From SPH's First Scholar to Top Job (ST)

BackNov 30, 2011

Warren Fernandez will leave energy firm Shell to rejoin ST next Feb

WARREN Fernandez was a schoolboy when he wrote to Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) suggesting that it start a scholarship programme.

The media company did, and he became the first recipient of an overseas undergraduate scholarship that took him to Oxford University and made him a journalist at The Straits Times.

More than two decades on, he was named yesterday as the next editor of SPH's flagship newspaper.

The 45-year-old has spent the last three years at energy company Shell, where he is global manager of its Future Energy Project. He will rejoin the paper on Feb 6, and take over from current editor Han Fook Kwang on Feb 15.

Mr Fernandez said yesterday he was persuaded by Mr Patrick Daniel, editor-in-chief of SPH's English and Malay Newspapers Division, to return to the paper as part of the company's leadership succession plans.

"At the back of my mind was also the fact that SPH had given me not one, but two, scholarships, when I needed it," he said. "Without these, I simply could not have got the education I did. So, I felt I could not just say no."

Mr Fernandez, who is married with no children, attended St Joseph's Institution and Hwa Chong Junior College before going to Oxford for his first degree.

He graduated with first class honours in philosophy, politics and economics. He later obtained a master's in public administration from Harvard University, also on an SPH scholarship.

He said he was now looking forward to returning to The Straits Times and being once again at the forefront of major issues and news events.

"I have always enjoyed being a journalist, being in the thick of things, engaging in the debate on the big issues of the day, shaping the paper that 1.3 million Singaporeans choose to read each day," he said.

During almost two decades as a journalist, he went from being a reporter to deputy political editor, news editor and foreign editor, before becoming No. 2 as deputy editor.

He covered major local events such as general elections and the political handover from former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew to his successor, Mr Goh Chok Tong.

Reporting took him around the globe, from the Great Hall of the People in Beijing to the United Nations' 50th anniversary celebrations in New York and the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

As he decided more recently whether to rejoin the paper, it helped to know that he is no stranger to many there.

"I know the newsroom and the key players there well, and they know me," he said. "I understand its culture and how things are done. So, I know what I am getting into. That helped me decide."

Mr Daniel said yesterday he was delighted to welcome Mr Fernandez back to the newspaper.

"He has taken on a tough job – not just keeping The Straits Times going for the next generation, but ensuring that it thrives. I am confident he will succeed," he said.

Mr Fernandez said he has been happy at Shell, and his time there has given him an insight into how a global multinational corporation operates, builds a strong brand and forges relationships with key stakeholders.

"That experience will be invaluable for the future," he said.

He will lead The Straits Times at a time when newspapers worldwide are facing declining readership, and young people are turning to the Internet and digital devices for news.

Singaporeans are also increasingly well-educated, well-read and well-travelled, he said.

"They have many options to choose from for their news and views, and many more ways of getting these, when and wherever they want. How to cater to the changing needs of this increasingly sophisticated audience will be one of The Straits Times' biggest challenges."

To do so, it will have to work hard to attract and keep good journalists, who will be vital for this task.

"The Straits Times has the talent and experience to meet this challenge, and I will work with my colleagues to ensure that it remains Singaporeans' paper of choice for a long time to come," he pledged.

Looking forward to reacquainting himself with the newsroom after his three years away, he said: "I plan to return, get a feel for the lie of the land and consult with my colleagues. Once we have done that, we will decide how to move ahead."