BLOOD runs thicker than water, the old adage goes, and Selwyn Mar's decision to resign from his position as president with the Sincere department store chain has proved it once again. When Mr Mar decided to take on the collective power of the Ma family, which controls Sincere, they reacted by closing ranks and so exasperated Mr Mar that he felt he had no option but to hand in his notice. Rumours of tense boardroom meetings and frequent clashes of corporate culture have seeped out of Sincere's offices over the last year, and it was widely accepted that the boardroom table at Sincere headquarters was an occasional war zone. On one side of the table were the gathered ranks of the Ma dynasty headed by two brothers, Walter Ma King-wah, company chairman, and Philip Ma King-huen, its executive director. Standing at their shoulders were the henchmen, John Ma and Ma Siu-chung, both company directors and both family members. Behind the foursome stood almost 100 years of Ma family history originating with the launch of the company in 1900 by founder Ma Ying-piu. Isolated on the other side was Sincere new boy, Mr Mar, ex-president of the Hong Kong Society of Accountants, Sincere company president and man on a limb - the only non-family member on the board. Mr Mar has confided to friends he often felt like he was banging his head against a brick wall in his negotiations with the Ma family. His current situation is a far cry from the heady days when he was one of the territory's top bean counters and an enthusiastic trouble-shooting executive at one of Hong Kong's oldest retailers. When he joined Sincere in August 1989 he decided he would do the job for an annual salary of $1. If his first year was a success, then he would sort out a real salary. He was Hong Kong's very own Lee Iacocca, the Chrysler chairman who paid himself a buck a year until the ailing corporation turned around. In his post-joining enthusiasm at Sincere, Mr Mar outlined ambitious expansion plans for the retail store operation, taking in China and Taiwan. He was also charged with modernising the Sincere stores, which had a reputation for being outdated and out of touch with consumers' needs. He introduced changes in management style, put a bit of pip into the store's front windows and changed the product lines to target the wealthier shopper. Sales went up and the company's shares, which had rarely attracted the interest of institutional investors, started to attract a following. Mr Mar was also attracting attention on the personal front. He sided himself with disgruntled account holders who suffered as a result of the collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce in Hong Kong, and vocally criticised the Government for not offering the bank financial support. He urged the Society of Accountants to voice its opinions on the political changeover in 1997 and made clear his belief that co-operation with China rather than controversy should be encouraged. He also became involved in discussions to scrap the new airport at Chek Lap Kok and replace it with an international terminal in Shenzhen. But the buck stopped for Mr Mar's buck-a-year deal in August last year, when it was revealed Sincere's directors, comprising of four Ma family members and Mr Mar, had paid themselves a total of $115 million for the year ending February 1993, including a bonus payment of $66 million. Over the same period, the company booked net profits of $46.66 million, excluding an exceptional item stemming from the sale of the Sincere building in Central for $1.08 billion. Hong Kong was outraged. The normally catatonic Institute of Chartered Secretaries said: ''News of the $115 million emoluments paid to the directors of the Sincere group is beyond bold - it is obscene.'' In came the stock exchange, the Institute of Directors and a raft of accountancy firms, all of whom questioned the payment. The whole affair led to an examination of minority shareholders' rights in Hong Kong as the Sincere board was widely regarded as having acted in its own interests and against those of its shareholders. THE company started paying the price for choosing a name like Sincere. Under a barrage of adverse publicity and condemnation, the directors announced they had decided to give up the $66 million bonus and attribute the sum to shareholders. The decision was treated as a victory for minority shareholders and led to a management reshuffle in which Mr Mar, who was previously an executive director, was made president of the firm's mainland operations. Mr Mar's role in the emoluments affair has up to now been seen as that of willing accomplice. But it would now appear that he suffered by the company he kept. Having previously worked in the family accounting business, Charles Mar-fan and Co, which was set up by his father, Mr Mar eventually became president of the Hong Kong Society of Accountants in December 1990, a post he held for a year. Ultimately, Mr Mar ran up against a family dynasty that would brook no opposition. Judged by his actions, he is a man of considerable entrepreneurial ability and foresight. Sincere has for decades been regarded as the ultimate conservatively run family company. When it hired Mr Mar, it was obviously flirting with more adventurous ideas. His decision to resign proves that what began as a flirtation turned into a fatal attraction.