SingTel names new CEO

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Singapore Telecommunications, Southeast Asia’s biggest telecoms operator and Singapore’s largest listed company, Thursday named as its next chief executive its most senior female executive.

The appointment of Chua Sock Koong, SingTel’s chief financial officer and, since February, its head of international operations, comes as the state-owned group is facing problems maintaining momentum in its overseas expansion.

She replaces Lee Hsien Yang, a member of Singapore’s most influential political family, who spearheaded SingTel’s foreign acquisition strategy over the last decade. Mr Lee announced in July that he would step down, giving no reason.

Ms Chua, who will take up her new post in April, said she remained committed to increasing investments in Asian telecoms companies as long as they were “sensible”.

Although SingTel derives 75 per cent of its sales and two-thirds of pre-tax profits from its international investments, some of its once high-growth foreign operations are showing signs of weakness as the number of new subscribers slows.

The pace of its overseas investments has slackened in recent years as the number of attractive acquisition targets dwindle and the company focused on reviving the fortunes of Optus, the Australian mobile operator it bought in 2001. Recent returns at Optus have disappointed investors due to tough competition in the mature Australian market.

SingTel has spent S$20bn buying stakes in regional mobile operators in India, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Bangladesh in addition to Optus, its biggest overseas investment.

Ms Chua has been “instrumental in developing SingTel’s strategy over the past 10 years and has played a significant role in SingTel’s major acquisitions, divestments and partnerships,” said Mr Lee, who is the brother of Singapore’s prime minister.

The new chief executive joined SingTel in June 1989 as treasurer and became chief financial officer in 1999.

Ms Chua was tipped as one of three internal candidates for the CEO job. Her long association with SingTel is seen as a sign that no significant changes are likely to occur in the company’s current strategy.

Temasek Holdings, the Singapore state investment company that controls SingTel with a 56 per cent stake, is gradually reducing its holdings to raise capital to finance its own overseas acquisitions.

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