Sports Hub: Bar set high for new boss at the Sports Hub

SINGAPORE – Wanted: A chief executive officer with the ability to “fundamentally integrate” both the commercial and social roles of the Singapore Sports Hub and, preferably, a local.

As the $1.33 billion public-private partnership casts its net globally for a CEO, following Monday’s shock announcement of incumbent Oon Jin Teik’s departure in April, some members of the sports fraternity here acknowledged that the task will not be easy.

Said an industry insider, who declined to be named: “The new CEO should ideally be Singaporean or based here for some time and knows the local environment and ecosystem well. He should understand the Sports Hub’s role in Singapore society, and how to work with key local stakeholders.

“It would also be best if he comes from the private sector because the commercial mindset is important to make his stint successful as he sets about to fill the calendar, attract events and get the best deals.”

Koh Ching Ching, head of group brand and communications at OCBC, the Hub’s Premier Founding Partner, noted that the new CEO needs to make the Sports Hub a world-class “beacon for Singaporeans as well as overseas markets”.

She added: “We all want the Singapore Sports Hub to be a global sports and entertainment hub; that is why it is configured as a commercial project – to optimise the absorption of the best practices and talent.

“At the same time, the Sports Hub serves the local community by hosting essential grassroots programmes and activities.

“We would look to the new CEO to fundamentally integrate both interests and be able to fashion successful engagements for both corporates and the community.”

When Oon was appointed the CEO in January last year, he acknowledged the need to balance the Government’s social objectives with the private sector’s economic objectives, but made clear his priority was to serve all Singaporeans.

Netball Singapore CEO Cyrus Medora said the balancing act is a “real struggle”, but hopes the incoming Sports Hub CEO will have a heart for Singapore sports.

He said: “I think Jin Teik did okay in many aspects, and as a Singaporean he did his best to showcase Singapore sports.

“From a Singaporean point of view, I would like the Sports Hub to host more local events. For that to happen, the next CEO should be someone who cares about Singapore sports and is able to create a national identity for the Hub with local sports.”

Oon’s predecessor Manu Sawhney, on the other hand, was seen as more business-like.

The insider said, however, that neither were suited for the role.

The source said: “Jin Teik and Manu Sawhney before him have more experience as sports-based executives or administrators, but running the Sports Hub is closer to running the Singapore Expo than a national sports association as it entails managing a calendar of events, balancing commercial and public aspects, combining facilities, events and marketing expertise.”

With a spate of high-profile departures in recent years – chief operating officer Wong Lup Wai and chief financial officer Sandy Tay had also resigned recently – James Walton, sports business group leader for Deloitte Singapore and South-east Asia, believes the next CEO should also be able to prevent such future upheavals.

He said: “The new CEO needs to be a steady pair of hands to stabilise SPHL (Sports Hub Pte Ltd) and help retain their talented people.

“He also needs to have contacts and connections to identify an increased calendar of top events and help work with Singapore Tourism Board, Sport Singapore and other agencies to bring them in, as well as innovation and creativity to engage with the Singaporean population and create unique experiences befitting this great facility.”

CIMB Private Banking economist Song Seng Wun felt that the new CEO must be given clear objectives and priorities, with seemingly conflicting public- and private-sector interests.

He said: “They have to be clear what they want to achieve. I don’t think it matters if he is local or foreign, but he has to be a businessman. If they are bottom-line driven, the new CEO has to be ruthless because he cannot be running certain local events at a loss.

“Otherwise, if they are not clear about this, the new CEO will still be pulled in different directions and the turnovers will continue.”

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