The new CEO of SMRT Corporation, Neo Kian Hong, has been very busy ever since taking the helm of the transport operator in August this year.
Speaking to reporters at a media briefing on Friday, November 16, Neo ran us through how he spent his first three months undergoing a "crash course" by visiting and talking to staff on the ground, because, he explains:
"There's no point in describing [operations and maintenance issues] in an office. Might as well go down and see exactly what is going on on the ground."
Went to all 58 North-South East-West Line stations
Throughout that time, Neo visited all 58 stations on the North-South and East-West Lines.
His folks on the ground are, in his words, " very hardworking and very committed to deliver", despite working in challenging conditions.
He repeats an example he related to a town hall of 1,000 of his staff about a late night shift that he visited — the workers who were grinding the rail at night, he said, could not switch on the tunnel fans at night to cool down the machine that performed the role as residents had complained about the noise when they did.
"First you only have three hours to do your job, then you have all these constraints, so not only your conditions are onerous, you also have a challenge in doing that (your job)."
According to Neo, his staff on the ground are "very enthusiastic...very hardworking people" who give a lot of suggestions on how to improve their processes.
Low-key shade throwing regarding "deep-seated cultural issues"
He went on to rebut previous SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek's mention of "deep seated cultural issues" relating to human error and failure within SMRT:
"Our people want to do well. Personally I believe that. I do not agree with the term (deep-seated cultural issues) honestly, because that's not my experience when I engage with the ground."
And in another instance, he said,
"I looked at them in the eye and I know they're committed and they're proud to do the work."
Throwing some not-so-subtle shade, Neo, a former Chief of Army and Defence Force, said:
"In the military setting...they will use this term: 'There are no poor soldiers, there are only poor leaders'."
Sold his car & moved to near an MRT station
You might also also remember that Neo previously sold his car so that he can take the train to work.
Neo said that the decision to "experience the MRT" was "very important":
"When I sit in a room and I listen to briefings about maintenance problems, this issue, that screeching, and then I get feedback from commuters... about the heat, the smell — I don't know that they're talking about.
But when I'm inside (the train), then I stand at the gap between the [carriages] on the North-South Line, I can smell it. And then when I smell it, it's totally personal."
Neo added that he visited night-shift staff two to three times a week and took these visits as opportunities for him to find out how alert they are and the level of supervision needed for them to do their work.
When asked if SMRT has regained some of the commuters' trust, Neo said that while he believes people recognise effort, regaining trust needs time:
"We'll continue to work very hard to do that — focus on our business, be professional, be responsible, accountable, and then we'll see the outcomes. People need time to be convinced. I'm quite confident that we're able to do it."
Top image by Joshua Lee.
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