Catching some observers by surprise, Henry Fan Hung-ling has resigned as managing director of Citic Pacific, where he reached the pinnacle of his career.

His resignation took effect yesterday along with that of his boss and long-time business partner Larry Yung Chi-kin.

'After working with Mr Yung for more than 20 years, he thinks it is time to demonstrate his support,' a close friend of Mr Fan said last night.

For outsiders, the resignation was a shock as some analysts had expected Mr Fan would stay at the company to play a transitional role as new management took over.

But for the two long-time partners, the move was not unexpected. 'We are truly going to rise and fall together,' a friend quoted Mr Fan, 61, as saying.

The close relationship between the two, both born in Shanghai, began as early as 1987, when Mr Fan, a barrister, was invited to join other professionals to help Mr Yung set up Citic Pacific. It was among the first mainland firms to be established in Hong Kong.

Since then, Mr Fan has been Mr Yung's right-hand man in his official pursuits, whether it was seeking a back-door listing through the takeover of Hong Kong-listed Tylfull, or building the company into one of the biggest red chips.

For years, Mr Fan has been the spokesman for Citic Pacific. In press conferences, he acted as an interpreter for Mr Yung, who often was unable to express himself well in Cantonese.

Mr Fan's career rose to a new level when he was appointed to the Executive Council by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen in October 2005. He was a rising political star.

He was also involved in numerous public duties such as chairman of the Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Authority, director of the Hong Kong stock exchange and chairman of the standing committee on disciplined services salaries and conditions of service. His sister, Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun, is a former chief of the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Starting his career in a shipping company, Mr Fan quickly rose up the ladder and in 2007, he earned HK$56.67 million.

Then the global financial crisis happened. Citic Pacific's six-week delay in announcing its massive losses in foreign-exchange dealings raised a public outcry and fuelled doubts about Mr Fan's credibility. In late October, he stepped away from all public duties.

In a previous interview with the South China Morning Post, Mr Fan said he joined Citic Pacific 22 years ago because he believed in the huge potential of mainland firms in Hong Kong. 'I thought that if I failed, I could go back to being a barrister,' he had said.

That seems unlikely now.

He has not disclosed what he will do next, but he told friends last night: 'I will not drown, I will be around.'