Paul Chow we miss

June 14, 2023 10:35
Former Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Chief Executive Paul Chow Man-yiu. Photo: HKMA

I cannot say I know former Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Chief Executive Paul Chow Man-yiu well. In fact, I could not recall if I ever had an interview or a story about him.

But I attended his annual birthday dinner with reporters every October in the past few years. He was the most generous executive I knew, treating us to the best Cantonese food, greeting all attendees and speaking for three hours non-stop about everything from his La Salle high school classmates to his opinion on different social issues, many of which still lingers in my mind two weeks after his death.

Our conversation really started after we both left our longest-serving job in 2009. Paul was the longest-serving HKEX chief executive who consummated the merger of the stock exchange and stock clearing before the listing. He oversaw what was the golden period in Hong Kong’s financial industry in which foreign investors began their treasure hunt in state-owned enterprises.

An engineer by training, Paul was a top operation guy in the financial sector from securities house to asset manager. What made him outstanding was his integrity and his ability to spot and tackle issues even at the expense of offending his board members or top clients.

That is also why we are so fond of hearing the old corporate stories that we used to chase in the past but we only knew the inside story years later during his birthday dinners. I was equally surprised by his insight as much as his honesty.

Like many top financial guns, he started his career in the 70s in Sun Hung Kai Securities, the local broker founded by legendary Fung King-hey that merged with Merrill Lynch in the early 80s. Paul was among Mr Fung’s most trusted gatekeepers in the money business where many risk crossing the line for higher returns.

He never did, thanks to his HKEX stock options that made him a billionaire. In fact, because of his non-comprising attitude, he was one of the most sought-after people for public service bodies such as the University of Hong Kong and Cyberport.

In the last gathering, I could still vividly remember how he would discourage us to buy into Hong Kong stock markets because of geopolitical and social issues. But he said the only future for Hong Kong is to become a medical centre serving the vast Chinese population with top-notch Western medical knowledge.

Weeks after the gathering, I stole him away from his favourite Four Seasons Hotel to the Foreign Correspondence Club for breakfast. I asked him why his generation has been able to maintain such a high standard of integrity as compared to mine and he came up with an unexpected answer.

He said, “Probably because of the Catholic brothers whom we grew along with. We learned and aspired to be a better person at a young age.”

Unfortunately, good people do not last forever. It only reminded us to treasure all the good times we had. Thank you, Paul, for being who you are. You will be dearly missed. I have never felt so privileged to be a financial journalist until the last few rounds of our conversations.

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EJ Insight writer