Experts at the International Company Secretaries conference, organised by the Hong Kong Institute of Company Secretaries (HKICS) and starting on Sunday, will stress the importance of corporate governance to the future growth and prosperity of the SAR. Leading corporate governance figures, including keynote speakers Sir Ronald Hampel, chairman of the British Committee on Corporate Governance, South African expert Mervyn King and Canadian Peter Dey, will participate. Plenary sessions speakers will include Robert Monks, president of LENS Inc, Gao Xiqing, one of the founders of the Chinese Securities Regulatory Commission, and Hong Kong corporate governance authority Robert Tricker. 'As we approach the beginning of a new millennium, corporate governance is a critical element in the continued growth and prosperity of companies,' HKICS president Edwin Ing said. 'We have put together a very interesting, highly relevant and practical programme and we are proud to bring you speakers whose names and work have become synonymous with the study of corporate governance.' The conference has been organised by the HKICS in co-operation with the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators and the Government's Companies Registry on the theme of 'Corporate Governance and the Challenges Ahead'. Principal sponsors include the Hong Kong Government, the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong, the Securities and Futures Commission, Sweet & Maxwell Asian and the Financial Times. HKICS chief executive Peter Tashjian said the three keynote speakers had all chaired leading corporate governance committees in their respective countries. 'Their work will certainly be familiar to anyone working in the corporate governance field,' Mr Tashjian said. 'As plenary sessions will consider specific corporate governance issues in the face of increasing globalisation, keynote speakers have been asked to focus on their own work and, in particular, significant developments since the release of their respective committee reports.' Plenary sessions will have discussion panels, including leading academics, business people, professionals and practitioners. A strong line-up of Hong Kong panel members has been assembled, including Hongkong Bank chairman John Strickland, Official Receiver Robin Hearder and chief economist at the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce Ian Perkin. Mr Tashjian said there had been broad support for the conference from professional bodies and practitioners around the world. Those attending are expected to include lawyers, accountants and senior managers in addition to members of the HKICS. 'That is not surprising as corporate governance has really moved into the mainstream in the past few years. It used to be seen as just a stock exchange thing, but it is extraordinary the extent to which governments and public bodies are becoming involved in corporate governance issues: the OECD, the World Bank and APEC are all involved. 'They are trying to work guidelines based on generally-accepted corporate governance principles. 'The HKICS says that corporate governance is not new. The buzz phrase is new but the concept is as as old as companies themselves. If you split management and ownership, there is a risk things will not go the way you want and, the larger the company, the bigger the split,' Mr Tashjian said.