Lai See

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 March, 2011, 12:00am

E-mail complaint shakes the foundations at architectural firm

We hear of discord in the Hong Kong office of RMJM, one of the world's largest architectural practices. The firm's principal architect, Catherine Siu, has been suspended after firing off an e-mail to the company's chief executive Peter Morrison, as well as circulating it to all staff, in which she strongly criticised the way the firm was managed, according to a number of stories by the British publication, Building Design.

She said in the e-mail that she and other senior figures at the firm had filed a complaint with the Labour Department over 'your decision not to honour your obligations to pay staff salaries in Hong Kong, in full and on time'.

If the firm is prosecuted and found guilty, it could be fined up to HK$350,000 with directors facing three years in jail.

In the e-mail Siu accused Morrison of 'stripping out all the cash' from the Hong Kong office, making it difficult to pay staff and creditors. For her pains she was suspended while, RMJM said, it investigated her 'bizarre and irrational behaviour'.

However according to the newspaper, The Scotsman, the firm's commercial director Declan Thompson admitted salaries had been delayed over the Lunar New Year period because of slow payments from clients. Morrison conceded that the past few years had been difficult for the company but told The Scotsman: 'There is a very limited element of substance to Catherine's e-mail, but these are the calculated exaggerated writings of someone who, it is now clear, has been working against the interests of RMJM, our team, our partners and our clients.'

Lai See tried in vain to contact Siu. RMJM's Hong Kong office has not responded to our request to discuss her claims.

RMJM has been hit hard in recent months by the defection of large numbers of senior staff around the world, according to Building Design. Five senior designers left the Hong Kong office last year to launch a rival practice - 10 Design.

If all that wasn't enough, the firm is being sued by employees in the US over claims that it owes them hundreds of thousands of dollars. According to the lawsuit, RMJM director Fraser Morrison and his chief executive son Peter reneged on a US$24 million merger with the US-based Hillier in 2007.

RMJM attracted attention last year when it hired Sir Fred ('Fred the Shred') Goodwin, the former Royal Bank of Scotland chief who distinguished himself by making it the world's fifth-largest bank before it was rescued by the British government in 2008, having incurred the biggest loss in British corporate history. In recent months he is believed to have lowered his profile and distanced himself from the troubled company.

Tyler bows out in front

So farewell then Tony 'The Tiger' Tyler, who faced the reptiles (aka the Hong Kong press pack) for the last time yesterday as chief executive of Cathay Pacific Airways. There were hearty congratulations all round as Hong Kong's home carrier broke all previous records in terms of profit, revenue and yields.

As Tyler himself pointed out, he'd been talking to the press as a senior Cathay executive for more than 10 years, including the past four years as part of the management team announcing the annual results.

'In three of those there were records - two with record profits and one with record losses.' He added that he was glad the score was '2-1 and not the other way around'.

Nomura abandoning the boom

Does Nomura know something we don't? Or does this mean that one of their traders zigged when they should have zagged? Reuters reports that Japan's largest brokerage is trimming its global commodities and energy-trading business and cutting jobs just when the markets are booming. The bank's trading personnel were reportedly told late on Tuesday that the company was downsizing the business, particularly for oil and soft commodities, and affected staff had already been informed. Why now, when gold is near record levels and oil is above US$100 a barrel.

Paulson gets a sub-par welcome

Interesting to see that John Paulson has joined the illustrious band of US and European hedge funds that are setting up shop in Asia. Paulson made his name betting against sub-prime mortgages several years ago. The SFC approval for his licence to trade securities in Hong Kong was flashed to the world on Reuters 3000 Xtra screens as 'Hedge fund manager Paulson gets HK Securities lice'. Lousy headline, huh.