ComfortDelGro ex-CEO Kua Hong Pak dies

SINGAPORE – Former ComfortDelGro Corp chief executive Kua Hong Pak has died after a long battle with cancer.

The Straits Times understands Mr Kua died at around 11pm on Wednesday (Oct 31). He was 74, and is survived by his daughter and wife.

Mr Kua stepped down last year after leading the transport giant for 14 years. He was instrumental in growing ComfortDelGro’s footprint across seven countries, doubling its revenue and nearly trebling its profit during his tenure.

Since 2003, ComfortDelGro’s revenue has grown from $2.02 billion to $4.06 billion for the year ended Dec 31, 2016. Its net profit for the same period has increased from $133.9 million to $317.1 million.

The group operates in seven countries, with a fleet of nearly 45,000 and a staff strength of over 22,000.

Long-time associate and friend Michael Liew remembers Mr Kua as someone “who’s very dedicated to his job”.

“He is a no-nonsense kind of person, and very hands-on,” said Mr Liew, 74, who had worked with him for 22 years – first in Times Publishing, and then in the transport group.

Mr Liew said he joined taxi operator Comfort Group in 2002, just before it merged with DelGro. “He was at DelGro. So it was destiny which brought us together again.”

He said Mr Kua “did a good job integrating the two cultures” in the two companies. “He was very sharp in financial matters, and I learnt a lot from him.”

The former member of parliament and now chairman of consultancy group Surecorp said he visited Mr Kua often after Mr Kua retired last year, “at home as well as in hospital”.

“The last time was two months ago. I went with a former Times Publishing colleague. And when we were leaving, and said our goodbyes, he teared up.”

ComfortDelGro group chairman Lim Jit Poh, in a press statement on Thursday, said Mr Kua was “a man with exemplary attributes of hard work, dedication, commitment and passion”.

Back in 2002, Mr Lim was chairman of Comfort Group as well as a director at DelGro, and Mr Kua was a fellow director at DelGro. Both men saw the potential of two groups coming together, and engineered their merger. 

In a book commemorating the fifth anniversary of the merger, Mr Kua commented: “Comfort and DelGro were competing against each other… Why are we doing this? The Koreans don’t do this, the Japanese don’t do this, why are Singapore companies doing this?”.

Mr Lim added that Mr Kua was someone with “a strong head and a soft heart”. 

“He was a good man and a dear friend. I saw him often when he was ill, and he always put on a brave front,” he said. “He was a fighter. I will miss him.”

Mr Yang Ban Seng, who took over from Mr Kua as ComfortDelGro chief executive last year, said in an e-mail to staff:

“Mr Kua was stern and no-nonsense in many ways, but for the many of us who have worked with him and know him, he will always be remembered for being a very kind person.”

Indeed, Mr Kua prided himself for not having had to retrench anyone during his 14 years at the helm.

When he stepped down in May last year, he said: “Every staff member was able to go home at the end of each day, sleep peacefully and wake up in the morning knowing that his job is waiting for him. 

“This has been my credo and I am happy to be able to live by it.”

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