Lee Hsien Yang tipped to be F&N chairman
Conrad Raj
Tue, Sep 04, 2007
The Business Times

(SINGAPORE) One of Singapore's most high-profile corporate figures could be ready to take up his next challenge.

Former Singapore Telecommunications chief executive, Lee Hsien Yang, is expected to take over the chairmanship of Fraser & Neave (F&N), the conglomerate with interests in food and beverage, property and publishing.

Mr Lee had caused ripples in July last year when he suddenly announced that he was quitting SingTel at the relatively young age of 48. Since then, many have wondered what assignment he would take up next.

While his new position is not an executive one, Mr Lee is expected to play a key role in shaping the local conglomerate's future expansion plans.

Given Singapore's size, F&N - especially its beer and property subsidiaries - have been expanding aggressively elsewhere over the past few years. Just over half of the group's revenue came from overseas in 1992. In contrast, the latest results for the first half of financial 2007, almost two-thirds of F&N's total revenue of $2.19 billion was from its international operations and sales.

In December last year, Temasek Holdings took a 14.9 per cent stake in F&N for $900 million in cash. It was said then the Temasek money would come in handy to help expand the group's food and beverage business.

Although it has been said there have been a number of suitors for Mr Lee's talents, he is not expected to look for a full-time job in the near future, a source said. 'He is enjoying his current lifestyle, spending more time with his kids and home, and is unlikely to look for a full-time job for now,' the source said.

Mr Lee, who is married to lawyer Lim Suet Fern, the daughter of Prof Lim Chong Yah, has three sons - Shengwu, Huanwu and Shaowu.

Another source said that he is not expected to take up his new position immediately but later in the year.

F&N, which is just one-eighth the size of SingTel, has been on the lookout for a successor to current chairman Michael Fam, 79, for several months now.

In January, Dr Fam gave up his chief executive position but remained as a non-executive chairman pending the appointment of a successor. His deputy, Han Cheng Fong, assumed the post of chief executive.

Dr Fam, who was given a $3 million gratuity when he retired, will, however, remain as an adviser to the blue chip company after Mr Lee assumes the chairmanship.

Mr Lee, a Cambridge University graduate, received the Singapore President's Scholarship and the Singapore Armed Forces Overseas Merit Scholarship. He joined SingTel in April 1994 after leaving the army as a brigadier-general. He became its chief executive a year later in May 1995, and held the position until March this year.

During his tenure, the company expanded aggressively into the international telecommunications arena, investing billions of dollars in fast-growing phone companies in Asia and Australia.

The most notable of these ventures was the then-controversial $13 billion purchase of Australia's second-largest telecoms operator, Optus, in 2001 - SingTel's biggest investment by far to date.

The move drew nationalist and political flak from Down Under while the knee-jerk reaction on the part of investors was to punish SingTel's stock.

Mr Lee must have felt vindicated as Optus started to turn around a year later and is today one of the group's biggest contributors to earnings.

SingTel is South-east Asia's biggest telco with annual revenues of $13 billion and profits exceeding $3 billion.

While Mr Lee has not taken up any high-profile post since his departure from SingTel, he does have some other assignments on his plate. He is chairman of Republic Polytechnic, a member of the governing board of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, and a member of British engine-maker Rolls Royce's international advisory board.


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