Hedge fund manager apologizes for MTR prank

March 19, 2020 11:18
A small prank on an MTR train by fund manager Joel Werner (insert) turned into huge issue on social media. Photo: Reuters/Internet

You would think fund managers are smart, responsible people who exercise discernment in taking care of the financial well-being of clients.

But one hedge fund manager's lunch-break antic got him into a big mess and he ended up being portrayed on social media as Public Enemy No. 1.

So what this gweilo, a certain Joel Werner, supposedly did was lick his finger and wipe it onto a handrail on an MTR train.

Nothing much to it, really, but in this hyper-tense atmosphere of a coronavirus pandemic, the act was seen as the height of irresponsible, mindless, even dangerous, behavior.

He knew someone was taking a video of him, but what he did not expect, after he sent the clip via WhatsApp to a handful of friends as a joke, is that it would spread faster than a virus in the online community, and trigger a flood of indignation and complaints.

So much so that even MTR Corporation reported the case to the police. 

Realizing that his tiny prank has turned into a serious matter, he immediately made a public apology on his Facebook page.

“I made light of the Covid-19 situation in a parody video that was only intended for a handful of friends. But I now realise that I shouldn't have done that. A global pandemic is no laughing matter,” he wrote.

“I unreservedly apologise to anyone that I may have offended... Please be assured that it was not my intention to cause any concern or harm to any member of the public.”

He also noted that he didn't actually lick his finger, and there's another video clip showing that he wiped the pole with hand sanitizer "to ensure the safety of other passengers".

Still, MTR management along with thousands of Hongkongers who saw the first clip – condemned his behavior, which "blatantly disregarded public hygiene".

In these panicky days, his act may be seen as tantamount to mentioning the word "bomb" aboard a commercial flight.

For the record, Werner is chief investment officer at Solitude Capital Management, a Hong Kong-based hedge fund manager in which he has worked for six years.

He was a MBA graduate of Stanford University Graduate School of Business and started his investment career at Goldman Sachs in 1999.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Werner said he decided to make the video during lunch break after seeing a clip with simplified Chinese script denouncing a man that it claimed was an American soldier spreading the virus on a subway car in Wuhan – a conspiracy theory linked to tense Sino-US relations. 

“I’m terrified. It’s been spread all over. I manage other people’s money. How embarrassing is this?” he told the newspaper.

In normal times, people wouldn't give a hoot about the incident. But amid a global market meltdown, he is indeed selling himself short. Truly embarrassing!

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EJ Insight writer