Sir Gordon's legacy stands firm, by any reckoning

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 July, 2007, 12:00am

He was a pivotal figure in the city's accounting industry, but Gordon Macwhinnie's interests went well beyond number-crunching - to higher education, golf and horse racing.

Sir Gordon, the 'father' and founding president of the Hong Kong Society of Accountants - now the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA) - died in his home town in Kent, southeast England, on Wednesday. He was 84.

Tributes have flooded in for the man who was an integral part of Hong Kong's business community for more than 50 years.

Sir Gordon, founded the Hong Kong office of Peat Marwick Mitchell & Co, now KPMG, in the 1950s. He also established the accountants' society, and helped set up Ocean Park and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Knighted in 1992, Sir Gordon witnessed the city's post-war reconstruction in the 1950s, the riots of 1967, the stock market booms and busts in the '70s and '80s, and the 1997 handover.

HKICPA president Mark Fong Chung praised Sir Gordon's efforts in setting up the accountants' body and fighting for its statutory status. 'This ensured the HKICPA developed into a professional body and did not end up as a social club. He supported the institute until he left Hong Kong in 2006.'

HKICPA chief executive Winnie Cheung Chee-woon said Sir Gordon was a strong advocate of training young people. 'He was always willing to give advice to the young staff in the institute on how to improve their work.'

Executive council member and former KPMG chairman Marvin Cheung Kin-tung, whom Mr Macwhinnie hired at KPMG in 1969, said: 'Sir Gordon was a man with the highest integrity and moral standards. He never considered seeking rewards or recognition for himself. Hong Kong has benefited enormously from his endeavours and sadly mourns his passing.'

Chairman of KPMG in China and Hong Kong, John Harrison, said: 'Sir Gordon was a man ahead of his time. At a time when business ethics were perhaps not in vogue he had the highest of personal integrity and this stood the firm in good stead over time. Sir Gordon will be missed by all who knew him, he was a true gentleman in every sense.'

Before leaving Hong Kong in April last year, Sir Gordon told the South China Morning Post that he had set up the society to address a desperate shortage of accountants at a time when only chartered accountants from England and Australia could work in Hong Kong. The aim was for Hong Kong to have its own certification system and clear the way for locals to join the profession. With HK$200,000 in government support, the society was set up in 1973.

Membership has risen from 566 on its debut to 26,000 today - a figure that is expected to grow further as all major accounting firms recruit accountants to meet demand from the mainland.

While Sir Gordon was happy with the growing membership, he was less pleased with the government's moves to end the accounting body's self-regulation model.

The move, following accounting scandals in the US and Hong Kong, saw the government submit a bill to the Legislative Council last year for debate. The move led to the birth this week of the Financial Reporting Council to take over the investigative work of the institute. 'I do not agree with the change. It is a crazy idea to let someone outside the profession discuss accountancy cases. Accountants are all well trained and the profession worked well with the self-regulatory model,' he said.

As a young man, Sir Gordon left his home in Scotland to study accountancy at a firm in London. In addition to mastering figures, he recalled that he also had to learn how to make tea and clean the windows.

His training was turned upside down by the second world war, during which he served as a captain in the British Army in India and Burma, now Myanmar. Little did he realise when he arrived in Hong Kong with the British army in 1945, shortly after the surrender of the Japanese, that he would return to the colony.

'You learn everything in the army, including something you could never learn from a book. You learn how to look after yourself and look after others,' he said.

In 1946, he returned to London to continue his studies, joining Peat Marwick Mitchell, which was the auditor of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp.

The banking giant requested its auditing firm to set up a branch in Hong Kong, which resulted in Peat Marwick transferring Sir Gordon to the colony in 1950.

'There were no 747s at that time. I came by ship and it took a month to travel from London to Hong Kong,' Sir Gordon said. 'When I first arrived, local Chinese accountants were using abacuses to calculate figures.'

Sir Gordon has been chairman of the Hong Kong Jockey Club and of Ocean Park, captain and president of the Hong Kong Golf Club, director of the MTR Corp, and deputy chairman of Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

When he was with the Jockey Club, Sir Gordon helped manage the HK$2 billion construction of the HKUST, which opened in 1991.

HKUST council chairman Dr John Chan Cho-chak said Sir Gordon 'was the key driving force that turned the green field site into our magnificent sea-view campus. The stunning campus is in a sense a monument to him'.

The university's founding president, Woo Chia-wei, remembered the many years of work with Sir Gordon to set up the university. 'Good men like him helped turn Hong Kong into a great metropolis during the post-second world war decades. Hong Kong owes him a lot,' Professor Woo said.

Sir Gordon is survived by his wife and two sons, who also live in Kent.