PROMINENT Taiwan-based businessman Lawrence Wong, 56, is to become the first Chinese chief executive of the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club. His appointment officially ends the colonial tradition of members of the British forces running the club's business empire. The first officer was appointed in 1884, under an all-British cabal of 34 founders, and the last is Major-General Guy Watkins, who retires on April 1. Mr Wong (whose Chinese name is Huang Chih-kang) has been appointed for his high reputation in business and administration, rather than any particular love of horses, according to General Watkins. The 1994 Taiwan Businessman of the Year will be available to the Jockey Club from February. While he is the first native Chinese to head the Jockey Club, senior officials were last night at pains to point out that the stewards had not been directly influenced by mainland considerations in their appointment. Mr Wong was born in Fujian province in 1939, but moved with his family to Hong Kong in 1949, where he completed his secondary education. 'I think this China bit is being overplayed,' said General Watkins. 'As far as I'm aware no questions were asked of anybody in China as to the appointment. No one said what about Mr So-and-So.' Mr Wong, president and chief executive of Ford Motor Company's Taiwan subsidiary since 1993, was appointed for his administrative skills and business record, General Watkins said. He was chosen from more than 100 candidates in a selection process which took many months. Asked if Mr Wong had any interest in horses, General Watkins said: 'He's been to the races. He is not, and would not pretend to be, someone who has a deep knowledge or strong interest in horses. 'But I don't think you have to have a love of horses: horses are not the whole part of my job. 'There are a lot of funds to manage, a lot of property - this is a business, it's an industry. 'He is a very successful businessman and administrator, firstly in the United States and then in Taiwan. I'm sure he will become very interested in horse racing.' Mr Wong's role in one of Hong Kong's most coveted jobs will be much the same as General Watkins', who will have been at the helm of the multi-billion dollar business for more than 10 years. The club distributes billions of dollars to charity. The Chief Executive's package is reputed to be worth about $5 million. 'Of course, he'll have his own set of priorities and preferences but there is unlikely to be any major shift in responsibilities for the chief executive,' one insider said last night. The first thing Mr Wong can look forward to from next February is a concerted programme of travelling to the world's major racing jurisdictions. The Jockey Club's view is that it is important many of the world's top racing administrators meet him before he formally settles into his new position. Mr Wong has not worked here but his family is in Hong Kong, and he has extensive business contacts in the territory and China. He is married to Agnes, a Chinese-born biochemist, and is fluent in Cantonese, Mandarin, Shanghainese and Hokkien. After graduating from the National Chengkung University in Taiwan and then obtaining a doctorate in mechanical engineering in the US. He joined Ford in 1964 and has worked for the company ever since. He moved to Australia in 1983 and then to Taiwan, joining the Ford Lio Ho Motor Company in 1984. In 1993 he was appointed president and chief executive and then elected businessman of the year by the island's business community 12 months later. He is also a senior executive of the parent Ford Motor Company and has been active in its business programme outside Taiwan, including in China. Racing's tight-knit community reacted favourably to the news of Mr Wong's appointment. Ivan Allan, champion trainer the season before last, said: 'It can only be in the best interests of racing that the stewards have found a real heavyweight businessman with extensive links not just in the territory but throughout the region. His appointment is a coup.' General Watkins has been linked to a number of leading administrative posts in British horse racing. However, he maintained last night that he still had 'no idea' what he will be doing when he retires from the Jockey Club.