Neo Kian Hong Expected To Takeover From Desmond Kuek Who Has Served His 3 Months Notice As SMRT CEO

Neo Kian Hong. The man who’s going to takeover the least sought after job in Singapore — SMRT’s new CEO.

He’s slated to take the reins from Desmond Kuek – beleaguered head of SMRT for the past 5.5 years – who will leave in August, 3 months from now.

Besides being the former Chief of Defence Force just like his predecessor, let’s take a look at his ‘resume’ to learn more about the incoming boss of SMRT.

1. He’s the 7th Chief of Defence Force


From 2010 to 2013, he served as the Lieutenant-General of the Singapore Armed Forces, just like Mr Kuek.

This means he was sitting right at the top of the MINDEF military ranking.

As far as credentials go, we’re kinda spotting a pattern here.

2. Credited with containing SARS in 2003


Mr Cedric Foo – current Member of Parliament (MP) – described Mr Neo as a “key man” in devising and executing the contact tracing method during the SARS crisis back in 2003.

This meant that his team worked in shifts from 7am to 11pm, with a sole objective to trace the name of a SARS patient and everyone who had been in close contact within 24 hours.

He was seconded to the Ministry of Health at that time, and was a crucial figure in employing technology like thermal imaging to spot fever patients.

Mr Neo was praised for “being transparent” and helping MOH to regain public confidence.

3. Handling the Mt. Kinabalu tragedy in 2015

On the morning of June 5, a rare 6.0 magnitude earthquake struck Sabah’s famous Mount Kinabalu.


Six pupils and a teacher from Tanjong Katong Primary School (TKPS) in Singapore were killed as a result of the devastating landslide that ensued.

As then permanent secretary at the Ministry of Education (MOE), Mr Neo apparently “handled it rather well”.

Questions were raised if the route taken was too tough, but after further investigations it was confirmed that TKPS had been using the route for 7 years, and all safety measures were in place.

4. Toured Outward Bound Singapore while with MOE


Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) hosted Mr Neo on a tour back in 2015, as part of his duties as perm-sec of MOE.


He seems like a hands-on person by the looks of these photos.


He talked about “experiential learning” as an important part of holistic education for children.


And praised OBS’ programme for deepening values and building character and confidence of pupils.

5. Top student from NYJC in 1982

Mr Neo Kian Hong, hails from local junior college, Nanyang JC.

This was after attending Victoria School, where he was a cadet in the National Cadet Corps (NCC).

He came up tops in NYJC’s 1982 GCE ‘A’ Level cohort, and was awarded the Singapore Armed Forces Overseas Scholarship in 1985.

Going on to collect an impressive array of scholastic accomplishments:

  • King’s College London: Bachelor of Engineering (Electrical & Electronic Engineering) – Upper Second Class Honours
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology : Master of Science in Management
  • Harvard Business School: Completed the Advanced Management Program

6. First ‘Ranger-qualified’ SAF Chief

SAF’s Ranger Course is notoriously tough, with 65 days of intense training conducted by the Commando Training Wing.

Any SAF national serviceman may apply for the course, as long as they’ve attained a minimum rank of Corporal. But of those who apply, typically only 50% pass the selection test to qualify.

Touted as the “toughest course in the SAF”, trainees go through realistic patrolling exercises in simulated environments and various local and overseas terrain.

In addition, they have to tahan back-to-back missions, even as they undergo extreme stress, both mental and physical.

First row, fourth to the left

If you need photo proof, here’s a nostalgic photo of Mr Neo standing among 1989’s batch of Rangers.

Mr Neo’s basically the first Chief of Army and Chief of Defence Force who’s been through this insane training and lived to tell the tale.

7. Served as SAF’s commander for East Timor’s crisis in 1999

He also served as the SAF’s contingent commander for the International Force for East Timor (INTERFET) in 1999.


A multinational peacemaking taskforce, to combat East Timor’s security crises from 1999 to 2000, before UN peacekeepers came in.

8. Believes in technology transforming the public service sector

In a 2017 interview, Mr Neo mentions that he believes the public service should tap into technology to “provide the best service to our people”.

As for those who are slower to act on new ideas to solve problems, or need more direction or motivation, Mr Neo remains positive.

He’s quoted as saying,

Perhaps they may have felt that they see that problems are too big for them or the same suggestions, year in, year out, have not being implemented. But once you change their perspective to one of an expansive mindset, they will realise it’s possible. We need to be patient, to encourage, enable and persuade them.

Wise words which could apply to SMRT’s predicament indeed.

9. Handed over things to Mr Chan Chun Sing


When Mr Neo took over as Chief of Defence Force, he also handed over his previous Chief of Army position to Mr Chan Chun Sing.

In this iconic picture of the leadership renewal, apparently Mr Desmond Kuek was at the scene, watching over them.

Mr Kuek was getting ready to hand the flag over to Mr Neo as well, in a Command Parade held on 1 Apr in 2010.


10. Conscious of challenges ahead

Like anyone stepping up to an honestly challenging appointment, Mr Neo seems calm in the face of potential SMRT-related tribulations.

He says that he’s conscious that there will be challenges ahead,

I know the public expects safe and reliable train services. I will work very hard to meet their expectations.

Chairman Seah Moon Ming explained that SMRT was impressed with Mr Neo’s “appreciation of interdisciplinary collaboration”, and his “decisive leadership”.

All the best Mr Neo

Hopefully, this training will come in handy with the frequency of train mishaps which may come his way.

Fingers crossed that he’ll be able to make a difference this time.

We sincerely wish Mr Neo all the best.

Featured image from MINDEF and The Singapore Army.