Today’s Moving Forward features a candid chat with former Hospital Authority chairman ANTHONY WU TING-YUK, 61, who now spends much of his time on the mainland as an adviser on matters such as national health care reform, family planning and the development of traditional Chinese medicine. This year the State Council appointed him to its Medical Reform Leadership Advisory Commission. The veteran administrator tells Cannix Yau that to really move forward, Hongkongers should seize the advantages of being part of China. You actually came from the accounting sector before you joined the Hospital Authority. How did you apply your expertise to a different field? If you look at all the professions, no matter whether you are an accountant, lawyer, doctor, engineer or a banker, when you move up the hierarchy, the top layer of the management, the basic principles are the same, but of course the ingredients are different. They concern human resources, management of your staff, corporate culture, checks and balances, corporate governance, etc. It's really about how you apply your experience. If there is something I don't understand I simply ask. Like after I became HA chairman in 2004 I spent a week in the operating theatre in Queen Mary Hospital looking at how operations were being done. I've seen liver transplants, stroke surgery and neurosurgery, etc. I've seen it all. So for anyone going into a new industry or new business, humility is very important. My advice is you just need to ask. And I'll ask anybody! I think we should have the humility or the courage to ask. If I don't understand the problems but I pretend I understand, how can I make good decisions based on incomplete evidence or knowledge? So I think asking is important, but a lot of people don't like to ask. They feel it's a loss of face. Don't be afraid of asking. Sometimes you need to be thick-skinned. If people give you an answer that you don't understand, ask again. There's no point pretending that you understand. But you also need to have an independent mind as to what's right and what's wrong. Apart from very factual things, there are a lot of issues that require our own judgment and analytical thinking. As a young person you should read a lot and hone your analytical skills and decide what is the right answer or solution to a lot of questions. What I am suggesting is that we have to be all-embracing and have a wider perspective. How can young people overcome their sense of hopelessness and move up the social ladder? Social mobility is one of the major problems today for young people, which I can fully understand. I think for young people, we have to get rid of what we call "the island culture", meaning I am only confined here. Look at China, it is a huge market. Americans, Europeans, Australians all want to tap into this market. We're right at the doorstep but we don't want to go. The young entrepreneurs in China these days remind me of the young people in the '70s in Hong Kong who started up their small domestic factories after working for SMEs for a few years. And I think we do need to have the passion again - the desire to create business, to learn more and to move up. And you just need to step out of your comfort zone to go outside. My advice to graduates has always been after graduation go get some local experience and then work in China to obtain your Chinese qualifications. Then you can have everything! If you look at the major companies in Hong Kong, I think most of them have major operations in China. If you ignore that market, then you're limiting your choice. We have to adjust our mindset that we are superior to the mainland. The mainland is growing very fast with enormous opportunities. If you think Hong Kong is not big enough, there are plenty of opportunities out there. Go overseas! What tips or advice do you have for finding the best opportunities? I am told that a dishwasher earns HK$15,000 a month, but a university graduate working at a Big Four accounting firm only earns HK$13,000. Simply, we don't have enough people for this kind of low-skilled job. Local business is expanding and spending power is going up. Local people still constitute the major part of the consumers in Hong Kong, due to all sorts of reasons. Some people know how to capitalise on this rising demand. So they start a central dishwashing centre and collect all the dishes, provide dishwashing services and return the dishes every hour. It is business. That doesn't require technology. That requires brainpower. This is something that is happening now. If you have the passion, if you really want to do it, the important thing is still to think big and don't just focus on Hong Kong. For example, back in 2000, I asked a young manager of my firm to go to China. If he stayed in Hong Kong, it would take a lot longer for him to become a partner. But if he went to China, he would be promoted very quickly because the mainland market is huge with lots of opportunities. Coupled with our English-language proficiency, Western exposure, our service concept, our business ethics, I am sure people will get promoted faster on the mainland than in Hong Kong. How about anti-mainland sentiment and our cultural differences? Do you think they are the reasons that deter people from going to the mainland? Yes and no! I am the first generation of Hong Kong-born Chinese. I am lucky because my parents came to Hong Kong after the second world war and I was born here and able to receive Western education and be exposed to Western culture and business practices. People born in the same year on the other side were not as lucky. It took them 30 or 50 years more to have this kind of exposure. But we shouldn't look down upon them. I feel really bad for this kind of anti-mainland sentiment. Okay, there are more tourists causing us a little bit of inconvenience, and things are slightly more expensive. But honestly, sometimes I put the blame back on the government. When you see these tourist figures coming up, you should have the vision to build more infrastructure projects such as big shopping malls. We haven't seen big shopping malls being built in recent years. Look at the shops in Causeway Bay. The high-spenders in China say they don't want to come here any more because they can get the same service anywhere with a very different ambience. I think we are starting to lose our competitive edge. But there are a lot of things on the mainland that they are unhappy with, such as corruption and other human rights and rule of law issues. Sure. But everything has a development stage. Look at Hong Kong before the ICAC. What was the difference? All these anti-corruption actions that the central government is taking are moving in the right direction. If you look further down the track, where will China be? China will probably be the biggest economy in the world in 10 or 20 years, and probably the most powerful country in the world. Then everybody wants to come to China. If this is what you believe China will be, and then if you have confidence that the anti-corruption campaign is going to drive China towards a clean government and a clean administration, then you decide for yourself if you still want to stay here or you want to explore the mainland. The question for Hong Kong is that it is slightly stuck at the moment. One of the problems is we are wasting too much time and resources arguing with each other. About 20 years ago if you asked me about Singapore and Hong Kong, I'd say forget it. No way could it compete with us. But now Singapore is ahead of us. Why? What have we done wrong? We're still the hardworking people. But is it a lack of vision by the government or because of all these political debates and filibusters that Hong Kong stops moving forward? For example, when we talk about the high-speed railway connection with Guangdong, I think this is something we need to do. But this high-speed rail and other infrastructure projects are now beset with all sorts of problems, like cost overruns and delays. True! This is our problem. But what I am saying is the concept. Can you afford not to link up with this system? You cannot! If you have in China a 2,000km high-speed rail connecting everyone and we are left out, what would be the impact on Hong Kong? For example, can you imagine Hong Kong without the MTR or the new airport? Yes, at this moment there are disruptions but you need to look further ahead. If we had not built the MTR or the airport, I would be sitting here today asking why didn't we. Without the MTR or the new airport, would Hong Kong be as prosperous as it is today? No! All around the world, infrastructure projects bring intangible benefits which cannot be measured by the dollar sign. The people flow is very important. If you don't move ahead with the trend, if you don't have the vision to sort of connect to the rest of the continent and the world, you will be falling behind. Another example is doctors. Why are we stopping doctors from coming to Hong Kong? I've advocated this for many years. There is still little progress being made. One fundamental issue in Hong Kong is that we don't have enough doctors for the public sector. But a lot of people are coming to Hong Kong because of the high quality of our medical services. It means we're never short of customers. Recently Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying proposed that we should ditch the non-intervention approach. What do you think of that? I think we should not be brought down by the literal meaning of this philosophy. If there is a crisis, the government should, first of all, ascertain what the problems are. If the private sector can deal with it, then the government should not intervene. We should only intervene when the private sector cannot handle it, like the 1985 banking crisis, the Hong Kong-US dollar peg in the 1980s and the Asian financial crisis. We shouldn't read too much into the literal meaning. What the government should do is take the lead or formulate a policy that facilitates the development of some industries. For example, if we want to develop innovation technology or build more private hospitals, the government should provide incentives and give the private sector free rein to run their businesses. The same goes for big infrastructure projects which have to be government-led because no commercial companies could afford the huge capital investment. I think you should let the market run its own course. The government just needs to attract investment and talent to do business. Anthony Wu: two high-profile career paths marked by controversy As a successful chartered accountant, Anthony Wu Ting-yuk might not have developed another high-profile career in public service had he not been appointed a member of the Hospital Authority in 1999. Wu played an important role in advising the authority on financial and administrative matters as well as enhancing its internal and external audit functions. Five years later, in 2004, he took over as chairman of the body that manages Hong Kong's public hospitals. After completing an accountancy foundation course at Teeside Polytechnic in the UK, Wu started his career in London with Ernst & Young in 1976, transferring to its Hong Kong office in 1982. He was head of the firm's Far East and China operations from 2000 to 2005. Meanwhile, his top job at the Hospital Authority facilitated closer ties with then chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and his allies, such as tycoon Charles Ho Tsu-kwok. He co-founded the Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre in 2006 with Norman Chan Tak-lam, now Monetary Authority chief executive. The centre was widely seen as a pro-government think tank advising the Tsang administration on policy. Controversy arose when he was reappointed Hospital Authority chairman in 2010 for two more years, breaking the government rule that no one should serve on a public body for more than six years. He finally left the authority in late 2013 after serving as chairman for over nine years. That same year he was elected a standing committee member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. The following year he suffered his biggest setback when he was struck off the register of certified accountants for two years and fined HK$250,000 for professional misconduct. The disciplinary action related to the collapse of the New China Hong Kong Group in 1999 with debts amounting to HK$1.5 billion. Prior to its collapse Wu, then a senior partner of Ernst & Young, was financial adviser to the group, with his firm also an auditor for New China from the end of 1995 to 1997. He was found guilty of not maintaining the appearance of auditors' independence. "I've experienced many setbacks in my life," he told the Post . "I'd just get up and reflect what I've done wrong and move forward."