New CLP chief treading lightly

NEW China Light and Power chief Ross Sayers said yesterday he wanted to improve the company's reputation for service, possibly by setting and publishing service targets.

Mr Sayers, who became managing director and chief executive of the company four weeks ago, disappointed journalists in his first meeting with the Hongkong press by trying to escape his reputation as an axeman, won during his previous job with the New South Wales State Rail Authority.

Asked if he was going to provide a news bonanza by starting a Cathay Pacific-style strike, he said ''no, no, no''.

Asked if he was going to cut staff numbers by 33 per cent, as he did in Australia, he again said 'no', adding: ''I'd stack the Hongkong team against any in the world - no fears.'' He said some tightening of labour costs would be possible, but this would be ''incremental rather than in a step form''.

Mr Sayers confirmed that a price increase of unspecified size but below the rate of inflation was in the pipeline, and that the company was talking about ventures in Shandong province and elsewhere in China, and not just in the Pearl River delta as was previously rumoured.

It would be ''logical'' for such talks to include Exxon, its partner in electricity generation in Hongkong.

He ruled out China ventures unrelated to electricity, and said the company's position was strong because it could offer experience in nuclear, coal, oil, gas and hydro-power generation.

Despite the big issues he will have to deal with, Mr Sayers' priority list appears topped by the meter readers, cashiers and telephone operators who deliver the front-line service and are responsible for the company's image.

Mr Sayers declared a number of times that he regarded China Light and Power as being in the service business, and said these three groups of staff would be offered training, work aids and facilities.

And a pay rise? ''I've only been here four weeks,'' he replied nimbly.

A frequent tourist to Hongkong in the past, he claimed to be possibly the greatest success of the ''stay an extra day'' campaign.

Before his stint in Australia he worked at the New Zealand railway network, and he has brought his enthusiasm for trains to Hongkong.

He proudly displayed his $50 MTR ticket to an audience sceptical of his claims to have no official car, and raved about the service levels achieved.

Mr Sayers had serious heart trouble in 1990, which needed eight heart bypass operations.

He said his health had been restored. ''I feel as fit as a teenager.''