12 Jan 2015

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Merging for Global Success

Merging for Global Success


Many corporations merged only to fail dramatically. Remember AOL and Time Warner? But ComfortDelGro proved otherwise. One of the key persons behind ComfortDelGro’s merger success, is the company’s Managing Director and Group Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Mr Kua Hong Pak.

An estimated 170 Singaporeans in Sydney enjoyed the privilege of hearing the stories of ComfortDelGro and Mr Kua’s at the first Distinguished Business Leaders Series of 2011, organised by the Overseas Singaporean Unit.

Merger, Growth and Lessons

“Mergers are not necessarily doomed for failure. With proper planning and execution, it can be the state for bigger and better things to come,” proclaimed Mr Kua. However, many did not share his conviction when the merger the merger was proposed in 2002.

In the face of intense skepticism from investors, commuters and mainstream media, Mr Kua travelled to key financial centres around the world to convince shareholders of the benefits of a merger. “I talked till I nearly lost my voice,” Mr Kua said in a slightly coarse voice, as if the effects of all that persuasion in bygone years continue to linger till today.

After a year of campaigning, Mr Kua’s efforts paid off as the merger was eventually supported and implemented. Everything else is history. Today, ComfortDelGro is the world’s second largest public transport company.

Mr Kua had three lessons for business leaders looking to venture overseas. First, do your lot of homework and understand the foreign environment. Second, put in the sweat and learn from mistakes along the way. Third, create the ‘heart work’ by building up good relationships with various stakeholders.

Questions, Answers and Sizing Up People

Mr Kua answers a barrel of questions from the floor.

Responding to questions from the curious and enthusiastic audience, Mr Kua offered candid opinions on various topics from the company’s challenges in ensuring efficiency and communications, how they overcome challenges in China, Vietnam and Australia, and the company’s experimentation with greener technologies.

Following up on Mr Kua’s sharing of personal challenges as Group CEO, a member of the audience asked Mr Kua, “What keeps you awake at night?” Besides constantly thinking of how to grow the company, Mr Kua revealed how he is constantly on the lookout for talent to join the company.

“I’m a headhunter for the company. I’m always looking for people with integrity and honesty, people who do not succumb to pressure and people who work well as a team. I make it a point to meet people introduced to me, talk to them to size them up, and see whether they can join us,” he says.

During dinner, many people swarmed around Mr Kua. I presume they wanted to draw out more of his thoughts on other issues, though I half suspected a handful wanted to be sized up as well.

(L-R) Mr Michael Teo (High Commissioner to Australia), Mr Kua Hong Pak, and Mr Niam Chiang Meng (Permanent Secretary, National Population and Talent Division)

By Tan Meng Chuan

The next Distinguished Business Series in Australia will feature Mr Tham Sai Choy, Managing Partner of KPMG Singapore, in Melbourne on 30 Sept 2011. Click here to register for the event. 


Read the stories of Singaporeans living overseas.