REPORTS of the death of Vigers Hong Kong are greatly exaggerated. Indeed, rather than roll over and die during the current property slump, the property consultancy has plans to merge with two other companies. According to Stan Wong, managing director at Vigers, the company will merge with an unnamed international building consultancy and a unnamed Hong Kong property general practice in March next year. In separate moves to create links with other companies, Vigers has developed a relationship with British building consultancy Sterling Management. The formalisation of a joint venture is expected soon. It also linked up with estate agents in Britain and the United States in October to form Grimley, Vigers and Advantus (GVA), an organisation for referring clients. Mr Wong said the mergers, joint ventures and networking were intended to help build up the professional side of the business and broaden the number of services on offer from Vigers. This strategy supersedes the much-vaunted China expansion plans of the company which followed its takeover by mainland interests in 1993. A wave of resignations, rumours about management problems and the takeover of Vigers' one-time British parent company by another consultancy there spurred discussions. Following the mainland-led buy-out of Vigers (Hong Kong), speculation was rife that one of Hong Kong's most respected property service companies was about to sell up. Vigers vigorously denied the rumours. The firm had hoped that, by attracting mainland investment, it would be able to crack the massive China market much easier. However, like everyone else, Vigers suffered from China's property slump. The situation was compounded by the hands-on involvement of its Chinese backers who lacked knowledge of the property business. Most of the shares held by Chinese investors have since been sold. A Hong Kong businessman took the lion's share. The current shareholders were taking a hands-off approach to the management of the company. The results had been positive, Mr Wong said. More than 50 per cent of the shares in Vigers are now held by Hong Kong clothes manufacturer Andrew Chan, with Malaysian businessman Yaw Chee Shiew, who was previously a minor shareholder controlling about 20 per cent. Mr Yaw's professional background is in real estate. Along with the changing balance of share ownership, there was a boardroom shuffle with veteran Vigers' directors Gareth Williams taking the chairman's spot and Stan Wong, the managing director's chair in the summer. '[The experience of Chinese ownership] taught us a lesson that, if a business is owned by people who do not really understand the business, it will not really work out. 'Rather than developing offices in China, we are focusing on developing the professional side of the business,' Mr Wong said. To emerge leaner and meaner from the property slump and the problems resulting from Chinese ownership, Mr Wong restructured the company, closing the investment department and setting up the business space department, headed by Samuel Woo. Each of Vigers' 10 departments has been given the task of attracting and handling investment business within its own mandate. It was part of an overall strategy to give them more autonomy in running their affairs, he said. The business space department was set up to cater for the growing grey area of business overlapping the industrial and commercial property sectors, typified by the advent of I/O (industrial/office) buildings. Firms wishing to move to and from grade B and C commercial buildings to I/O buildings or industrial premises are looked after by this section. Vigers' nine other departments cover the firm's commercial, retail, residential, property management, research, building consultancy, interior design and international/special projects activities. By developing its range of services, Mr Wong hoped Vigers would become the strongest professional team in Hong Kong, able to help clients from across Asia. As part of its expansion into Asia, he confirmed Vigers' hopes of opening an office in the Philippines, where it manages the property portfolio of brewer San Miguel. Vigers was considering proposals from two Philippine families to set up joint ventures there, he said. Vigers continues to take a strong interest in China, despite the downturn there. 'You cannot ignore the China market, although doing business is not as easy there as once thought,' Mr Wong said. The firm's business is booming in Thailand. Vigers is the largest appraisal firm in Bangkok, employing 110 people. Vigers also has an office in the resort town of Pattaya and four offices in Malaysia.