What it’s like to be the only Hongkonger on a red chip board?

Cosco Shipping Ports’ deputy managing director Kelvin Wong Tin-yau says HK and mainland cultures can be different, but supportive relationships are vital

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 August, 2016, 8:23pm
UPDATED : Friday, 12 August, 2016, 10:50pm

As the only Hongkonger on the board of red chip Cosco Shipping Ports, Kelvin Wong Tin-yau is fully aware of the need to work closely and respectfully with his senior executives in the mainland.

Cosco Shipping Ports, one of China’s two largest port operators, is a subsidiary of the mainland’s largest shipping firm, China Cosco Shipping Group.

It’s a Hong Kong red chip which runs ports in major mainland cities including Shanghai, Qingdao, and Yantian as well as at overseas sites including Greece, Belgium and Turkey.

Its senior management structure is typical of any red chip, in that its chairman and many senior executives are appointed by the mainland parent.

But local talent is hired to run the Hong Kong management team.

Wong, a former banker and analyst and the company’s deputy managing director, joined the business 20 years ago and still remains the only Hongkonger on the board of directors.

“Working in a red chip company is different from a Hong Kong firm,” he said in an interview with the South China Morning Post at the company’s office in Sheung Wan.

“In a Hong Kong company, the boss determines policy and that’s normally implemented immediately. In a Chinese company, you’ve got to build consensus from other departments on their views on how to implement policies most effectively. They are more concerned with harmony.”

As a Hongkonger, Wong said he can bring international experience to the company, while the mainland senior executives are more familiar with mainland policies, which help steer the company towards seizing business opportunities.

“Despite the different backgrounds, I believe Hong Kong professionals can work well together with their mainland colleagues.

“At the end of the day, we all want to contribute, and make sure the company achieves better profits for shareholders,” he said.

Wong said over the past two decades, he has seen many examples of mainland parent firms giving unwavering support to their Hong Kong red chip arms.

This was particularly true after the Asian financial crisis, when some red chips found that banks were hesitating to lend to them.

Wong said his parent company’s chairman has shown undaunted support for the business, which has helped attract overseas investors, particularly.

Mainland parents, he adds, often offer bank guarantees to red chips, while chairmen can help pave the way for investment, often through international roadshows or other funding initiatives.

“Externally, that kind of activity demonstrates not only full commitment, but also courage from the parent company, which goes a long way to alleviating any concerns investors and bankers might have, especially at times of financial crisis,” Wong said.

“Internally, it also promotes a constructive culture, if the parent and the red chip can work well together – like crew on a ship.

“This kind of close relationship, which we have enjoyed, helps companies through hard times and makes for a better corporate image.

“Overall, I feel it is irrelevant if you are from Hong Kong or from the mainland,” he added.

“As long as we both want what’s best for the development of the company, we can work together well.”