Incoming Hospital Authority head John Leong nowhere near retirement

Medical don John Leong, 71, sets an example that one is never too old for new challenges

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 October, 2013, 12:35am

The best alternative to retirement is to step into a fresh role and take up new challenges - as Professor John Leong Chi-yan demonstrated when he assumed the presidency of the Open University past the age of 60.

That was 10 years ago, in December 2003. The posting was a marked departure from his comfort zone at the prestigious University of Hong Kong, where he had spent 38 years as a professor.

Now, at 71, there is a sense of déjà vu for Leong, newly appointed as chairman of the Hospital Authority, the statutory body that manages the multibillion-dollar public medical sector.

"He was like a boat captain, setting a clear position for the Open University," said Professor Joseph Lee Kok-long, head of the university's nursing department and a health-services legislator. "I hope he will set a clear position for the Hospital Authority, too."

Leong was a management novice when he accepted the Open University job in 2003.

But the changes he made to the self-financing institution in the last decade have won generous accolades from colleagues

And in his new task at the Hospital Authority, the vote of confidence is apparent.

Professor Danny Wong Shek-nam, vice-president (academic) of the university, said Leong had brought about breakthroughs to the institution. Leong is due to step down in April.

"Leong has expanded the total size of the [Ho Man Tin] campus premises twice," Wong said. "He has also rolled out full-time degree programmes, which significantly increased enrolment figures.

"Despite his Open University presidency, he remained very concerned about the development of the medical system … He will serve the new post well."

Lee said Leong had contributed to raising the university's profile and seeking funding for its work. "My impression is that he's a typical surgeon - he identifies a problem and gets the solutions."

When the school proposed a fee increase last year that faced opposition from students, Leong met student representatives.

"He would listen and talk rationally with you, but I can't really say whether he is open-minded," Lee said.

When asked for his future policy, the incoming chief said: "My way of working is to discuss in detail with related people, and in the end the decision has to be agreed by everyone. Communicating with different stakeholders is the most important area."