Desmond Kuek Is Still Talking About Cultural Issues At SMRT, 5 Years Later

On 16 Oct, SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek – alongside Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan and SMRT Chairman Seah Moon Ming – held a dialogue session with the media to address one of the biggest train faults this year which result in a disruption of nearly 20 hours.

During which he he stated that there were deep-seated cultural issues remaining within the company.

Deep “seated”. Get it?


Here is what he said in full:

Much progress have been made with the inculcation of a positive work culture in the workforce. But there remains some deep-seated cultural issues with the company that has needed more time than anticipated to root out.

Which is a fine reason and all except for one problem.

He also said this exact thing 5 years ago.

5 years in the making

According to The Straits Times, following the illegal strike by bus drivers from China in Nov 2012, the former chief of defence force had the following to say:

There are clearly managerial, structural, cultural and systemic issues that need addressing.

This was just one month after he was first appointed as SMRT CEO.

But with that in mind, Mr Kuek sought to bring changes to SMRT.

Not only did he bring in former military men to hold key posts in his new management, the SMRT adopted six core values under his leadership as well.


Guess you can take the man out of the army, but you can’t take the army out of the man.

Unfortunately, when you fast forward 5 years later, he’s still saying the same thing.


At least you can’t accuse him of being inconsistent.

Why hasn’t anything changed?

So why has nothing changed – in fact the situation actually worsened – after five years under Mr Kuek’s leadership?

We’re not entirely sure, we’re just journalists.

However, a senior SMRT staff member – who requested to remain anonymous – revealed more about the cultural differences to The Straits Times.


He likened it to an employee from Amazon heading over to Google and trying to change their culture to that of Amazon.

Furthermore, transport GPC member Zaqy Mohamad called for SMRT to understand the rationale behind their workers’ actions.

It’s easy to point to culture, but they have to relook the root cause of how this came about.

Whereas NUS Professor and transport researched Lee Der Horng states that while plenty of efforts have been made to address the engineering issues, the management aspect might’ve been lost sight of during the process.

What’s your opinion?

After hearing from the opinions from 3 different perspectives, why do you think nothing much has changed since Ms Saw Phaik Hwa’s resignation?

Is Mr Kuek having difficulties adapting to post-military life? Or is it simply an issue of neglect?

Let us know what you think.

Featured image from YouTube