On the top floor of S-Meg Tower, deep in the bustling heart of Asia’s dynamic financial hub, the minions, managers and monarchical Chairman and Chief Executive of Hong Kong’s 37th biggest family-run conglomerate are all, in their own way, trying to flee.
The three Stanleys in the mailroom and Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary have not come in today. Instead, they have sent a group of similar-sized and similar-sounding individuals wrapped from head to toe in psychedelic Eskimo costumes of pink fur and Burberry. They are huddled together in the pantry clutching cups of tea for warmth and perusing a pamphlet advertising immigration opportunities in Iceland. Who can blame them? Hong Kong’s usual two-week January cold spell seems to have been going on for months now. As the Wall Street Journal headline says, ‘Hong Kong was Warmer under the British’. Or are we just getting old?
The senior executives of S-Meg Holdings are also seeking refuge, but not from the freezing weather afflicting our once sub-tropical city. They are desperate to avoid the Big Boss, who is looking for people to blame for the disappointing financial results he must announce in the next few days. Of course, he doesn’t use the word ‘blame’; he says ‘punish’. Business trips, client meetings and – for the truly wretched – parents’ illnesses are mysteriously requiring them to be away from the office.
And so the morning meeting presents our visionary corporate chieftan with disappointingly few people to shout at. A female psychedelic Eskimo with lime-green earmuffs waddles in to tell him his 89-year-old Aunt from Singapore is waiting outside. She has come to berate her nephew about the company’s dividends, on which she and her loyal Malay elves must survive, and she can get violent. But the Big Boss doesn’t simply want to escape from her; he wants to get away from the whole mess unfolding in Hong Kong. As other managers make their excuses and slink out of the conference room, he starts to unburden himself on the Company Gwailo. The self-pitying lamentations of a tycoon begin.
Of course he signed up to back Henry Tang for Chief Executive, he says. Who didn’t, apart from a handful of malcontents and losers? That was what we were supposed to do. And now the entire community of inherited corporate wealth in Hong Kong is being tarred with the same brush.
“These people Henry and Donald hang out with,” he splutters, “Who are they? Look at them!” He fiddles with the northward-facing ‘good feng-shui’ ceramic three-legged toad that sits on the table. “Drinking wine with Peter Lam. I mean… Peter Lam?” he asks scornfully, clearly seeing his counterpart at Lai Sun, the faded and pathetic 63rd biggest family-run conglomerate in town, as a second-rate nonentity in our plutocratic hierarchy. He, the Big Boss, doesn’t hobnob with the likes of Lam – why does our basement-building supposedly next Chief Executive?
“And that, that… whoever he is with the private jet. Cheung. Ghastly Chiuchow fellow. He was a nothing 10 years ago, and all of a sudden he’s flying Donald around.” He screws his face up in disgust at the idea of Hong Kong’s leader fawning over the owner of the city’s 297th biggest family-run conglomerate. Our top politicians are slumming it with low-class riffraff tycoons, while the real elite of the business community are accused of collusion and biting the heads off babies. You would be bitter, too.
“Still, not long to wait now, and we can disappear for two weeks.” He is referring to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and National People’s Congress sessions, when Hong Kong’s great and good decamp to Beijing. They usually resent it, but this year it will be a relief.
A petite, white-haired lady in an elegant cheongsam appears at the door, swinging her handbag menacingly. I hide behind a South China Morning Post double-page feature: spot the CE candidate who doesn’t think he needs much of a policy platform…