The manager of Singapore-listed Keppel REIT on Tuesday announced the appointment of Wee Lih Koh as chief executive, following current CEO Paul Tham’s abrupt resignation last month.
Koh is himself in the process of exiting the CEO post at AIMS APAC REIT. His first day in the top job at the REIT sponsored by Keppel Land will be 1 December, while Tham will step down on 20 October.
Shirley Ng, deputy CEO and head of investment, will continue to fill the role of acting CEO during the transition period, Keppel REIT Management Ltd said in a filing with the Singapore Exchange.
“Wee Lih brings to Keppel REIT his depth of experience in real estate investment, asset management and redevelopment and corporate finance,” said Penny Goh, chairman of Keppel REIT Management. “The board looks forward to working with Wee Lih in Keppel REIT’s next phase of growth as we continue our drive to optimise and grow Keppel REIT’s portfolio for stable and sustainable returns to our unitholders.”
Turnover at the Top
The 49-year-old Koh was AA REIT’s chief executive for 13 years beginning in 2008. Before that promotion, he served as head of real estate at the industrial-focused trust, responsible for growing the portfolio and assets under management. His earlier work history includes two years as a manager at Singapore property giant CapitaLand.
Koh holds a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering, a master’s degree in industrial and operations engineering and an MBA from the University of Michigan. From 2016 to 2018, he sat on the executive committee of the REIT Association of Singapore.
Keppel REIT, which is managed by an affiliate of Singapore’s Keppel Corporation, announced in late August that CEO Tham would be stepping down to pursue other opportunities.
Tham’s exit marks the second sudden departure by a CEO of the trust’s manager in less than four years, after Jesline Goh served just 28 days in the position in early 2017. Long-time Keppel exec Tan Swee Yiow filled in as CEO on an interim basis immediately before and after Goh’s short stint before handing the reins to Tham, who was deputy CEO of the REIT’s manager until his promotion was announced in September 2018.
SPH Deal Looming
The announcement of Tham’s departure came less than one month after Keppel Corporation said it would be entering into a S$3.4 billion ($2.5 billion) deal to purchase the non-media business of Singapore Press Holdings, in a transaction that would include S$1.16 billion in Keppel REIT shares as part of the compensation for SPH’s assets.
The outgoing CEO had steered Keppel REIT to encouraging results during the first half of 2021, with the trust’s distributable income having risen 11.5 percent year-on-year to reach S$105.7 million ($78.53 million) and distributions per unit climbing 5 percent beyond the level handed out in the first six months of 2020.
The deal with SPH would add the media and property conglomerate’s Paragon, Clementi Mall, Rail Mall and other shopping centres in Singapore, as well as the Figtree Shopping Centre in Sydney and the Westfield Marion mall in South Australia, to Keppel’s overall portfolio and potentially set the stage for an eventual merger between Keppel REIT and SPH REIT.
Keppel REIT has assets under management of more than S$8 billion ($5.9 billion) in Singapore, Australia and South Korea. The trust’s top-valued asset is a 33.3 percent interest in the mixed-use Marina Bay Financial Centre, the stake being worth close to S$3 billion.