21 August 2019
MTR Corp. chief executive Jay Walder is leaving a year earlier than the end of  his contract . Photo: HKEJ
MTR Corp. chief executive Jay Walder is leaving a year earlier than the end of his contract . Photo: HKEJ

They shoot gweilo expat managers, don’t they?

They would offer you a drink after work. They give you a hug, or a kiss if you happen to win during the company Christmas grand lucky draw and they rarely forget to thank you.

So spare a thought for expatriate managers in Hong Kong, especially those in public service.

When they move to Hong Kong, they know their clock is ticking because they are here for a reason: fill a job Hong Kong people don’t want or are not qualified for. That is why these expats are rewarded handsomely, something you and I can only dream of.

Our sympathy goes to Jay Walder, the outgoing chief executive of MTR Corp., whose three-year contract was terminated a year early on mutual agreement after an internal report criticized him for “poor judgment” over delays in the cross-border high speed rail project.

It is debatable whether the inexperienced Housing and Transport chief or the long-serving but ignorant chairman should have also been blamed, but it is, as always, the foreign manager who gets singled out. Still, Walder is coming away with a severance pay rumoured to be in the region of HK$8 million from MTRC.

“We mutually agreed that it will be in the best interest of the company to have somebody who will have a longer focus in terms of leadership beyond 2015. As such, I have decided that I would leave MTR in mid-August,” Walder told reporters.

Walder, former chief executive of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York and former managing director for Transport of London was tasked to lead MTRC’s overseas expansion. The 55-year-old had breezed through the job until two months ago when the high-speed rail saga began to unravel.

There have not been many high-profile expatriate departures in Hong Kong since 2010 when Graham Sheffield of West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, Ian Robins of Link REIT and Shane Solomon of the Hospital Authority all left their jobs earlier than the end of their contracts.

Like Walder, they faced sharp questions from legislators and local reporters, who are not known to be particularly articulate in English.

Walder should remember the humiliation he received from honorable legislator Christopher Chung, who shouted: “Shame! Shame on you!” You are dreaming on your office or you are not attended at your office. Answer me.”

But Walder was such a gentleman he replied in a way that did not embarrass Chung, even though it’s doubtful the American understood everything that was said.

Now Walder is going the way of the rest of them. I hope he can take away the most positive side of his Hong Kong experience. If he likes this city, he should consider going back to McKinsey and set up a speech therapy division for those rich second-generation high-flyers who give speeches from a script with both hands shaking.

Also, University of Hong Kong vice chancellor Peter Mathieson would probably need some tips on how to survive in a small but fierce city.

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EJ Insight writer

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