SPH's Ng Yat Chung - Chief of Defensive Incompetence?

May 07, 2021 | 🚀 Fathership

Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) chief executive officer Ng Yat Chung took offence to a reporter's question about SPH's goal of "editorial integrity" at a news conference on Thursday (6 May) to announce plans to spin off the conglomerate's ailing media business.

SPH's CEO, Ng Yat Chung, appeared to take umbrage at a question by a CNA reporter, who asked:

Qn 1: Editorial integrity vs taking care of advertisers' interests

"Just now you mentioned that the revenue from CLG (company limited by guarantee) will now be channelled into the new constitution of the company... does it mean that the media business will now pivot to emphasise editorial integrity, for example, ahead of advertiser interests?

Qn 2: Who's responsible for SPH's dwindling performance?

The second question is, this move (comes after) various corporate initiatives to improve the sustainability of the media business. Is it fair to say that these initiatives have failed, and if so, where does the responsibility lie? Thank you."

CEO Ng Yat Chung takes umbrage

Ng responded:

"Chairman, if I may, I honestly, I take umbrage at the first question. There are reporters from here who receive substantial funding from various sources. I don't believe you will describe yourselves as bowing to the needs of advertisers in doing your job.

So I think that, please, ok? I would say, at least for SPH, right, we have always had advertising and we have never ever considered the (needs) of advertisers, alright, so we always continue to write fair, reliable, and credible reporting.

So in reporting the answer to this, I will tell you first that the question, the fact that you dare to question SPH's title for, in your words, conceding to the (advertisers), I take umbrage at that comment.

Because I don't believe that even where you come from, you will concede in doing your job, you do not concede to the... (advertisers). So I must call it out. In fact, chairman is a gentleman, I'm not. SPH, the purpose of doing this is to make sure that SPH media will continue to do the job we have done so well for so long!"

Ng did not respond to the 2nd question.

Who is Ng Yat Chung?

1. He was a SAF scholar.

Ng is an alumnus of Victoria School and Hwa Chong Junior College.

He then received a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Overseas Scholarship in 1980 and graduated in 1983 with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in engineering from Christ's College, Cambridge University.

2. He has three Master's degrees.

Following which, Ng went on to obtain three Master's degrees:

  • 1. Master of Arts (Mathematics) from Cambridge University
  • 2. Master of Military Art and Science (General Studies) from Command & General Staff College, USA, and
  • 3. Master of Business Administration from Stanford University

3. He was the fifth Chief of Defence.

Ng succeeded Lim Chuan Poh as the Chief of Defence Force (CDF) in 2003.

He was the CDF from July 2003 to April 2007, with the rank of Lieutenant-General, before Desmond Kuek took over from him in 2007.

Prior to that, he was the Chief of Army from 2000 to 2003.

4. He was a senior executive at Temasek Holdings.

He had been the Head of Energy & Resources, Co-Head of Australia & New Zealand & Co-Head of Strategy between 2007 and 2011 in Temasek after retiring from the military.

His contributions to Temasek Holdings from 2007 to 2011 was not well-publicised but they were probably decent enough for Ng to be appointed in the well-publicised role as the group president and CEO of NOL in October 2011.

5. He was the former CEO of Neptune Orient Lines (NOL)

Ng was the group president and CEO of Neptune Orient Lines (NOL) from October 2011 to June 2016.

Ng was the CEO for five years and his last four years saw NOL accumulate more than S$1.5 billion in losses.

In mid-2016, NOL was sold to France's CMA CGM, the world's third-largest shipping line and was delisted from the Singapore Exchange in late June that year.

6. He has been the Chief Executive Officer/ Executive Director at SPH since Sep. 1, 2017.

On May 26, 2017, SPH announced Ng as its new CEO, with him to take over the group from Sep. 1 that year.

According to ST, back when SPH made this announcement, its chairman Lee Boon Yang said:

“I am confident that Yat Chung will provide far-sighted and effective leadership for SPH. He will work closely with deputy CEO Anthony Tan and the Group Management Team to tap new ideas and initiatives to steer SPH to greater heights.”

Ng also said that he saw "vast opportunities that can be reaped" despite the challenges ahead and added that he was involved in the SPH's decision to enter healthcare and private nursing home sector with its acquisition of Orange Valley as a board member.

Ng Yat Chung's performance at NOL

Barring Temasek Holdings, Ng's stint at NOL was his first running a commercial entity as CEO - an appointment he took up in October 2011 until June 2016.

Since Ng became CEO, NOL had lost money every financial quarter.

In mid-2016, NOL was sold to France’s CMA CGM, the world’s third-largest shipping line and was delisted from the Singapore Exchange in late June.

To add salt to Ng’s wounds, Reuters reported the year after that CMA CGM achieved “a net profit of $26 million”, “a first quarterly net profit for NOL since 2011”.

Ng has been criticised by numerous publications for not being able to do so, despite five years as CEO.

Ng defended his performance at NOL as "NOL's past successes were built on its business model as a premium service line... This was always the way for NOL, even before the 2008 financial crash, and it did well." He then acknowledged that the company had been "a bit slow and reluctant to change".

Following the sale of NOL to CMA CGM, Ng eventually relinquished his role as chief executive of NOL. He stayed on as Special Advisor from June 2016 to May 2017.

Ng Yat Chung - just another inexperienced paper general?

Industry observers were surprised when Ng became CEO of SPH in September 2017 despite not having any media experience, let alone a commendable track record of running a company.

SPH itself has seen its revenue declined since 2012 from $1,031.2 million to $655.8 million in 2018.

In October 2020, SPH posted its first-ever full-year loss of $83.7 million - the first time in its 36-year history. Conveniently, Ng blamed it on COVID-19.

Ng said: “All our major business segments were severely disrupted by Covid-19. Our media business is badly affected by the collapse in advertising."

But is COVID-19 really to blame?

The New York Times (NYT), for example, made the largest gains in the same period.

Like SPH, ad sales for NYT declined but revenue from subscriptions for the latter increased.

By end-2020, digital revenue overtook print for the first time, and digital subscription revenue now makes up NYT's largest share of the pot at $167 million - a 37 percent jump from 2019 contributing to a total subscription (print & digital) revenue of $1.195 billion.

Granted, part of NYT's increase in revenue is attributed to the Presidential Elections of 2020 but a major part of it was also credited to NYT's coverage of the COVID pandemic.

Perhaps Ng is more suited in managing decline, not growth in an era where the unprecedented rise in digital transformation may prove too much for an inexperienced baby-boomer tasked with tackling problems of the 21st century with an 18th-century thinking.

Former Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Goh Keng Swee said in 1972:

"One of the tragic illusions that many countries of the Third World entertain is the notion that politicians and civil servants can successfully performen entrepreneurial functions. It is curious that, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the belief persists."

What a visionary.

Unrepentant teen with a long list of offences is why some parents shouldn't breed

Nov 25, 2021 | 🚀 Fathership

Ralph Wee Yi Kai, a 19-year-old Singaporean man, has pleaded guilty to eight charges on Nov. 25 during his plead guilty mention before District Judge May Mesenas.

The charges include consuming weed, causing unnecessary suffering to a frog, possessing imitation tobacco products, trespassing into the rhinoceros enclosure at the Singapore Zoo, and committing mischief by damaging property, reported CNA.

Another six charges will be considered during his sentencing.

Probation is "not realistic"

Wee pleaded guilty via video link from his place in remand, where he has been since Nov. 6.

The prosecution strongly objected to a probation suitability report, noting that Wee is "beyond the control of his parents, which renders probation unsuitable", according to CNA.

The prosecution asserted that probation "is not realistic" for Wee, based on his repeated offences and conduct in court.

They cited his "blatant disregard for rules", and urged for a reformative training suitability report instead.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Melissa Lee said Wee "has a tendency to abuse drugs and alcohol", which caused him to behave aggressively towards his parents.

He also "posed a risk" to them, which led him to be admitted to the Institute of Mental Health.

"Never expected it to come to this"

Wee's defence lawyer Shashi Nathan requested for the addition of a probation suitability report, according to CNA.

Shashi maintains that his family is able to supervise Wee, and added that his client "comes from a good family" who are "able to look after him".

He said that Wee was undergoing "a severe emotional crisis" when he committed his offences, and shared that the case has also affected Wee's family, especially after their home address was released to the press.

"While Ralph understands that what he did was wrong, he never expected it to come to this," said Shashi.

Difference between probation and reformative training

Wee was ordered to go though both assessments for a probation suitability report and a reformative training report, reported Yahoo News.

Offenders who undergo probation will not have a criminal record, while reformative training, which provides a more structured environment, results in a criminal record.

What Wee's lawyer said

Wee's lawyer said his client acted out after breaking up with his girlfriend, 18, who was the one who filmed the video of Wee backflipping in the zoo.

The defence lawyer, Shashi, said Wee spiralled into an emotional crisis as a result of his break-up.

Wee is homeschooled.

The court was told Wee saw a video of a man riding a giraffe and decided to make a video in the rhino enclosure, Yahoo News reported.

The ex-girlfriend had filmed the act and posted it on her private Snapchat account.

Wee posted it on his public TikTok account and a police report was made by a zoo personnel within the same day.

Wee removed the video when he was told to do so by the police, but reposted it on Dec. 18, before being told to remove it again, claiming he thought the video had been made private when he reposted it.

Wee had also included a link in his Instagram account biography to directed to a page selling t-shirts with the words "rhino ralph".

But he denied creating the merchandise profile.

He later removed the link.

Wee will return to court on Dec. 20 for his sentencing.

Timeline of events with updated details

Oct. 9, 2020, 2:40am: Allegedly committed an act of vandalism by hitting an information panel at a bus stop in Sixth Avenue, off Bukit Timah Road, causing S$900 in damage.

Allegedly caused damage to two cars -- S$2,800 to a Mercedes-Benz and more than S$1,600 to a BMW -- in nearby Sixth Crescent.

A taxi driver passing by reported him to the police, as Wee was standing in the middle of the road with a beer bottle in hand.

Dec. 16, 2020: Wee was placed on compulsory supervision for 60 months from Dec. 16. He was required to present himself for urine tests on each Tuesday and Thursday, but failed to turn up on four occasions.

He was placed on e-tagging during this period of time, after having been charged for his earlier offences.

He had to stay at home from 10pm to 6am as part of his bail conditions.

Dec. 17, 2020, 2.40pm: Accused of trespassing into the rhinoceros enclosure and taking a video.

Dec. 18, 2020: Reposted zoo video, despite taking it down earlier after being told to do so by the police. Told to remove video again.

Dec. 24, 2020: Accused of abusing a frog, which subsequently died, by hitting a ball against it on a foosball table, causing "unnecessary pain and suffering".

The incident allegedly took place at a Sentosa Cove property.

July 2021: First hauled to court and charged with two counts of mischief, as well as one count each of vandalism and criminal trespass.

Bail was then set at S$15,000.

Aug. 6, 2021: Allegedly consumed cannabis while out on bail. Arrested at his residence and two urine samples obtained tested positive for weed. S$15,000 bail revoked.

Sep. 14, 2021: Allegedly possessed an e-vaporiser and six e-cigarette pods at a ward in the Institute of Mental Health.

Three police officers showed up at IMH, where Wee was warded, to arrest him for failing to attend court.

He was admitted to IMH due to his drug and alcohol abuse, as had acted aggressively towards his parents when they demanded the drugs from him.

He was warded in IMH due to the risk he posed to his parents.

Oct. 13, 2021: Charged with one count of drug consumption while still in remand.

Bail raised to S$20,000 and Wee was released.

While out on second bail, Wee committed a string of offences, including cutting his electronic tag, according to ST, as well as not reporting for his urine tests on a few occasions, CNA reported.

The prosecution has called for an urgent bail review hearing to have Wee's second bail revoked for the alleged fresh offences.

Oct. 26, 2021: Allegedly cut a S$100 GPS ankle tag at an address on Leedon Road at about 12:10am.

Prior to this act, Wee was upset at his father, who had asked Wee to sleep early since he had to report for his urine test in the morning.

After arguing with his father, Wee decided to leave the house, and used pliers to cut off his e-tag before cycling to his friend’s house.

Upon discovering that Wee was missing, his father called the police.

The e-tag, worth S$100, was damaged and could no longer be used.

It was found in Wee’s house.

Oct. 28, 2021: Allegedly possessed an e-cigarette pod at the Leedon Road address.

Nov. 5, 2021: Warrant of arrest issued, as Wee could not wake up to attend court.

Nov. 6, 2021: Wee arrested.

Nov. 12, 2021: Slapped with four additional charges.

Nov. 25, 2021: Pleaded guilty to consuming weed, causing unnecessary suffering to a frog, possessing imitation tobacco products, trespassing into a rhino enclosure, and committing mischief by damaging property belonging to others.

Ordered to go though assessments for a probation suitability report and a reformative training report.