21 September 2019
Ronnie Chan writes letters to shareholders which are longer than Shakespeare's (inset) oeuvre. Photos: HKEJ, Getty Images
Ronnie Chan writes letters to shareholders which are longer than Shakespeare's (inset) oeuvre. Photos: HKEJ, Getty Images

Ronnie Chan and Shakespeare: How fares the Bard of Hong Kong?

Many people may think Ronnie Chan Chi-chung is a good writer because he writes ultra-long chairman’s letters to shareholders.

But it seems a bit of a stretch to suggest that he is the Shakespeare of Hong Kong.

Hang Lung Properties is not making that claim, but some people in his blue-chip company are saying that their boss is more prolific than the Bard of Avon.

An article on the company’s website notes that the chairman’s letters surpass classic literary masterpieces in word count.

It says, “To date, there are a total of 98 such letters, with a word count in English of over 180,000 words. This corpus of wisdom exceeds even the number of words written by renowned English playwright, William Shakespeare, who penned approximately 179,000 words in his comedies (As You Like It, Merchant of Venice, Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night) and tragedies (Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear and Othello).”

It goes on to suggest that these letters, translated into over 310,000 Chinese characters, are much longer than Zuo Zhuan, the earliest and most detailed of the ancient Chinese annals with 180,000 characters.

Not known for writing comedies, tragedies nor history, the outspoken Chan has chosen to write long articles to communicate with his shareholders, a practice he started when he took over as chairman of the group in 1990.

Obviously, he needs to brush up on Shakespeare, who said: “Brevity is the soul of wit.”

Chan’s latest chairman’s letter at Hang Lung Properties, released in January, used more than 6,500 words splashed across more than 19 pages. He also wrote another letter of the same length as chairman of Hang Lung Group.

These are unusually long pieces for top bosses of listed companies, who normally employ ghost writers to do the chairman’s statement for them and hire security people when they attend shareholders’ meetings.

His feat, in fact, brings him to the level of American billionaire Warren Buffett, who produced a 20,000-word document for his latest annual report as chairman of Berkshire Hathaway to coincide with the company’s 50th anniversary this year.

Buffett’s letters have become a must-read for Wall Street denizens because they contain nuggets of wisdom that investors can profit from and some of the best ideas that made the Oracle of Omaha one of the world’s richest tycoons.

Chan’s letter is also witty and carries many insights into the property markets in Hong Kong and the mainland. 

He may not always be right. For one thing, Chan is too optimistic about the mainland property market but too pessimistic about Hong Kong.

That explains why the group has been disposing of Hong Kong assets in favor of mainland investments in the last four years.

Perhaps this is also part of the reason why Hang Lung’s share performance has been lackluster during the period.

Chan, a die-hard fan of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, is known for speaking his mind and poking fun at fellow tycoons.

Last September, when he announced donations worth US$350 million to the Harvard School of Public Health and his alma mater, the University of Southern California, Chan pointed out that Buffett and Microsoft founder Bill Gates did not donate as much in their home turfs.

Chan said it was shameful that the pair came to China in 2010 and lectured on mainland businessmen about philanthropy, saying that the two American billionaires did not know what they were talking about.

Too bad Shakespeare did not live long enough to protest.

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EJ Insight writer