Today is a sad day in the history of corporate Singapore. A national icon is officially
gone. The offer for NOL by the French shipping group has turned unconditional.There are grave implications. Without a strong anchor shipping line, Singapore position as a shipping hub will be eroded in the longer term or completely diminished.
According to the outgoing CEO Ng YC, NOL was reluctant and slow to adjust to changes
where shipping services are increasingly commoditized. NOL relied on premium services and it cost structures are higher than its peers.
Let me share a story. In the early days of ecommerce in China when Alibaba was still just one of the guys, Ebay bought a company called EachNet which was rapidly establishing itself as the leader in ecommerce in china. Its CEO was a US ivy league trained PRC.On a interview with a broadcasting programme, he openly snide at JaMa's approach of not charging its suppliers on its site as it would lead to a deterioration of service and quality as any 'Tom, Jack or Harry' could be a supplier on Alibaba's Taobao site. On the other hand Eachnet imposed a charge on its supplier to host itself on its site,so it will provide a impetus for quality and control.
The rest is history.
Currently, Uber and Didi is locked in a ferocious struggle in China as both seek to grow as fast as possible to achieve scale over its competitor at the cost of losing billions a year. JackMa and Tencent are using the same tricks of running your competitor into the ground by showing who can 'tahan' the bleeding longer. Uber is no Eachnet but is still losing ground at this stage to Didi.
The moral of the story is that quality of management matter. NOL problem is that it was not able to appoint the right people to run the company like its own baby where everyday you go to sleep worrying when will your competitor eat you up for lunch.That why you see Ng YC can still smile and tell a story for press interview.Frankly, no saf or civil servant should be 'parachuted' to run a listed company without spending at least 8 to 10 years working through the ranks and go through some excruciating business cycles. What more is that they have a CFO whose time is split between his CFO and MP roles. You don't do that when your company is in dire straits and require your utmost attention. You don't do justice to your shareholders,employees and customers.
Now NOL is gone. What's next? Keppel, SembCorp, SIA, SGX, Singpost etc are all potential targets.
For me, I had the good fortune to divest NOL when it was above $2.