Boon Yang to balance both chairman posts

NEWLY appointed Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) chairman Lee Boon Yang has assured shareholders he will devote sufficient time and attention to steer the media group through the challenging times ahead.

He was addressing the concern raised by a shareholder at the annual general meeting yesterday on how he would balance his time as chairman of both SPH and Keppel Corp.

Dr Lee, who was minister for information, communications and the arts before he retired from politics in March 2009, was appointed an SPH director in October. He said he had given deep thought to the invitation to join the SPH board before accepting it.

‘I believe that I will be able to manage my time so that I can provide SPH with sufficient time and attention in order to see SPH continue to do well in this very competitive and challenging period,’ he added.

‘If I had not come to the conclusion that I would be able to manage my time to do a decent and good job for SPH, I would not have accepted the invitation.’

His assurance was met with strong support from shareholders, with 99.85 per cent of those who voted at the AGM voting in favour of his re-election as a director of SPH.

SPH conducted poll voting in its AGM for the first time yesterday and all other resolutions were duly passed. Former chief justice Yong Pung How did not stand for re-election and stepped down from the board.

Most shareholders told BT that they have no issues with Dr Lee being chairman of two large listed companies. One 30-year-old shareholder, who gave his name as Mr Tiah, was more ambivalent. ‘I guess he would be professional enough to consider that he needs to split his time between two large companies in Singapore,’ he said.

A couple of queries on dividend payouts were also raised at the AGM. Stephen Chen, an investment manager at Chen Holdings, asked if the current dividend payout ratio was sustainable. SPH acting chairman Cham Tao Soon explained that while the current dividend payout is almost 95 per cent of recurring earnings, future payouts will depend on how SPH fares and the state of the economy.

Addressing a query on an $11 million share of net loss from jointly controlled entities in fiscal 2011, SPH chief financial officer Tony Mallek said these entities are mainly overseas online ventures in Malaysia, the Philippines, Australia and Indonesia. They are loss-making because they are at start-up stage, with different timelines to profitability, he explained.

Dr Lee stressed that the group would take a long- term view and harness its cash reserves carefully in the face of greater competition in the media sector, and tap new opportunities to generate revenue.

‘The road ahead for SPH will not be easy,’ Dr Lee said in his first speech as SPH chairman. ‘New technology has changed media consumption patterns and opened up competitive distribution channels.’

But he added that SPH has strengths in human capital and financial resources, and would leverage on its experience in adjacent businesses to create new revenue streams.

SPH turned in a ‘commendable performance’ for the last financial year despite an uncertain economic climate, said Mr Cham.

Group revenue crossed the $1 billion mark for the seventh consecutive time at $1.25 billion, thanks to higher advertisement revenues, growth in rental income and continued progress in its exhibitions and online businesses.

Net profit attributable to SPH shareholders for the fiscal year ended Aug 31 was $389 million – a 22 per cent decline from the preceding fiscal year, which had benefited from a $154 million profit from the Sky@eleven condominium project.

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