Peter Seah to be new DBS Group chairman
Veteran banker Peter Seah will take over from DBS Group Holdings chairman Koh Boon Hwee on May 1 – in a move regarded as one of the worst-kept secrets in years on the local banking scene.
Market speculation had been rife that Mr. Koh, 58, would relinquish his position to Mr. Seah, 63, after the latter was appointed to the DBS board last November.
Mr. Koh had kept mum over the rumours despite being pressed repeatedly on the issue by the media.
But in a statement yesterday, DBS said Mr. Seah will assume his new post after DBS’s annual general meeting on April 30. From May 1, he will be chairman of both DBS Group Holdings and DBS Bank.
Mr. Seah was president and chief executive of the now-defunct Overseas Union Bank (OUB) for 10 years, until it was acquired for $10 billion by United Overseas Bank (UOB) in 2001 in a dramatic shake-up of the local banking industry.
Since then, Mr. Seah has taken up other roles outside banking. He is on investment firm Temasek Holdings’ Advisory Panel and is also chairman of conglomerates Sembcorp Industries and Singapore Technologies group.
Analysts have welcomed the move, saying that DBS – which recently installed new chief executive Piyush Gupta – will benefit from Mr. Seah’s appointment.
‘Being a banker, he’ll be well-placed to address the macro issues of capital management, overseas growth and risk management,’ said CIMB-GK analyst Kenneth Ng.
Analysts also expect he will focus on the POSB business, which is more locally oriented.
Mr. Koh said in a statement yesterday: ‘Our new CEO Piyush Gupta is on board and settling in very well, and with Peter Seah agreeing to be chairman of the DBS boards, I’m now able to move on, knowing that DBS is in good hands.’
Mr. Koh was first appointed to the DBS boards in June 2005 and assumed the role of chairman the following year.
The corporate titan, whose career has taken him to top positions at Hewlett-Packard, SingTel and Singapore Airlines, is recognised for having steered DBS through the financial crisis.
He had to preside over one of the toughest periods in its history, which included the High Notes 5 structured product fiasco in which many investors lost money, and the bank’s cutting of 900 jobs mainly in Singapore and Hong Kong – a decision criticised by politicians.
Mr. Koh told The Straits Times at that time: ‘You know, an event like this either tears the organisation apart or gels the team. I’m really extremely proud of the people in DBS.’
To be sure, Mr. Koh had his critics. The industry never saw him as a banker, given his non-banking background, and he received a lot of criticism for that from some quarters in the industry.
Still, Mr. Koh soon familiarised himself with running the bank. He ran operations in the months following the departure of former CEO Jackson Tai, and before the appointment of Mr. Richard Stanley. He took the reins again when Mr. Stanley died of cancer in April last year.
Mr. Gupta, who joined the bank late last year, said he believes the entire team will miss Mr. Koh’s leadership, strong business instincts and incisive wit.
Some staff members said Mr. Koh has yet to make his farewell rounds. They said they will remember him for making the place lean and efficient.
‘He had one of the sharpest minds around, and he controlled expenses tightly,’ a banker said.
Indeed, in Mr. Koh’s inaugural speech to 600 staff at a DBS ‘town hall’ meeting in 2006, he said that DBS needed to watch its costs and improve productivity.
DBS did not say yesterday if Mr. Koh would take up another position at one of Singapore’s many state-owned firms.
Sources say Mr. Koh, who sits on the board of Temasek Holdings and is chairman of Sunningdale Tech, will be taking an extended break.
‘He has got his travelling schedule all lined up,’ a source said. ‘Holidays, of course.’
There is also talk that the father of four might consider a key role at property firm Far East Organization, whose founder was the late property tycoon Ng Teng Fong.
Mr. Koh is now a non-executive director at beverage firm Yeo Hiap Seng, which is owned by Far East.