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West Kowloon Cultural District

Revolving door of executives: mystery of Hong Kong arts hub directors turnover must be solved

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 October, 2015, 1:39am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 October, 2015, 1:39am

When a company loses one top executive after another, common sense tells us there must be something wrong. The West Kowloon Cultural District Authority appears to be facing such a problem. Following the departure of the arts hub chief Michael Lynch earlier this year, Lars Nittve, executive director of the visual culture museum M+, is set to leave early next year.

If the news of Nittve's departure is no longer greeted with the same level of shock and regret as was the case with Lynch and his predecessor Graham Sheffield, it is because the turnover at the senior echelon has become so frequent that it risks becoming the norm rather than the exception.

Nittve is the third cultural heavyweight to go in less than five years. As the museum opening has been delayed to 2019, the 62-year-old said he had to assess if he could commit himself to another four years. Having been at the helm since 2000, he said it was time he handed over the job to someone else.

In 2011, Sheffield resigned after a few months in the top job, citing unspecified health reasons. His successor also quit early this year, saying his wife was ill and he wanted to spend more time with her and the family.

In 2009, a former Hong Kong Disneyland manager, Angus Cheng Siu-chuen, walked out as project delivery executive director after just seven days at the arts hub.

Given its scale and troubled history, the arts hub project is no doubt a hot kitchen. Adding to the pressure are cost overruns as well as repeated changes and delays.

Although the executives quit for health or personal reasons, it would not be surprising if bureaucracy and politics contributed to their departures. Whatever the circumstances, the frequent turnover is a cause for concern.

With the authority still struggling to turn the HK$21.6 billion project into reality, stability is crucial. As management launches another global recruitment drive for the top museum job, it should also study whether the frequent personnel changes stem from systemic issues and identify ways to prevent further loss of talent.