President in the soup as FCC row heats up

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 August, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 August, 1999, 12:00am

A cartoon popped up on the Foreign Correspondents' Club's latest weekly menu.

It depicts a waiter and a diner. Behind the diner is a sign reading: 'Today's Special: Presidential Soup'. In front of the diner is a serving of the stuff, in a bowl labelled 'FCC'.

Through the liquid's surface juts a pair of tiny legs.

'Waiter, there's an insect in my soup,' the man informs the server.

The response? 'I expect it got voted in.' Yes, it's back-stabbing as usual at Hong Kong's most coup-plagued club.

If you didn't know, FCC board members passed a vote of no confidence against their president while he was away in Canada. But Philip Segal refused to step down, claiming the vote against him breached club rules.

It's all somehow linked to the fact that club general manager Robert Sanders just resigned.

Or did he? His supporters seem doubtful. What they want to know is, did he jump . . . or was he pushed? All very Agatha Christie. Or Boris Yeltsin. One of those.

Lai See's efforts to find out what it was all about met with evasiveness and vague remarks that it was 'something to do with money'.


We wanted to find out what Mr Segal had done to upset the board and the apple cart. So Lai See threw on a cloak, grabbed a dagger, and entered the club, blending seamlessly with the members.

The posted meeting minutes made interesting reading.

On June 25, Mr Segal was worrying about money. Club money. Unaccounted-for-money.

Lai See was surprised to learn that the club was predicting a loss of $3.3 million for the financial year.

So Mr Segal had begun scrutinising food costs.

He wanted to know why an extra 5 per cent was routinely slapped on top of the tallies.

Apparently this is 'standard practice at the FCC and accounts for extras and give-aways'.

Not good enough, he said. In future I want it all broken down and real costs reflected.

The president was also concerned over the possibility of groceries going missing.

'Food deliveries are checked on arrival but shrinkage by theft or wastage is not tracked,' the minutes said.

Mr Segal was unimpressed by a fellow board member's assurance that they could all count on the chef's keen 'sense of what is in stock'.

The president didn't understand how food costs sometimes managed to comprise 41 per cent of monthly club costs. He ended the meeting none the wiser.

A month passed. Then Mr Segal went to Canada and the 'Special Board Meeting' was called.

The general manager had just stepped down. Which gave them all something to argue about.

Said the minutes: 'Debate ensued on [the treasurer's] actions in acquiring the general manager's resignation.

'Debate ensued regarding whether the letter was a letter of resignation, or of termination.' [We're guessing 'debate' is minute-ese for chair-throwing and shouts of 'Lying b******! I'll have you!'] Not long afterwards, Hugh van Es moved for a vote of no confidence in the president.

Mr van Es, for those of you who don't know, is famous for photographing the Vietnam War and torching the FCC sauna (it went up when he chucked a shot of booze over the coals a couple of months ago).

His motion was seconded by John Rittger, who was saddened and dismayed by Mr Segal's apparent unwillingness to 'work in conjunction with the board and comply with the board's requests'.

Which requests? we wondered. And what did any of it have to do with the general manager? A comment attributed to one Carl Rosenquist raised a Lai See antenna.

'Rosenquist stated that in his opinion, micro-management was one of the reasons the GM decided to leave,' the minutes said.

Hmmm. Wonder why? We asked an insider.

'[Segal] is trying to save the club money, and that's good,' he said. 'But don't try and talk about the price of salt and pepper.' But it wasn't just the micro-managing. Mr Segal was also guilty of 'going behind the general manager's back and speaking to heads of the [club] departments.' 'There's a chain of command. You can't just ignore the man in charge.' So THAT was the reason for the coup attempt? Not entirely.

'It's his overall performance,' the insider told us. 'It's his attitude.' 'Right now we're trying to settle this thing peacefully, but there are members shouting for blood because the president's still there.' Hence the cartoon.

Mr Segal hadn't seen it when we called.

'Wow,' was his shocked response when Lai See pointed it out to him last night. 'Very nice. I have never seen this until now, but given the events of the last few weeks, I'm not entirely surprised.' We wonder what will happen next.

Will things be settled peacefully, or will the blood-shouters triumph? Lai See has no idea.

But she looks forward to seeing what they've got on the menu for next week.