“I haven’t really thought about it,” admits Mr Kwa Chong Seng. But could we expect him too? For a man who has spent almost all his working life in the same company, retirement plans are about the last thing on his mind. In fact, I believe Mr Kwa never had the luxury of time to run them through his mind. Visionary though he may be, I wouldn’t expect that kind of forward-planning for ExxonMobil Asia Pacific’s Chairman and Managing Director.
Forty-two years after joining Esso in 1969, Mr Kwa bids farewell to an illustrious career today. On meeting the 65-year-old, he conveys a sense of nonchalance about retirement. If he had been disturbed and distressed about his impending departure from corporate life, he certainly didn’t show it. He tells me matter-of-factly that he’s “entitled to a little bit of a break” after putting in so many years in the company. “After I retire, I guess I need to get my stuff in order. I’m still in the process of rebuilding my house so I need to finish that, then I’ll think about what to do next,” he says. While Mr Kwa doesn’t have concrete plans, he knows time for pleasurable activities await him, “whether it is reading books or reading more things that I enjoy reading, rather than reading reports. Whether it’s playing the piano, which is something that if I have time, I might want to do”.
One appointment is definite and unmovable from his schedule in the immediate weeks of Mr Kwa’s retirement – DBL events in New York and San Fracncisco this November. Mr Kwa is the fifth speaker scheduled to meet and speak with Singaporeans in cities abroad this year. It is without doubt his expansive experience in the world’s largest publicly-traded company by market capitalisation has equipped him with many after-thoughts following headlined successes and heart-wrenching disappointments. If, and only, if he ventures into these, it’ll be a bonus for a man who seems to keep closely-guarded people and things dear to him. However, he will definitely share insights on the energy sector – how far it’s come and the way forward.
Mr Kwa has worn many hats, and they cut across different industries. Among them, Deputy Chairman of Temasek Holdings and Director of DBS Group Holdings. He also serves on the Public Service Commission in Singapore and was on the board of national broadcaster MediaCorp for two terms. As to the value he accords to being in these non-executive positions, he gives a measured assessment: “These are board positions which give me a very broad insight as to what these industries are. I think I learn a lot from those experiences and I’ve gained from it. I really don’t think I can qualify as a media expert or banking expert; that’s not what I am. But I do have a broad experience and I think the knowledge of different industries really broadens the mind and I’m very appreciative of that”.
He also acknowledges the value of having been an Overseas Singaporean himself, spending close to a decade away from the little red dot. “My last experience was when I was working in New Jersey, where I had international responsibilities. So I spent a lot of time in Europe while I was based in the US and 50 percent of my time was devoted to Europe, so I spent about 2 weeks every month flying to Europe and staying there, going back and forth. So it sort of gave me a taste of working in the international context and broadened my horizons. I think I have grown from it. I have learnt from it. It’s good being outside because in a sense, you develop your knowledge of different markets in different cultures and are able to relate to them and able to pursue your business interest (back home),” he says in retrospect.
Next month, let Mr Kwa relate his rich experiences, thoughts and insights as the immediate Past Chairman and Managing Director of ExxonMobil Asia Pacific and the current Deputy Chairman of Temasek Holdings. He will be the Distinguished Business Leader who will be addressing the Singaporean community in New York and San Francisco in November 2011.
Click on the links below for more information on the Distinguished Business Leaders series in:
- New York (11 Nov 2011)
- San Francisco (13 Nov 2011)
By Stanley Leong