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Matten's calling: EVA

The minister's son and former banker has been assigned to get Singapore Inc. companies to focus harder on shareholder value.

The minister's son and former banker has been assigned to get Singapore Inc. companies to focus harder on shareholder value.

Specifically, Matten, 44, has been put in charge of shareholder-value management at Temasek by the government holding company's executive director, Ho Ching, wife of Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Temasek controls more than 80 companies.

Matten, who was CFO of Singapore's OCBC Group from January 2001 until this May, has a clear lodestar: economic value added, or EVA, the consultant-inspired tool for helping companies gauge whether they're beating their cost of capital and thus increasing shareholder value. Matten installed EVA when he was comptroller of National Australia Bank in the late 1990s.

Considering that Temasek companies like DBS Group Holdings and Singapore Telecommunications have been criticized by same investors for weakening shareholder value through overpriced overseas acquisitions (Institutional Investor, November 2002), Matten's job could be critical, but it's also controversial -- especially among the affected CEOs.

So he has taken a softly-softly approach. "You can force people to go to church, but you can't force them to believe in God. My job is to act as the evangelist and help them see the light," says Matten, whose father was an Anglican pastor. "What I want to do is to get companies to understand that this is in their interest: It is what they are paid to do, it is why they exist. . . . Some people have to find their own way to God."