22 April 2019
Michael Lynch, who uses a stick because of a childhood bout of polio, is a master at managing stakeholders. Photo: HKEJ
Michael Lynch, who uses a stick because of a childhood bout of polio, is a master at managing stakeholders. Photo: HKEJ

Farewell, Mr. Stick

He charms some of Hong Kong’s most troubled ladies, who then return to their elegant form in Legco.

He is always the man with the loudest laugh in a room.

That probably explains why people have started to miss him, although he still has to stick around until summer.

Farewell, Michael Lynch, a.k.a. Mr. Stick, outgoing chief executive of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority.

He decided to leave his job and take care of his sick wife after a heartbreaking year last year, when he lost his father and his mother-in-law.

The 64-year-old Australian was emotional Tuesday, almost bursting into tears, when he announced his resignation from a job he has worked hard to hold on to for three-and-a-half years.

At a staff meeting the same day, he reminded the staff to take care of their health.

It was a rare sad moment for a guy who always made fun of himself, saying how he outlasted his predecessors because they barely managed to hang on to their jobs.

I well remember the days when he first took up the job, because I was privileged to work with him at the WKCDA.

The authority was programmed to think about all the worst possible scenarios (and one can forgive it for doing so, because all the chief secretaries except the current one were cursed for this project), and no one was sure what some might say about having a chief executive with polio to lead a troubled organisation.

But Lynch clicked right away and famously told reporters: “I assure you that I can still dance and sing and do all the things you expect of a chief executive.”

He enjoyed an SCMP cartoon of him doing a dance with his stick, but he will never have forgotten an editorial that compared him to US president Franklin Roosevelt in dealing with adversity.

Lynch liked the press, and the press liked him. When he did media interviews, he preferred to do them alone.

The same kind of attention and openness won him many friends in the Legislative Council, where he was constantly quizzed by the most critical female legislators, but they could be seen with grins on their faces after his answers.

Interestingly, West Kowloon was one of the few projects that the pan-democrats would not consider filibustering (well, the last thing the project needs is filibustering).

The often childish and ignorant comments on issues like the appearance of Ai Weiwei’s pieces in a museum exhibit were from pro-government people who showed little trust and respect for foreigners.

West Kowloon, after all, is not just a cultural and arts project. It is a public engagement project in which everyone wants to have his or her say, and that is why stakeholder management is so important for the authority.

In this respect, it will be difficult to find someone who can do a better job than Lynch does.

But one question still bothers me: why has a world-class arts administrator who had an impeccable record running London’s Southbank and the Sydney Opera House achieved so little in Hong Kong?

That must have to do with the project delays and budget overruns, which give the impression West Kowloon is going nowhere.

I met a visibly tiring Lynch in December, and I was left with an uninspiring impression.

Perhaps it is indeed time for someone else to take over.

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EJ Insight writer

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