It's not every bank chairman who has been arrested for trying to save squatters from being thrown out of their homes. And it's a rarity to find in the top ranks of the financial world a man who grew up in the squalid slums of Shamshuipo. So give a big welcome to Vincent Cheng Hoi-chuen, new chairman of Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (Hongkong Bank). His appointment fills me with delight. He is a wonderful man. Born into poverty and crippled as a child, he overcame fearful challenges. As he worked his way up the corporate ladder he never forgot the underprivileged; for years he has worked tirelessly for charities and educational causes. Mr Cheng is the epitome of the classical Hong Kong rags-to-riches success story. And he's a thoroughly nice person. Life began for Mr Cheng far from the futuristic bank building in Central. His father ran a fruit stall. Home was a Shamshuipo shopfront and tiny room into which were crammed 67 people. Drug addicts and prostitutes were the neighbours. Before he was a year old, he caught polio, which left him badly crippled. His family, desperate, spent their savings on herbalists and faith healers. It was in vain. Growing up, he bore the burdens of poverty and disability; as he painfully walked with the aid of a cane to the nearby government school, other children would mock him. He carried on. He still limps painfully today on his twisted right leg. He has never had a day without pain. Despite his circumstances, the family had faith in the boy. They thought he might get a factory job, the economic escape hatch for poor families when he was growing up in the 1950s. Instead, he did so well at Kowloon Technical School that he gained a full scholarship to Chinese University where he studied economics. As a young radical, he was deeply involved in social causes. In 1971, he was arrested while protesting against the demolition of a squatter village in Lion Rock. Becoming friendly with a blind New Zealand therapist studying acupuncture in Hong Kong, he went to Auckland for his master's degree. With no financial support, he lived with his friend's family and worked by night so he could study by day. Mr Cheng started with the bank in 1978. Within eight years he was chief economist. He was also interested in social causes and because of his effective work for charities was appointed to the Legislative Council in 1991. He entered the chamber with determination. He was not going to be a rubber stamp. Hong Kong at that time had prosperity and full employment. 'Now we've got to create a society in which it's worth living,' he told me then. He served on Legco for four years and sat for two years (1995-97) on the Executive Council. His concerns were not merely on narrow fiscal horizons. He worked for the underprivileged, the unfortunate and the environment. Long before it became fashionable, he was committed fully to a mandatory retirement fund; he knew full well what happened to poor families with no savings. He worked tirelessly to improve conditions for the physically disabled and mentally handicapped; he knew the problems they faced. He regarded it as part of his duties as a legislator to see for himself. After one visit to a home for mentally handicapped children, the father of two girls shook his head and said: 'You can't help but cry.' He confessed with a smile that his role as a Legco member placed him in a philosophical wrestling match with his beliefs as a stout free-enterprise financier. His concerns for a fairer society branded him a liberal, while his economic beliefs cast him as a conservative. He shrugged. He could be both. In Legco, he spoke with the voice of reason, a pragmatist who felt the best way of getting a better deal for all was to make Hong Kong a wealthy society where everyone got a fair slice of a larger pie. To me, Mr Cheng is the very stuff of Hong Kong legend. He's got common sense, toughness, determination and a sense of what's right. Through sheer hard work, talent and ability, he's overcome enormous challenges and made it to the top. This jovial man with a quiet sense of humour and an easy laugh is a role model for our society. He's a real Hongkonger. That's why I was so thrilled when I heard of his appointment.