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Sun Hung Kai Properties

Sun Hung Kai Properties is one of Hong Kong’s largest property groups, with revenue of HK$68.4 billion in the 2011-2012 financial year, and profit attributable to shareholders of HK$43.08 billion. The company has been shaken in recent years by disputes between family members, with chairman and chief executive Walter Kwok being forced to step down in a dispute with his brothers Thomas and Raymond. In March, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) arrested senior officials as part of a corruption probe that also included former chief secretary Rafael Hui. 

Breaking with the old ways

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 July, 2012, 12:00am

Once seen as being unprepared for command of Hong Kong's largest property developer, the third generation of the Kwok family has finally been entrusted with the task of controlling Sun Hung Kai Properties.

Sun Hung Kai Properties last night announced that it had appointed the two sons of the billionaire co-chairmen - Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong and Raymond Kwok Ping-luen - as alternate directors.

As part of the reorganisation, Mike Wong Chik-wing and Victor Lui Ting, who have each served the group for more than 30 years, have also been promoted to deputy managing directors.

'These changes will further strengthen our corporate governance structure and will ensure that the company continues to develop steadily,' Thomas Kwok said last night.

The boardroom reorganisation came on the same day the two co-chairmen were charged with bribery and misconduct by the Independent Commission Against Corruption, the anti-graft agency. Their eldest brother, Walter Kwok Ping-sheung, was arrested early in May by the ICAC but was not charged yesterday and was released on bail.

The charges have raised concerns about succession planning at SHKP, where members of a new generation - the three brothers have 10 children - are now poised to take over, albeit gradually.

Adam Kwok Kai-fai, 29, and Edward Kwok Ho-lai, 31, were appointed as alternate directors to Thomas Kwok and Raymond Kwok respectively.

Adam is the eldest son of Thomas Kwok and Edward is a son of Raymond Kwok.

But the reorganisation did not mention Walter Kwok's two sons, Geoffrey and Jonathan. They are also beneficiaries of the family trust that controls SHKP.

Geoffrey, 26, is studying for a master's degree at Stanford University after working briefly for SHKP. Geoffrey's younger brother, Jonathan, is studying in New York, and his sister works in Singapore.

Apart from Adam, Thomas Kwok has another son and a daughter who are still in secondary school. His eldest daughter is married and no longer works outside the home, a family associate said.

A source said Raymond has another son, Christopher, who works for an investment bank and also runs a restaurant, while his daughter works for an American retailer.

'We hope the reorganisation of the board members will give investors a clear and transparent picture of how the company will move forward,' said the source, who is close to the company.

According to the announcement, Adam Kwok holds a bachelor's degree in management science and engineering from Stanford and a master's degree from Harvard Business School. He worked in an international investment bank prior to joining the group in November 2008, and currently is a project manager taking charge of key residential and commercial projects in Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta region.

Edward Kwok is the son of Raymond Kwok and holds a Bachelor of Arts from Yale and a postgraduate diploma in professional accountancy from Chinese University. His professional qualifications include being a member of the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales.

He joined the group in January, 2010 and is now a sales and project manager, responsible for feasibility studies, marketing and planning of new residential projects in Hong Kong. Before joining SHKP, Edward Kwok worked in a major international audit firm.

'Adam and Edward have been rotating among various departments, such as planning, leasing, construction and infrastructure, to learn the company's business, for years,' said a source close to the family.

'They are smart and hard working,' the source said. 'They have been learning for several years about how to run the company.

'Thomas and Raymond are not going to let their sons take over the company. They are still young. They need to be trained.

'They will come back to the office every day to keep the company running smoothly.'

To strengthen investor confidence, Raymond Kwok said the business strategy of SHKP remained unchanged.

'We will continue to uphold and strengthen our brand, relying on our quality buildings and service to win the support of the market. Our business decisions will continue to be guided by the interests of Hong Kong's development, our company, shareholders and employees,' Raymond Kwok said.

'There is a Chinese saying: sturdy grass is only revealed by strong winds. Challenges will only make us stronger and I will cope with this challenge with perseverance.'

Thomas Kwok said: 'History tells us that perseverance and faith can take us through the rough times.

'With this faith, I am facing this challenge with no fear.

He also said his religious beliefs had helped him.

'I am grateful that as a Christian, my faith gives me hope, peace and joy. The Bible's teachings act like a beacon, guiding me through the darkness and anchoring each phase of my life.'

Another senior executive said: 'Even if the two chairmen could not run the company, in a worst-case scenario, Kwong Siu-hing, the matriarch of the Kwok family, could still look after things.

'She is always our spiritual leader.'

Kwong, who has maintained a low profile in her 79 years of life, is now seen as a key person in controlling the fate of Sun Hung Kai Properties - which has more than 27,000 employees.

Born in the Guangzhou suburb of Huadu, Kwong moved to Hong Kong in 1947. She married the founder of Sun Hung Kai Properties, Kwok Tak-seng.

The mother of six had never sat on the board of a Hong Kong company, but she became the chairman and non-executive director of the city's largest real-estate developer in May 2008, partly as a result of the a family feud that led to the ousting of her son Walter Kwok as chairman and chief executive.

The boardroom battle is without precedent in Hong Kong's recent corporate history in terms of drama, intrigue and acrimony.

In October 2010, Sun Hung Kai Properties issued an announcement, on behalf of Kwong, that excluded Walter Kwok in a reorganisation of the family trusts that hold in the empire. A third of the shareholding of the trust is now held for the benefit of 'Walter Kwok's family', rather than Walter Kwok and his family. Walter's younger brothers, Thomas Kwok and Raymond Kwok, are each beneficiaries of a third of the trust along with their families.

In December of last year, Kwong stepped down as the chairman and non-executive director. Thomas and Raymond became joint chairmen.

The fallout among the Kwok brothers - Thomas, Raymond and Walter - has now been further complicated by the fact that all three have been arrested by the ICAC. In early May, two months after his younger brothers were arrested, Walter Kwok was detained in relation to the same case.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post in early May, Walter Kwok said that his mother was seldom involved in the company's business.

'She is just a housewife,' he said.

'My mother has not been involved in the company's business. Only when the three of us had arguments did she offer an opinion.'

In the interview, Walter Kwok also challenged his mother's power to remove him as a beneficiary of the family trust that controls the Sun Hung Kai Properties empire.

But a source close to the company said that Kwong was greatly involved in Sun Hung Kai Properties' business after Kwok Tak-seng's death.

Kenny Tang Sing-hing, general manager of AMTD Financial Planning, said: 'In the next few years, I believe the company's business will continue to grow due to its quality assets.'

The company will run smoothly provided the mother stays in the picture, and the anti-corruption investigation result is not too serious, according to Tang.

In a recent research report, Daiwa Capital Markets said shares of Sun Hung Kai Properties might fall 20 per cent further in a worst-case scenario resulting from the anti-corruption investigation into the billionaire Kwok brothers.

That worst-case scenario would occur if new and more serious charges were raised against the brothers by the Independent Commission Against Corruption, Daiwa property analyst Jonas Kan wrote in a report dated June 29.

There could be a further sell-off in the stock if the pair were charged with offences more significant and serious than what had been discussed in the media, Daiwa said.

'The share price may test lower ground, but we would see support at about HK$74,' Kan said in the report. Shares in SHKP yesterday rose 0.052 per cent to HK$94.45 in the first 17 minutes, before it was suspended from trading at 9.48 am.

27,000

The approximate number of employees at Sun Hung Kai Properties, the city's largest developer

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