Banker David Li is stepping down – but not retiring

May 23, 2019 11:30
Bank of East Asia chairman and chief executive David Li is flanked by his sons Adrian (left) and Brian during an earnings results announcement in February. Photo: HKEJ

Bank of East Asia (00023.HK) chairman David Li Kwok-po, the most senior banker in town, is stepping down from his day-to-day role after 38 years as its chief executive officer.

But that doesn't mean he is retiring. The 80-year-old banker, who once served as a member of the Legislative Council as well as the Executive Council, will remain as chairman, a post he has held since 1997.

In fact, Sir David just got a three-year extension as executive chairman until 2022, after which – who knows, his family owns the bank – he may still be re-elected to the post.

His chief executive role will be split between his two sons – Adrian David Li Man-kiu, 46, and Brian David Li Man-bun, 45.

This dual chief executive arrangement is not uncommon in Hong Kong. Henderson Land (00012.HK) chairman Lee Shau-kee, for example, will pass the baton next week to his two sons – Martin Lee Ka-shing and Peter Lee Ka-kit.

Like David Li, the 91-year-old Lee will remain on the property group's board.

Li, of course, will continue to enjoy the remuneration and perks of being the bank's chairman, aside from sitting on the boards of two dozen other listed companies now down to six outside directorships, including Hong Kong and China Gas (00003.HK).

According to the bank's announcement, Li will receive an annual salary of approximately HK$11.8 million (US$1.5 million) and is entitled to a discretionary bonus and share options to be determined by the board with reference to the company’s remuneration policy each year.

In that case, Li’s remuneration is on par with global standards. HSBC (00005.HK) chairman Mark Tucker, for example, makes something like 1.6 million pounds (US$2.02 million) for overseeing a global empire of over 235,000 staff in 67 countries. We're sure Sir David has an equally demanding job.

In late 2017, BEA said, it set up a search committee comprising four independent non-executive directors and hired international search firm Korn Ferry to facilitate the search process for a new chief executive for the bank upon Sir David’s retirement.

And "after a rigorous global search process assessing internal and external candidates" – a painstaking and impartial one, if we may add – the panel came up with Li's two sons as the most worthy to take on the job.

Well done, Korn Ferry, and nice pay, too.

According to the bank's stock exchange filing, the board believes the co-chief executive structure is beneficial to the bank as a whole.

"Mr. Adrian Li’s and Mr. Brian Li’s complementary skill sets will support the bank’s continued business growth, allowing the bank to dedicate sufficient resources to focus on its two major markets – mainland China and Hong Kong – as well as maximize its cross-border capabilities and collaboration between different operations of the bank," it said.

Aside from being executive chairman, Sir David will remain as executive director, chairman of the board and a member of the nomination committee of the bank.

Adrian and Brian Li are currently executive directors and deputy chief executives of the bank.

The new appointments take effect on July 1st.

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EJ Insight writer