Gordon Jones targets an updated companies code and fully online business transactions Registrar of Companies Gordon Jones, who studied modern history at the University of Oxford, is now firmly focused on Hong Kong's business future rather than the European past. His projects include a rewrite of the Companies Ordinance, which aims to bring it into the 21st century, and computerisation of the Companies Registry's operations. As part of the rewrite exercise, the government at the end of last month issued a consultation paper on a proposal to change the accounting and auditing provisions of the Companies Ordinance, including requiring mainly public companies to prepare a more forward-looking business review. Mr Jones said that more than 50 per cent of his time was being spent on rewriting the Companies Ordinance, which was last subject to a major review in 1984 although there have been many amendment bills since then. In another important reform, the Companies Registry last week started a study to implement the electronic submission of corporate documents, which would help make paper submissions a thing of the past. The study is due to be completed later this year. The subsequent computerisation programme, expected to be implemented in late 2009, will enable companies to incorporate in Hong Kong electronically and file any statutory documents, including annual financial statements, with the Companies Registry online. 'The new information system will lead to a significant reduction in the time taken to process documents, more timely updating and disclosure of company information, enhanced data security and integrity and higher productivity at reduced operating costs,' Mr Jones said in an interview. 'At present, the Companies Registry's customers from all over the world can conduct searches over the internet on the current data and over 87 million digitised images of registered company documents kept in the registry's database.' This enhancement of the department's services was implemented in February 2005, enabling the public to search for company information electronically via the internet and removing the need to queue up to search at the registry's offices. On a normal day, some 1,440 online users make more than 16,000 company searches. Mr Jones said the service enhancement had significantly saved costs and increased the efficiency of the Companies Registry. Being British has meant Mr Jones has had no chance to be a minister since the handover, but as he enjoys his 34th year in Hong Kong, he has no regrets making the city his home. He married his Chinese wife at St John's Cathedral and their daughter was born in Hong Kong. 'It was my boyhood dream to come to China. The decision to go to Hong Kong was mine and mine alone. I have always been interested in China and Chinese culture from an early age and remember that, when I was eight or nine, I organised an exhibit on 'Chinese flora and fauna' when our church had a 'Chinese Evening'.' When the Hong Kong government invited applications from young British graduates to join its administrative service in 1973, Mr Jones did not hesitate. 'I jumped at the opportunity, thinking that it would be a wonderful experience to serve for several years in one of the last remaining British Dependent Territories. Little did I know at the time that, 34 years later, I would still be here,' he said. The city had a slower pace in 1973: the first cross-harbour tunnel had just opened and it was 10 years before construction started on the MTR. Other administrative officers joining the government then included Secretary for Economic Development and Labour Stephen Ip Shu-kwan and Hong Kong Postmaster-General Tam Wing-pong. It did not take long for Mr Jones to get used to the local culture. 'I learned how to use chopsticks very quickly after arriving in Hong Kong although, as I am left handed, I have to be careful with my arm movements when eating, particularly at formal banquets,' he said. 'I also have not had any problems remembering the names of Chinese dishes and love all sorts of Chinese cuisine. In particular, I am not a particularly typical gweilo, in so much as I can eat virtually anything. 'I used to love eating ngaau jaap [curried intestines] when I first came to Hong Kong but stopped a long time ago when I learnt about the very high level of cholesterol in this particular dim sum.' Mr Jones' Oxford studies, involving post-classical European history, gave little overlap with his interest in China - with the notable exception of the Opium Wars. But his interest in the period from the fall of the Western Roman Empire to the 11th century, during which the Byzantine Empire and the Persian Sassanian Empire emerged, helped to create a strong appreciation of the enormous impact Asia has had politically, economically and culturally on Europe for more than 2,000 years. In Hong Kong, compulsory language courses helped Mr Jones develop local contacts as a district officer. Clearing the Kowloon Walled City in the mid-1980s is one vivid memory. 'The project needed to be kept very confidential as, if any information about the clearance had leaked out, this could have resulted in people moving in to seek compensation from the government,' he said. In the 1990s, he left the administrative service to head the Companies Registry as registrar of companies. The registry was one of the government's first departments to run on a quasi-commercial basis, financed by fee income. Mr Jones has no intention of leaving Hong Kong, where he loves the mix of Chinese and other cultures, the food and, most importantly, his family. He also still relishes the move to run the Companies Registry. 'Although I have been in the post for nearly 14 years, I have never been bored, as the nature of my work is constantly evolving and new challenges are always emerging,' he said. 'The key to running the Companies Registry successfully is to ensure my staff are highly motivated and share the same vision and mission as myself, which is to ensure that our public facilities and services are up to the best international standards. 'Overall, the Companies Registry is considered to be one of the best government departments in terms of service delivery and we were one of the top three awardees in the service enhancement award [small departments] of the Civil Service Outstanding Service Award Scheme in 2005.' The number of companies registered reflects Hong Kong's economic cycle. Last year, the number of new local firms incorporated under the Companies Ordinance rose 11.74 per cent year on year to more than 81,000. 'The increase in the number of companies has been largely due to economic growth and the rising property market. When the economy grows, the number of companies also tends to increase,' he said. 'On the basis of the current economic trend, this increase will continue for the foreseeable future.' Biography Registrar of Companies Gordon Jones is among the few expatriate officials remaining in the Hong Kong government. As a young man pursuing his dream of coming to China, Mr Jones joined the then colonial government in 1973 after graduating from the University of Oxford with a Bachelor of Arts degree (Hons) in Modern History, later acquiring his Master of Arts degree, also from Oxford. His government service includes work in the Finance Branch and the then City and New Territories Administration, where he was a district officer. Mr Jones was appointed Registrar of Companies in 1993, in which post he has been a major guiding force behind the modernisation and computerisation of the Companies Registry's operations over the past 13 years. He played a key role in the Corporate Governance Review by the Standing Committee on Company Law Reform and is heavily involved in the rewriting of Hong Kong's Companies Ordinance. He is married with one daughter.