Connie Lau steps down as Consumer Council chief

Connie Lam is finally retiring after spending 38 years on the front line of consumer protection, from abandoned bank clients to too-fatty meat

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 November, 2012, 3:29am

She was a young sociology graduate fresh from Chinese University starting out at the Consumer Council, then a mere seven-month-old watchdog fielding complaints such as fried beef noodles being served with too little meat.

That was 1974. In the next 38 years, Connie Lau Yin-hing would go from researcher all the way to chief executive.

It was never planned, but then again, thoughts of leaving never crossed her mind - until, after almost four decades, Lau finally retires next week.

"I was hired on a 30-month contract back in 1974 and my contract kept being renewed until now," Lau said yesterday.

As she progressed up the ladder, Lau has been witness to the changing nature of complaints coming from Hongkongers.

"The complaints we received in the 1970s were as simple as a dish of stir-fried noodles with beef not having enough beef, or the meat sold in the market being too fatty."

Cases these days were more complicated, she said. "With changes to the society and consumers' better knowledge of their rights, we see more complicated cases, which always involve legal issues."

Lau took over as the council's new leader in 2007. The five-year term was not short of unpredictable challenges.

On her first day as chief, the media reported on mainland tourists' claims of mistreatment in Hong Kong. "There were news reports saying mainlanders who sold their cattle in order to visit the city ended up being abandoned by group tours," she said.

A year later, the bankruptcy of the US investment bank Lehman Brothers prompted more than 10,000 complaints to the council. "There were so many victims that they were sitting on the floor of the conference room. We handled 1,000 complaints in one morning," Lau said.

On the personal battlefront, Lau said one of the most difficult moments was a severe illness in 2000 that kept her away from work for four months.

"I was very ill and was fighting for my life. From that moment, I cherished everything around me, such as my family and my job," she said.

It was "a life's blessing" to be able to work at the council, but it came with one regret: not enough time with her family, including her 90-year-old father.

She plans to spend time with her only daughter, who is married and lives in Beijing.