Hutchison Whampoa

Lai See

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 March, 2006, 12:00am


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If Hong Kong's railway operators were fairy-tale characters, then troubled KCRC would be the ugly duckling while MTR Corp would be Cinderella.

At a closed-door luncheon sponsored by KPMG and the British Chamber of Commerce yesterday, MTR chief executive Chow Chung-kong was proud to share his firm's success story.

'Over the last 30 years, the Hong Kong government has not spent a single dollar to pay for railroad. On the contrary, it has made $100 billion,' Mr Chow said.

Nearly one-third of MTR's revenue comes from leased advertising space and retail rentals. Mr Chow said the company aimed to raise this revenue share to 50 per cent, enabling it to further cut its reliance on fares.

The model has been so successful that the MTR has started to export it to the mainland. Shenzhen, for example, will soon have its very own version of the MTR, complete with attached property developments. The company is also working on a similarly structured Beijing Metro project.

'Chinese mayors become speechless - because it is difficult to speak when your jaws hit the floor - because they just cannot believe somebody does not need to invest to build a railroad,' Mr Chow said, without giving any hint on whether his company was still considering taking over KCRC.

Who knows? MTR may just help transform KCRC into a beautiful swan.


Requesting anonymity, a Lai See reader and Harvard Business School alumnus emailed us to share his thoughts on fellow graduate Michael Tien Puk-sun's unceremonious exit as KCRC chairman.

Without wanting to denigrate his alma mater, the reader ventured that the business school's revered case-study method, which asks students to assume the executive role for troubled companies, might be producing managers who preferred 'quick fixes' that worked on only paper.

After doing 1,500 case-studies for their two-year MBAs, graduates might be ending up lacking the social graces to deal with human or community relations, he added.

'It is no wonder that nearly all [Harvard] MBA students think that they are Superman and can fix any company, having played 'Boss' for so long and got recognised and rewarded with a coveted MBA.'

Our reader suggests that Mr Tien and his KCRC successor and erstwhile rival, Samuel Lai man-hay, brush up on Mark McCormack's 1984 book, What They Don't Teach You At Harvard Business School. Perhaps they can even share a copy and be friends again.


Former Hutchison Whampoa chairman and chief executive Bill Wyllie has passed away at 73.

Best known in the 1970s as the 'Corporate Doctor' - probably the first in Hong Kong - he nursed Hutchison International into financial health in 1976 before orchestrating the 1977 merger with Whampoa Dockyard, creating Hutchison Whampoa.

Hutchison Whampoa grew into a global player while Wyllie became a model for corporate turnaround doctors. His healing powers will be sorely missed.


In an unintended homage to the late Fortune magazine writer Louis Kraar, a South Korean government agency has once again declared the death of Hong Kong.

In the latest issue of the Economist, a full-page ad headlined 'Sorry ... Mr Hong Kong' caught our eye. It shows what looks like a tiny tribal stone figure lording it over from the centre of a bamboo steaming-basket, with three pieces of displaced dim sum forlornly standing at the back of the tableaux.

It turns out that the Jeju Free International City, from the eponymous island off South Korea's southernmost tip, is declaring itself Asia's next global city.

If you ask Lai See, we think Jeju is being a bit jejune. With apologies to media theorist Marshall McLuhan, we still believe that the dim sum is the message. Long live Hong Kong!