SingTel head to step down

In a shock announcement made after the market closed Friday, the Singapore telecom's group CEO says he will leave once his replacement is found.

SINGAPORE--Southeast Asia's largest phone company SingTel is now on the hunt for a new chief after its group CEO Lee Hsien Yang, announced his resignation from a post he has helmed for more than a decade.

In a move that caught the industry largely by surprise, SingTel's Lee gave no reason for his departure but said he would stay on until his successor has been found. The shock announcement came after the stock market closed Friday.

Lee, who is also the younger brother of Singapore's prime minister Lee Hsien Loong, joined SingTel in 1994 and was named group CEO in February this year. The SingTel Group includes mobile operator SingTel Mobile, Internet service provider SingNet and systems integrator NCS.

Local news reports quoted Lee, to state: "I believe that the time is right for me to convey to the SingTel board my intention to relinquish my position as group CEO, and for a search for a successor to be initiated."

He added that now is as good a time to leave because the company today is "operationally and financially" strong.

Under Lee, SingTel successfully maneuvered several acquisitions and made key investments aimed at widening its footprint in the region. These had included the controversial purchase of Australia's Optus for A$14 billion (US$10.3 billion) in 2001, and investments in India's Bharti and Indonesia's Telkomsel.

In its last fiscal year ended Mar. 31 this year, SingTel recorded a turnover of S$13.1 billion (US$8.2 billion) and net profits totaling S$4.2 billion (US$2.6 billion). Listed on the Singapore Exchange, the company has 19,000 employees worldwide, in 37 cities across 19 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, Europe and the United States.

SingTel was inadvertently embroiled in a controversy that emerged early this year when its majority shareholder Temasek Holdings, partnered a group of Thai investors and Siam Commercial Bank to acquire shares from the Shinawatra and Damapong families, giving the allies almost 50 percent share in Thai conglomerate Shin Corp. The bid sparked a political crisis in Thailand, where the country's primer minister Thaksin Shinawatra--who is a member of the Shinawatra clan--was later forced to resign.