How KB built up Goodwill

IN a town in which the financial markets are often a soap opera, a sub-plot which involves duelling dynasties always has an audience. One of the favourite scripts in Hong Kong concerns the alleged bust-up of the Fung boys following the death of the legendary Fung King-hey, who built the Sun Hung Kai (SHK) securities and property empire.

The gossip is that Mr Fung's son, Tony, fell out with Fung Ka-pun, said to be a close, but unspecified, relation, over the direction the company should take.

The result was that Tony Fung stayed at SHK, while K B Fung, as he is known, was forced to strike out on his own, and established Goodwill International.

Sadly for the ill-informed tale-tellers, the story is a myth, insists K B Fung. He says he is no relation and there never was any problem between him and Tony Fung.

K B said he stayed on as managing director for Sun Hung Kai after Mr Fung's sudden death, out of a moral obligation.

'I was happy with what I was doing under Mr Fung's helmsmanship. I revered him and turned down repeated attempts by head-hunters. When the company was solid under Tony Fung, I left to establish my own business.' K B said there was never any feud between him and the changed management at SHK.

His progress at Goodwill has shown how much he learned during his time under Fung King-hey. He has taken the investment services and investment holding group from a starting capital of $260 million, via a back door listing, to a market capitalisation of $1 billion, and he regards this as a base on which to build. His experiences with Fung King-hey attracted recognition and backing from serious players in town. Corporate and individual shareholders of Goodwill include Kerry Group, Sun Hung Kai Properties, Lee Hing Development, Yiu Wing International, CNT Group, Sino Land, and former stock exchange chairman Charles Lee Yeh-kwong.

Goodwill is now negotiating a deal in financial services which, when completed, will boost the group's regional and local presence in broking.

Its recent takeover of China Industrial International Corporation (CIIC), for which Goodwill had acted as financial adviser, to be completed on June 28, makes up about 80 per cent of its capital (based on $3.88 per share).

'Given the short span of time and that everyone had a difficult year in 1994, we're doing remarkably well,' said Mr Fung.

In the same year they disposed of stocks and properties, generating about $130 million in cash, in what Mr Fung said were timely moves at good prices. But that does not warrant complacency, he says.

'We're not just sitting there and will put to good use the new strength we gain from the takeover of CIIC. We'll charge ahead and be more aggressive.' Should the new deal get signed, Goodwill is well able to finance it internally.

Mr Fung's ability to attract partners has also been seen in his targeting of China - he shares none of the post-1997 depression which grips some players. In that market Goodwill has established a foothold through a newly established joint-venture company, China Progress.

Other partners include Peregrine Direct Investments, Appleton (owned by Charles Lee Yeh-kwong), the New China Hong Kong Group, and Perfect Wing.

Mr Fung's calm in the face of uncertainty owes a lot to his experience, of bad times as well as good.

K B was in the market when the stock index plunged from 1,700 to 150 in 1973, through the oil crisis and talks on Hong Kong's future in the 1980s, and the stock crash in 1987. He can proudly say he weathers changes in the territory.

At 49, Mr Fung is the epitome of the Chinese entrepreneur. He keeps his profile low, and his presence unassuming, but becomes earnest in a Confucian manner when talking about the late Fung King-hey - 'a wonderful deal-maker'.

He recalled with distinguished satisfaction the day he went to the negotiation table with the late Mr Fung on a deal with the giant US brokers, Merrill Lynch, in May 1982.

'You can tell what kind of trader Mr Fung [King-hey] was and what vision he held. We're talking about a local firm ending up the single largest shareholder of Merrill, the largest financial institution in the world,' Mr Fung said still beaming with excitement.

Today, Goodwill's main areas of interest, financial services and direct investment, make up 50 per cent of the company, property takes 25 per cent, and Grand Orient - which is expected to be disposed of for $142 million within two months - and other small projects, make up the rest.

Mr Fung has a 30 per cent interest in Goodwill and, though not a majority shareholder, believes his management prowess qualifies him to be chairman.

Among other projects, Mr Fung is particularly bullish of his FOTIC Capital, which will become an in-house finance vehicle for China National Chemicals Import and Export Corporation (Sinochem), China's top trading enterprise.

FOTIC Capital, incorporated in Hong Kong in 1993, was a joint-venture between Goodwill, AIA Capital, and China Trust and Investment Corporation for Foreign Economic Relations and Trade (FOTIC), one of China's largest non-banking financial institutions.

The merger in March between FOTIC and Sinochem left Sinochem holding 60 per cent in FOTIC Capital.

'It's very good for FOTIC Capital; after several years of consolidation in China it's now a very good entry point.

'We'll get into direct investment, and any good item is in our scope of interest, we're after any project that makes financial sense.'