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Singapore Airlines picks new chief

By Alex Frew McMillan
CNN Hong Kong

singapore airlines
Chew is a shock selection, with many observers tipping Singapore's former military chief for the post

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SINGAPORE (CNN) -- Singapore Airlines said it has appointed Chew Choon Seng as its new CEO, to take over when Cheong Choong Kong retires in June.

Chew, 56, is a long-time Singapore Airlines (SIA) executive, having joined the company in 1972.

He is currently a senior executive vice president in charge of the company's corporate affairs, auditing and finance.

The decision was a shock to many observers, with another top executive, Bey Soo Khiang, widely touted as the next chief.

Bey joined the company in 2000 after retiring as head of Singapore's armed forces and was promoted, with Chew, in March 2002.

Malaysian-born Cheong, 61, has effectively been CEO since 1984, though the position was officially known as managing director until 1996. He said a year ago that he would step down.

'A wealth of experience'

"Choon Seng brings to the CEO position a wealth of experience, particularly in the all-important areas of marketing, finance and planning," Cheong said.

Singapore Airlines has remained profitable in every year under Cheong's leadership, despite the global slump in travel after September 11.

Analysts said Chew's appointment was unlikely to ruffle many feathers since he has been with the company for so long.

Temasek Holdings, the government's investment arm, owns 56 percent of SIA. The board may have resisted picking Bey as its new leader to avoid the perception that state-owned companies are places for government and military officials to get cushy jobs in retirement.

Singapore Airlines shares are back from earlier losses and trading flat at $S10.60 on Thursday afternoon, outperforming a 0.34 percent slump in the benchmark Straits Times index.

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