The executives who could step into Kwoks' shoes
The arrest of the joint chairmen of Sun Hung Kai Properties (SHKP) has turned the spotlight on the company's senior management and raised a key question: which of the company's veteran executives are capable of taking over if the Kwok brothers cannot perform their day-to-day roles?
On April 3, days after the ICAC's arrest of the company's co-chairmen, Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong, 60, and Raymond Kwok Ping-luen, 58, the entire senior management team lined up in front of SHKP's Wan Chai headquarters to show solidarity and support for the pair and to calm the nerves of investors.
The two Kwok brothers and former chief secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan, 64, were arrested on March 29 by the Independent Commission Against Corruption in connection with an investigation into bribery and misconduct in public office. They were released on bail and no charges have been laid.
Executive director Thomas Chan Kui-yuen, 60, was arrested by the ICAC on March 19 in connection with a probe into suspected bribery.
People familiar with the matter said three key executives could step in to share management responsibilities if the joint chairmen were unable to take care of day-to-day management: Eric Tung Chi-ho, Victor Lui Ting and Michael Wong Yick-kam (pictured).
One person close to the Kwok family said Tung, executive director of Sun Hung Kai Real Estate Agency, the sales and marketing arm of SHKP, would probably be its next executive director.
Tung is not related to the Kwok family, and he is not among the top management. But his position at the side of joint chairman Thomas Kwok when Kwok addressed the media on April 3 showed that his star is rising within the group.
Tung, 53, has been with the group for about 25 years. He was promoted to executive director of Sun Hung Kai Real Estate Agency just 11 years after joining the company. In 2000, he was appointed an executive director of Sunevision, the information technology company of SHKP.
He studied architecture at the University of Hong Kong, and the group appointed him project director for many large-scale residential and commercial developments. He also oversaw the completion of data centres for important tenants such as JP Morgan and ING Barings.
He came to public attention when he was project director and architect of the International Finance Centre complex in Central in 2001. At the time, it was the most expensive office space in Hong Kong. Macquarie research said the project implied about HK$4 billion in gross income a year, making it the largest contributor to the company's rental income.
In 2010, Tung's responsibilities expanded to include property sales, starting with Lime Habitat, a single-block residential tower in North Point. Even though the developer had not won building approval when it launched the project, which needed 30 months to complete, sales were red hot. Tung marketed the project as new boutique apartments offering unique services - even lending luggage to occupants. All 168 flats sold out in one night.
After the success of Lime Habitat, SHKP used 'Lime' to brand single-block residential developments in order to command a premium, and now has three 'Lime' projects.
Across the border, Tung was involved in the development of Lake Dragon, a villa project in Guangzhou, which commanded good prices and strong response from buyers.
That increased his profile on the mainland, where he now leads a team covering mainland projects, particularly in Shanghai. The team also covers projects in Hong Kong. He was involved in the development of Shanghai IFC, one of the group's biggest projects on the mainland.
The second of the three key executives who could step in, Victor Lui, 57, has made a name for himself from record-breaking deals. He is the key person behind sales and leasing of big SHKP residential and commercial projects.
Among Lui's coups were a 5,129 sq ft house at 8 Severn Road on The Peak which sold for HK$285 million, or HK$57,000 per square foot, in 2008, setting a record for a home in Asia.
He also managed to convince Deutsche Bank, Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse to move their Asian headquarters away from Central for the first time and across Victoria Harbour into Hong Kong's tallest building - the International Commerce Centre - above Kowloon Station.
Lui has been responsible for sales and marketing since 1995 after spending 10 years working in land acquisition.
From 2009 until now, he has been responsible for sales of big projects, accounting for HK$60.12 billion, or 55 per cent of the group's total sales, over that period. All achieved significant success in terms of both selling speed and price premium, according to Macquarie.
'We believe Victor Lui is now firmly in power, perhaps evidenced by his recent promotion to executive director of SHKP from executive director of Sun Hung Kai Real Estate Agency,' said David Ng, a property analyst at Macquarie Equities Research.
Lui is also considered a possible successor to executive director Thomas Chan, whose uncertain future within the company has cast a pall over SHKP's pace of farmland conversion and land acquisition in Hong Kong and on the mainland, which may affect sales after 2015.
With the third generation of the Kwok family still in training and not yet ready to take control of the HK$233 billion empire, some observers believe that the third of the trio of key executives, Michael Wong, who is close to the Kwok family, could also lend a hand.
Wong, who has been with the group for 28 years, retired in December 2009, and in January 2010 was immediately appointed a non-executive director and principal adviser.
He began as an executive trainee at SHKP in 1977, but left to join a trading company.
Seven years later, he returned to SHKP and worked in corporate planning and investment, overseas business strategy, investment, market analysis, communications and investor relations.
'Wong still comes back to SHKP quite often, and gives advice. It would not be surprising for him to return to the company if the two joint chairmen were unable to perform their roles,' said one person close to the Kwok family.