HONG KONG OFFERS SOUND ADVICE
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HONG KONG OFFERS SOUND ADVICE
Author:xcd   Article source: www.xcdacc.cn  Hits:1210  Add time:2009-7-16  
Early in its development, the Shenzhen special economic zone sought the advice of Leung Chun-ying and other Hong Kong professional service practitioners as it developed its first town plan.
Mr Leung, then a young property surveyor, and his colleagues were shocked to hear that Shenzhen, located in China's southern Guangdong province near Hong Kong, was planning for a population of 300,000. At the time, it was little more than a collection of scattered villages with an aggregate population of 20,000 and, Mr Leung remembers, no cars.
The reaction of Mr Leung and his Hong Kong compatriots was one of disbelief. “What? How will you get 300,000 people to Shenzhen?” they asked, never dreaming that 25 years later it would be a city of 10m people.
“So you can blame this group of people, myself included, for today's congestion in Shenzhen,” says Mr Leung, who went on to be a pioneer in China's emerging professional services market and a prominent political figure in Hong Kong, where he sits on the chief executive's advisory Executive Council.
The professionals, who were motivated by the conviction that China would need their expertise, established the patriotically inclined Association of Experts for the Modernisation of China in the mid-1980s. “We were not the only [professionals there] but we were the first,” Mr Leung remembers.
The association was the spiritual predecessor of the Hong Kong Coalition of Professional Services, a lobby group established by Mr Leung in 2001. One of the coalition's core aims is the liberalisation of China's professional services market, which they hope to open further to Hong Kong and overseas architects, doctors, lawyers, property agents and other professionals.
Only one professional services sector – property – is wide open in practice to foreign investment. This stems from an accident of sorts, relating to Mr Leung's late 1980s advisory work with Shanghai on what would be China's first public land auction.
“The Shanghai leadership said that, ‘For the real estate market to function here, we need a firm like yours,' ” Mr Leung recalls. “ ‘If you come and set up we'll give you sole venture status.' ”
Mr Leung's partners, however, were not interested in the opportunity, and the chastened surveyor had to tell Shanghai thanks, but no thanks. “It was very embarrassing,” says Mr Leung, who in turn was told that the offer would still be there should he ever strike out on his own.
When he did precisely that in 1993, establishing C.Y. Leung Co., he went back to his contacts in Shanghai: “I rang Shanghai and said, ‘Guess what?' ”
“There's a moral [lesson] in all this,” he said. “Ours is the only [professional services sector] that allows sole [foreign] ownership.”
Mr Leung's firm put an advertisement in a Shanghai newspaper, the Liberation Daily, to fill 20 positions paying Rmb850 a month, equal to about $100 at the time. It received 200 hand-delivered applications on the day the ad appeared, and another 200 the next day.
Mr Leung would later merge his firm with the regional operations of DTZ of the UK and Singapore's Edmund Tie Co, creating DTZ Debenham Tie Leung and employing 4,000 people across an 11-office network on the mainland in addition to a presence in Hong Kong and Taipei.
Late last year DTZ bought out its partners in a $42m transaction, but Mr Leung retains a 4.6 per cent stake in the London-listed firm and will remain DTZ's Asia-Pacific chairman.
Mr Leung admits his industry has been lucky vis-à-vis other professional service sectors. Real estate advisers came in early amid a vacuum; there was no opposition to overcome from an entrenched domestic industry. “Back then there was no local competition and therefore no resistance,” he says.
Other Hong Kong and overseas service professionals have run up against plenty of hurdles, however, in spite of a series of agreements signed by Hong Kong and the mainland to open up trade in services.
“Architects basically can only sell their designs in China,” Mr Leung notes. “They are not allowed to implement them and they cannot manage projects.”
The legal framework for professional services firms in China is undeveloped in Mr Leung's view. “It's a totally different system. We believe Hong Kong's system is better for the country . . . China could learn a lot from how Hong Kong firms structure their partnerships and manage succession.”
Mr Leung also sees the opening of China's professional services as being essential to Hong Kong's future development. “We need to export our services and we have the expertise to export them,” he says, adding that the territory's fabled port is a prime example of its unrealised potential.
“We keep saying we're one of the world's major shipping centres. I say we're not. We're a container port. Essentially, we're a trucking centre,” he maintains, referring to the lorries that transport containers one at a time from factories in the Pearl River Delta to Hong Kong's Kwai Chung port.
Long-term, Mr Leung believes that Hong Kong cannot compete as a container port with lower-cost ports in Shenzhen and must therefore focus on becoming, like London, a proper maritime services centre complete with admiralty lawyers, insurers and an expanded shipping register.
“London is a major, major shipping centre without a ship in sight,” he says. “Hong Kong truck drivers shouldn't be passing their trucks on to the next generation. If they do that then we haven't succeeded.”
 
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