SPH Equipped for Challenges: Lee Boon Yang (ST)

BackDec 02, 2011

Media consumption changing but firm can tap strengths, resources

THE road ahead for Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) will not be easy given the way media consumption is changing, said new chairman Lee Boon Yang.

Dr Lee told the firm's annual general meeting at SPH News Centre yesterday: "It will be a long and arduous journey. New technology has changed media consumption patterns and opened up competitive distribution channels."

But SPH has strengths and resources including human capital, financial resources and experiences from adjacent businesses to draw on, he added.

Dr Lee was making his first comments as chairman after being re-elected to the board at the AGM, which attracted about 500 shareholders. Electronic polling was adopted for the first time.

He joined the board on Oct 1 this year and was named chairman-designate after Dr Tony Tan stepped down to successfully run for president. Dr Lee is also the non-executive chairman of Keppel Corp and was minister for information, communications and the arts until March 2009. He retired from politics in April this year.

While acting chairman Cham Tao Soon chaired the meeting, the focus was on Dr Lee, who sat alongside and took several questions. He told them that he had thought deeply before accepting the invitation to become chairman, with already a "heavy responsibility" at Keppel.

Asked by Mr Vincent Chen, a director of Chen Holdings, how he will balance his time between Keppel and SPH, Dr Lee said: "I believe 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.

"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."

Former chief justice Yong Pung How stepped down from the board yesterday.

Dr Lee also said the company must take a long-term perspective on its cash reserves. "We have the resources, and we must husband these resources carefully so that the company remains strong, and is able to face up to competition in the media sector – which will intensify – and is able to seek out new opportunities and tap these opportunities to create growth, and more profit and more value so the shareholders themselves can benefit.

"And more importantly, if the environment turns worse, we have the cash reserves to see us through."

The issue of whether SPH would consider a scrip dividend policy – where shareholders are paid dividends in shares instead of cash – also arose at the AGM. Chief executive Alan Chan responded by noting that shareholders can use cash dividends to buy SPH shares in the open market. "SPH is actually completely, 100 per cent liquid so there are a lot of shares traded in the open market unlike some other companies where there are a limited number of shares," he said. "So that is one of our considerations... Once you give out scrip dividends instead of cash, then I'll be facing two groups of shareholders. And there will always be a question of whether shareholders support this."

Dr Lee also paid tribute to the former SPH chairman, Dr Tan, for transforming the company and thanked Dr Cham for taking on the responsibility of acting chairman during the period SPH sought Dr Tan's successor.