Antony Leung: a man of faith ready for a big comeback?

Antony Leung is being tipped to run for chief executive after a 'lesson in humility' from God

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 May, 2014, 5:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 May, 2014, 5:01am

March 2002 was possibly the best month in the political career of Antony Leung Kam-chung, then a financial secretary buoyed by the cheers that greeted his maiden budget speech.

That budget - a combination of recession-beating relief measures and potential civil-service pay cuts to tackle a deficit - helped boost Leung's popularity to his personal record of 65.4 points out of 100 in a University of Hong Kong poll.

He became one of the most popular ministers in chief executive Tung Chee-hwa's cabinet - and a perceived front runner to succeed his boss.

Also in March 2002, the 50-year-old brought his romance with Olympic gold medallist Fu Mingxia out into the open. The former "diving queen", who at 23 was almost 27 years his junior, married him in July that year.

Ironically, it was the budget exactly a year later that ended Leung's ministerial career abruptly, when he was revealed to have bought a Lexus saloon just before increasing taxes on car registration in the annual speech.

Leung apologised, explaining that none of his cars were suitable for a newborn baby, given his wife was heavily pregnant.

Unfortunately for him, 2003 was the year when half a million people marched on July 1 to protest at a national security bill and at Tung's "failed" governance - in which Leung had already drawn much unwanted attention. He eventually resigned.

Of that fall from grace, Leung said in an ATV interview in 2011: "The things that happened [in 2003] and having to leave the government are the best lessons … that God has taught me about humility."

With those words, he might have started an act of "metamorphosis" - to let it be known he had learned from past mistakes.

That may be why his name has been floated in recent months to be the next chief executive in 2017, when Hongkongers elect their leader for the first time.

When asked the question point-blank last month, however, he stopped short of giving a clear no, only saying: "I have no such plan."

A former high-flying investment banker, Leung gave up a reported salary of more than HK$10 million per year at JPMorgan Chase for politics, serving as financial chief for just HK$2.5 million annually.

With his political ambitions derailed, he went back to business. From 2007 to early this year, he led the Greater China operations of US-based private equity giant Blackstone; his portfolio also included chairing the Hong Kong branch of Heifer International, a global charity dedicated to ending poverty and hunger, since 2005.

Leung's 10-year silence on political issues was not broken until last year, when it emerged he had co-hosted a series of lunch discussions on electoral reform with Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing.

And when he became chief executive of property developer Nan Fung, rumour had it that he wanted to develop a higher profile in the city's public affairs.

Leung laughed off such speculation in November, describing as "creative" the idea that he was teaming up with Tsang to contest the next chief executive poll.

Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung has said Leung's experience in public administration will work to his advantage should he decide to run.

Leung used to chair the Education Commission, and was an executive councillor before being appointed financial secretary.

However, former Democratic Party lawmaker Lee Wing-tat, who led calls for Leung's resignation in the wake of "Lexusgate", believes the 2003 scandal remains his biggest hurdle.

"Leung's aides will have to plan a metamorphosis in his [public image], just like Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee has succeeded in transforming herself," Lee said.

Ip, then secretary for security, also resigned shortly after the unprecedented 2003 march, but was elected to the legislature in 2008 and is now one of the most popular lawmakers.

Lee also described Leung as an "arrogant" person who was more concerned about achieving results than the perceptions or feelings of the people. He cited Leung's criticism of the Professional Teachers' Union and the Education Department for "obstructing" educational reforms.

Then again, Leung could have become a changed man. In a speech on globalisation at the Institute of Education last month, he said his conversion to Christianity in 2007 was the greatest gift God had given him since his exit from the administration.

Bringing up the lesson on humility he learned a decade ago, Leung told his audience of about 100 students that he wanted his three children "to get in touch with Biblical teachings since they are small, so that they could at least 'act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God'".

"I have seen many people … who might have succeeded so easily and gone to very good schools, that they didn't know what humility was," he said. "If you win and become proud, I can guarantee you defeat, and it will be a very bitter one."

He also warned of the hazards of having ethically unsound leaders. "Competent people who lack morals are the most dangerous. I would prefer incompetent people [with a sense of] morality."

He added: "The best leaders … are those with a capable team, because a good leader can attract even better people to work for him. And a leader cannot be lonely, because your team may consist of … tens of thousands of people."

Observers were quick to relate Leung's remarks to the current chief executive, but he clarified a few days later that he was not questioning the leadership ability of Leung Chun-ying.

Meanwhile, a former executive councillor who had worked with Antony Leung before expressed reservations about the suggestion that his business and personal connections could help him to forge a capable cabinet.

"Leung is a clever man … and people with a business background are also more flexible and knowledgeable in making deals, but does that make the person a good chief executive?"


Antony Leung

Age 62

- Graduated from Ying Wa College in 1970
- Graduated from the University of Hong Kong with a degree in economics in 1973
- Attended Harvard Business School in 1982 and 1999

- CEO, Nan Fung Group
- Chairman, Heifer International's Hong Kong branch
- Board chairman, Harvard Business School Association of Hong Kong

- Greater China chairman of Blackstone Group
- Financial Secretary
- Asia-Pacific chairman of JP Morgan Chase
- Head of University Grants Committee and Education Commission
- Acting financial secretary of HKU Student Union