Tue, 26 Apr 2005
The Big Boss is in a cantankerous mood in the morning meeting, berating Human Resources Manager Leung Yuk-mei for staffing S-Meg Holdings with thieves. “The bill for toilet paper has gone up by 20 percent in a year!” he exclaims in an exaggerated tone of disbelief. “And staff numbers have gone down 3 percent!” He looks round at his senior management team in a state of open-mouthed shock and amazement. We raise our eyebrows, to indicate that we share his apoplectic reaction to this threat to our corporate finances. “This is company property, and people are stealing it!” Ms Leung repeatedly nods – in fact bows slightly – to confess her culpability. She claims that workforce discipline suffers when the unemployment rate falls. If she had any sense, she would point out that as part of a cost-cutting exercise early last year, this dynamic conglomerate switched from ‘Dear Soft’ brand bathroom tissue, made under licence from a Japanese firm in Shenzhen, to the cheaper ‘Nice Day’ brand, produced by a bankrupt state-owned company in Shandong. It was false economy, as people used more of the new, lower-quality paper. Indeed, instead of ripping it off – so to speak – many of us started to bring our own ‘Kleenex’ or ‘Andrex’ into the office, air-freighted into Asia at great expense.
After giving Ms Leung a furious tongue lashing for everyone’s amusement, our visionary Chairman and Chief Executive insists that I accompany him on a courtesy visit to an obscure Government department that wants to be noticed by influential members of the business community. As Parker the chauffeur expertly steers the huge Mercedes through the streets of Central, I watch the reaction of passing pedestrians as they glance in to see who we are. They shrug off the sight of yet another famous billionaire tycoon, but show mild interest in the gwailo sitting beside him in the ‘number-two’ seat behind the driver.
As we pull up to our destination, I notice that the car park outside the building is overflowing with white Toyota saloons with bored-looking minions polishing the ‘Asia’s World City’ decals and ‘AM’ licence plates. After being checked in by the team of smiling receptionists, we stroll down a long corridor, avoiding three women painstakingly mopping the sparkling linoleum. The elevator attendant greets us and takes up to the 13th floor. Two friendly flunkies escort us down another long corridor with more mop-wielding cleaners, past a typing pool full of women knitting or looking at their mobile phones, and then past a conference room in which three people are napping or reading horse racing magazines. At the end, we pass a secretary and her assistant and enter a thickly carpeted office. A smart-looking, middle-aged Westerner rises from his desk and greets the Big Boss warmly by name. “Welcome to the Government Efficiency Unit,” he declares.