Lai See

Women in the boardroom are good for business

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 March, 2013, 4:34am

One of the curiosities of Hong Kong business is that although women do relatively well in terms occupying senior business management roles, they do significantly less well at making it into the boardroom. According to a recent Grant Thornton International survey, Hong Kong women come sixth in worldwide rankings and occupy 30 per cent of senior management roles.

However, 40 per cent of Hong Kong-listed companies have no women on their boards, while a further 37 per cent have just one woman director. The result is that women occupy just 10 per cent of all directorships in Hong Kong-listed companies - a situation which has not improved in the past five years. But the worldwide picture is not that great with women occupying 16.1 per cent of directorships in the US, 15 per cent in Britain, 8.4 per cent in Australia, and 8.5 per cent in mainland China.

So why is this? The conventional wisdom is that men tend to appoint their buddies to serve on boards. The issue is about to get a major push in Hong Kong with the launching of the 30% Club on Thursday. It's an outreach initiative of the Women's Foundation and its main objective is to get more women into the boardroom.

Why should this be desirable you may wonder? One of the arguments for educating teenage boys and girls separately is that mixing them brought out the worst in the boys as they competed more aggressively for bragging rights. However, there is a large body of research that argues that having more women on the board - at least three, according to McKinsey - is better for business.

Lai See just wonders whether breaking the circle of chums that can form many boards - by introducing outsiders, be they men or women - is key.

Norway has reportedly made great strides following the introduction of a 40 per cent quota in 2002. Perhaps this should be the way to go rather than pursuing what will inevitably be a slow evolutionary path.


Too much monkey business

We hear of unhappiness on the part of two international funds that in 2007 lent US$500 million to a mainland property development which has its headquarters in Guangzhou. The idea was that the company would list and the debt would be converted to equity and the funds would exit with profit.

But as we know, the best laid plans can go horribly wrong. The loans to the company - L'Sea Group - matured in October 2010 and have not been repaid. Efforts to negotiate alternative arrangements have also failed and the amount owed has risen to US$600 million.

L'Sea Group is controlled by Xie Haiyu, who until last Friday was a director and chairman of Hong Kong-listed L'Sea Resources International. In November last year, Xie stepped down from the chairmanship of Sing Pao Media Enterprises, which is listed on the Growth Enterprise Market, although he remains an executive director. L'Sea Group has property developments in Guangzhou and a number of second and third-tier cities.

We understand that as of December 24, its share capital amounted to 2.7 billion yuan (HK$3.3 billion), and as of December 2011 the book value of its net assets totalled 2.4 billion yuan. The initial agreement between Xie and the lenders restricts the transfer of assets out of the company.

So the lenders were dismayed to discover that between October and December, Xie transferred 16 operating subsidiaries, which included six property development projects, out of the group and out of the reach of the lenders. The transferred subsidiaries represent 729 million yuan in share capital and 537 million yuan in assets.

The company has been in receivership since October last year and the receivers are taking legal action on the mainland in the hope of reversing what it calls these "fraudulent and dishonest transfers".

A stock exchange announcement said Xie's resignation from L'Sea Resources was "due to other personal commitments". In addition, it may not be unconnected with a letter sent to HKEx by the receivers which Lai See understands says that in view of his behaviour, "Xie is not a fit and proper person to be a director of a listed Hong Kong company".

Xie declined to respond to our invitation to comment on these allegations.