Sunday, May 09, 2021

Direct your umbrage at the system, not the person

As I am somewhat anti-woke and pro-PAP, I find other PAP loyalists jumping to the defence of SPH CEO Ng Yat Chung. This is puzzling because Ng Yat Chung is not a politician. 

In fact, Min Shan has spoken somewhat against him. 

I will not describe the immense and consequential damage that was just inflicted on SPH shareholders as this is well documented by many bloggers. In fact, I will try to figure out why so much damage control was done over a few words of someone who is a non-politician. All I can say is that my ERM students were burned by SPH's foray in Orange Valley in the past and buying SPH counts as one of the poorest investment decisions we have ever made during the life of the entire program, second only to the disastrous position in Eagle Hospitality Trust for one batch of students.

From the point of view of someone who actually worked under a statutory board, the words uttered by the SPH CEO were mild. I had supervisors in the public sector who asked my Indian IT vendors whether took part in the Little India riots during a team meeting and loudly voiced concerns over female employees about the possibility that they will get pregnant and go on maternity leave ( the supervisor being a mother herself )

For me, if I want to direct my umbrage at something, it would be the amakudari system that parachutes top Admin officers into private sector roles that may ultimately damage the capital that belongs to us hapless shareholders. This is really something that we investors do not deserve. As brilliant as a top civil servant is, I liken their experience to twenty years as a goalkeeper for a soccer team. When their time runs out, they are forcefully put in a position of a striker. There is no way you can hone the kind of adaptive entrepreneurial thinking from a formal rules-driven bureaucratic mindset of the civil service sector. Some may succeed due to luck, but many will fail.

This is the kind of arrogance hinted at by many old-timer government officials. Just because someone has high general intelligence, they can thrive in any environment, even a highly competitive one like the business sector. 

I think the true damage done by SPH has nothing to do with losses shareholders suffered on Friday but the consequences it will have on amakudari moving forward. Voters should not be shy to pressure the PAP to revise this system. ( I will happily troll my new MP Mr. Edward Chia on this issue the next time I see him hanging around in Segar Road. )

I want to offer a cautionary note on our religious fetish for government scholars. This comes from an unlikely source. 

Two issues ago The Economist published an obituary of Bernard Madoff, the man who built the largest Ponzi scheme in the history of mankind.

If you peer into the mind of Bernard Madoff, you will find some fundamental truths belonging to all Humanity. Bernard Madoff had no need to enrich himself at the expense of his peers - he was financially independent before setting up his fund. Things began to fall apart when his fund underperformed slightly and I suspect Bernard has so many strings of personal successes, he was unable to cope with his first failure in life, so he doubled up using fraud to cover up his mistakes. 

Introduce failure to a person who has been successful all his life will induce cognitive dissonance and it takes a very strong mind to resist doing something underhanded to keep his self-esteem intact. 

I struggle with this on a daily basis as well - I have three degrees in Engineering, Finance and Law. I have passed almost all the major investment exams. But every day, I see a 20-something year old become a multi-millionaire by buying Dogecoins or staking their coins in a Liquidity pool. Fortunately, I have done much worse and faced my own demons on this blog on March 2020. 

Today failure is my best friend and I often have a drink with it. 

I suspect many Admin service officers, being the Apex Predators of Academic Hunger Games may also never experienced a major failure in their lives. This can lead to disastrous consequences as they try to rationalise or even scold their way to avoid personal accountability. 

To assist them in coping with failure, perhaps a Gen Z crypto bro should flash a Lambo at their scholar pal every now and then to teach them a bit of humility. 

Singaporeans should actively promote someone who has a humiliating failure in his resume. 

Therefore,  it comes as no surprise that my favourite PM candidate is Ong Ye Kung. I think the Aljunied elections in 2011 has shaped his character for the better. 

Direct your umbrage at amakudari and the CEP system. 

This can be something that unites both PAP and Anti-PAP supporters. 



  1. Well, from his NOL performance, his SPH performance has fully met my expectations, so no umbrage from me.

    Now, Keppel, Sembcorp, SIA, SIA Eng, SATS, ST Engineering, Singtel, SBS, Comfort Delgro shareholders would do well to pray hard that he isn't parachuted into any of their companies in a couple of years time.

    Maybe the consolidated O&M entity of Sembcorp+Keppel lol.

    PS: Buying EHT before Nov 2019 is still excusable. Buying SPH after Sep 2017 is inexcusable! LOL!

    PPS: How a person reacts to failures & humbling situations depends more on family upbringing & personal character/personality than being a scholar or not.

    I have experienced managers / directors in private sector shouting, screaming profanities, banging tables, kicking chairs (one even threw a chair across the room). It happens everywhere, govt or private.

  2. I actually think that SingPost needs him next.