Monday, September 24, 2007

Updated: DBS' Jackson Tai quits

Another CEO of a major Singapore corporation has thrown in the towel. Jackson Tai (pix from ST Interactive) will be stepping down from DBS Bank by the end of this year. The bank said in a statement that Jackson wants to spend more time with his family in the United States.

According to The Straits Times, the bank said Jackson's resignation was not due to its exposure to US subprime debt. The report said its shares fell last month after it said it had injected cash into a special-purpose vehicle that invests in risky debt such as collateralised debt obligations.

But not everybody is totally convinced about the official reason for his impending departure. The CEO position is definitely a hot seat. The Asian-American's predecessors - Frenchman Philippe Paillart and American John Olds - each didn't last more than 2 years. It's not bad that Jackson steered the largest bank in Asean for six years.

But many felt that the writing was already on the wall when Koh Boon Hwee was named chairman of the biggest bank in Singapore last year. Maybe it's a clash of personality. Maybe it's a clash of vision.

But could there be other factors? Could it have been a clash with the major shareholder of the bank, Singapore government investment arm Temasek Holdings? Could the management changes be a prelude to a merger between DBS Bank and another bank? The market has always touted Standard Chartered Bank, whose single biggest shareholder is also Temasek, as a potential bedfellow of DBS Bank.

One thing for sure: Jackson is not the first major Singapore CEO to quit in recent times. Lee Hsien Yang quit suddenly as CEO of SingTel last year and has since emerged in the unusual capacity as the new chairman/consultant of Fraser and Neave.

There's also a Temasek connection in the F&N story. Temasek is the second biggest shareholder of the soft-drinks bottler. Furthermore, Temasek's boss Ho Ching is Hsien Yang's sister-in-law.

Maybe, all roads lead to Temasek in Singapore.

Update (23 Feb 2008) -- DBS has since named another ang moh banker Richard Stanley to be the new CEO.

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