TMS in the first place?

OK,OK,I got it,mandate fr heaven and some still buy that.