Temasek Holdings named Charles “Chip” Goodyear, the former head of mining group BHP Billiton, as its new chief executive to replace Ho Ching, the wife of Singapore’s prime minister, in a surprise transition at the high-profile sovereign wealth fund on Friday.
Mr Goodyear’s appointment heralds a possible change of investment emphasis for the S$185bn (US$124bn) fund towards natural resources rather than financial services, a sector in which Temasek has recently made massive paper losses in banks, such as Merrill Lynch.
The move underscores the internationalisation of Temasek’s senior ranks, about 40 per cent of whom are non-Singaporean.
According to Temasek’s most recent annual report, two-thirds of its portfolio is in the financial and telecoms sectors – with just 5 per cent in natural resources.
Asian dealmakers in regular contact with Temasek say it is studying a number of investment proposals in the belief that the current market turmoil provides an opportunity to buy undervalued assets.
Mr Goodyear said that, having only joined the Temasek board this week, it was premature to comment on any changes he might introduce. He had a background in mergers and acquisitions as an investment banker with Kidder Peabody before joining BHP in 1999.
S. Dhanabalan, Temasek chairman, insisted that Ms Ho’s departure was not due to Temasek’s troubled investment record over the past year.
Ms Ho told the Financial Times that Temasek had been discussing succession planning as early as 2005 and the board had agreed that she would step down when Mr Goodyear could assume the post.
She added that her appointment in 2002 was made on the condition that she would remain for at least 10 years to carry out necessary reforms to the once-sleepy state holding company.
Mr Dhanabalan said the decision to replace Ms Ho coincided with a review of Temasek’s “long-term plans under various scenarios prompted by the economic downturn”.
The board had decided that “if we are to bring in new leadership, it would be as good a time as any to involve a new leader in this review”.
Ms Ho oversaw Temasek’s rapid expansion from being a Singapore-focused investment group to one that aggressively bought assets across Asia and leading developed economies.
Only a third of its portfolio is now held in Singaporean companies, including majority stakes in the country’s dominant airline and telecoms companies.
Ms Ho’s departure could help deflect domestic criticism of the government as Singapore confronts its worst post-war recession, since her status as the premier’s wife closely identified Temasek with the city-state’s long-ruling People’s Action party.
Temasek, set up by the government in 1974, has always said its investment decisions were made without state involvement.
Mr Goodyear will succeed Ms Ho on October 1.