Lai See
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 April, 2013, 5:35am

What are the limits to shareholder rights?

BIO

Howard Winn has been with the South China Morning Post for two and half years after previous stints as business editor and deputy editor of The Standard, and business editor of Asia Times. His writing has also been published in the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Wall Street Journal, and the International Herald Tribune. He writes the Lai See column which focuses on the lighter side of business.
 

As if life wasn't tough enough for Pacific Basin Shipping - the dry cargo shipowner saw the Baltic Dry Index slump to its lowest quarterly average since 1986 earlier this year, and now has to put up with greedy shareholders. In a scene reminiscent of early MTR Corp annual general meetings, one shareholder at Pacific Basin's AGM opened their bag and swiped all the small capsules of coffee being readied for thirsty participants. While the shareholder's action left Pacific Basin staff astonished, its catering company at the Hong Kong Maritime Museum managed to find limited extra supplies before parched journalists arrived.

There were unfortunate scenes at MTR Corp AGMs many years ago, with shareholders filling their bags with food and refreshments and disappearing before proceedings had even started. The MTR subsequently stopped the practice and there were a lot of disgruntled shareholders the first year they found there were no spoils.

 

George Soros lives

Multibillionaire George Soros has had the unusual opportunity of reading his obituary. This came courtesy of a slip by Reuters, which accidentally published a pre-written obituary. He may not have been too pleased to read, on his first morning in paradise, "George Soros, who died XXX at age XXX, was a predatory and hugely successful financier and investor, who argued paradoxically for years against the same sort of free-wheeling capitalism that made him billions." It would be an understatement to say that the 1,122-word piece was not especially kind to Soros. Indeed, the website Slate described it "as a remarkably ungenerous assessment". The Slate piece went on to say that there was nothing paradoxical about Soros' wealth and political views. He was acutely aware that he would not have been able to do it outside of the institutions of liberal democracies, and "entire philanthropic career has been dedicated to bolstering and spreading those institutions". We can report that the old boy is still alive and that Reuters has apologised for the error.

 

People still don't trust bankers

Bankers in Britain appear to be no closer to rehabilitation for their role in the global financial crisis and other scandals. Nine out of 10 Britons would trust the banking industry more if bad bankers could be struck off, according to a survey of 2,000 people by the consumer magazine, Which. Only 1 in 16 (6 per cent) people believe that bankers act in the interests of their customers, a lower level than a year ago. Some 60 per cent of those surveyed thought it unlikely a banker would be sacked if he lied or cheated.

"This survey confirms just how poorly bankers are held in the public's esteem right now and the scale of the challenges facing the industry. We understand why people are angry, which is why the banking industry is embarking on an unprecedented programme of change," said Anthony Browne, chief executive of the British Bankers' Association. Clearly this sentiment is not echoed in Hong Kong, though the equanimity with which banks are viewed here is perhaps surprising given the steep fees for ordinary services.

 

The limits of success

Does success bring a long, happy life? That's the $64,000 question we'd all like the answer to. A new study has a stab at it. "Despite their many accomplishments, ambitious people are only slightly happier than their less-ambitious counterparts, and they actually live somewhat shorter lives," says Timothy Judge, a professor of management at the University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business. His study tracked 717 ambitious types born early in the 20th century, Fortune magazine reports, before going on to demanding, high-status, highly paid careers.

"We discovered that ambition has, at most, only a very slight positive effect on life satisfaction, and actually a slightly negative impact on longevity," Judge says. "So, yes, ambitious people do achieve more successful careers, but that doesn't seem to translate into leading happier or healthier lives."

He says that if our biggest wish for our children is that they lead happy, healthy lives then, "you might not want to overemphasise the importance of professional success - there are limits to what our ambitions can bring us - or our kids".

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