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Three board secretaries share their first-hand experience of the challenges of working for Mainland enterprises listed in both Hong Kong and the Mainland, as well as the benefits of being a member of The Hong Kong Institute of Chartered Secretaries.

Dr Guo Huawei

Dr Guo Huawei, FCIS FCS, is the Board Secretary of COSCO Shipping Holdings Company Ltd, which is listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange (stock code: 601919) and the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (HKSE)(stock code: 1919). He is also the Deputy Chairman of the Board of Supervisors of the China Association for Public Companies.

COSCO Shipping Holdings Company Ltd is the listed flagship and a subsidiary of China COSCO Shipping Corporation Ltd, which is the largest integrated shipping company in the world. In addition, the company holds a 100% equity interest in COSCO Shipping Lines Company Ltd, a 47.94% equity interest in COSCO Shipping Ports Ltd (stock code: 1199) and a 75% equity interest in Oriental Overseas International Ltd (stock code: 0316).

The board secretaries of these two listed subsidiaries are responsible for managing the governance and compliance issues independently, from information disclosure, board governance and risk control to shareholder communications and investor relations, says Dr Guo. ‘Including myself, we are active members of the Institute and have participated in the conferences, training and networking events organised by the Institute.’

‘As the board secretaries for an A+H share listed company, we play a dual role in ensuring compliance with the rules imposed by regulators in Hong Kong and the Mainland, including the investor relations (IR), internal risk management and environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting requirements. Very often, we also act as spokespersons for the companies and handle inquiries from investors, analysts and the media,’ says Dr Guo.

Since there are more international financial media outlets in Hong Kong, there is an IR team in Hong Kong that is dedicated to handling inquiries from shareholders, analysts and journalists, he adds. ‘The importance of IR as a strategic management function is growing. Whether it is the board secretary or the IR manager handling this function, practitioners are expected to command both financial and communication expertise to achieve effective results.’

‘Take our group of companies as an example. We are shipping companies and therefore the board secretary and the IR manager should further have professional knowledge of vessel operations, cargo handling, port logistics, etc. Apart from bringing insights and perspectives to the board, the board secretary should also be able to translate complex financial and industry concepts into layman’s terms to external stakeholders,’ Dr Guo says.

The board secretary of an A+H share company should be able to engage confidently with both the Hong Kong and Mainland regulators. In whichever jurisdiction, the utmost respect for the rule of law is the cornerstone and this has proven to be key to the success of Hong Kong as an international financial centre. Though gradually catching up to international best practices, there is some room for improvement in the Mainland in terms of information disclosure transparency, Dr Guo adds.

He also highlights other regulatory differences between the Mainland and Hong Kong. The appointment of a securities affairs representative to assist the board secretary is mandatory in the Mainland, for example, but not in Hong Kong. When board secretaries are unable to perform their duties, the securities affairs representatives step in to become their deputies. Another difference is that in Hong Kong information filed with the Exchange, as well as information disclosed to shareholders, has to be written in plain English and Chinese so that shareholders can choose to read such materials in English or Chinese.

‘Whatever the regulatory differences, we strive to achieve corporate governance standards that meet the requirements of all regulators across both markets. When it comes to information disclosure, more is better than less. The key here is to ensure the message we convey is complete, consistent and credible across both regulatory regimes,’ Dr Guo says.

On the topic of board diversity, he points out that, apart from the gender mix, the skill sets, backgrounds and experiences of members of the board all count and actually complement each other. Diversity in these areas results in different opinions from different perspectives helping directors to arrive at the right conclusion on serious strategic issues. Increasing the diversity of independent directors therefore offers a means by which a range of external interests can be represented on the board and this can have a positive impact on company performance.

‘There are four independent directors on the board of COSCO Shipping Holdings and each of them has a different set of qualifications, experiences and insights that add value to the board and corporate governance. Most of our board committees, including the compensation, strategy, audit and nominating committees, are chaired by independent directors’.

Dr Guo also welcomes the Institute’s addition of the Chartered Governance Professional (CGP) designation to the existing Chartered Secretary (CS) designation to enhance recognition of company secretaries as governance professionals. Members with the CS/CGP designation possess a broad skill set across law, finance, governance, regulation, risk, strategy and boardroom dynamics enabling them to work across sectors, as well as internationally, says Dr Guo.

Ms Ma Jinru

Ms Ma Jinru FCIS FCS is the Deputy General Manager and Board Secretary of Xinjiang Goldwind Science & Technology Co Ltd (Goldwind). Goldwind is one of China’s earliest wind turbine manufacturers in the wind power industry and its new installation capacity ranks first in China and second in the world. Goldwind is listed on the HKSE (stock code: 02208) and the Shenzhen Stock Exchange (stock code: 002202).

‘As with our industry peers, we are committed to maintaining high standards of corporate governance while optimising management and internal controls to safeguard shareholder interests. But unlike other energy firms, which are usually state-owned, our shareholder base is quite diversified. We don’t have any controlling shareholders or actual controllers,’ Ms Ma says.

The board of Goldwind comprises of nine directors, which includes three executive directors, three non-executive directors and three independent non-executive directors. ‘Our board is well diversified in terms of professional background, industry experience, educational background, cultural background, skills, age and gender, among other aspects. The composition is conducive to making good operational decisions and improves the effective direction of the company,’ she adds.

‘Our chairman is open to the advice given by our independent directors. The current board is now in its seventh session. The term of office of the seventh session began in June 2019, with a term of three years.’

As every company is unique, establishing a corporate governance system that facilitates the flow of information and promotes decision-making across all levels of the company is vital not only to meeting compliance requirements but also ensuring the company has the ability to understand, identify and manage risks. To do so, it is important to maintain a robust communication system that ensures that the decision-makers in the company receive the information they need.

Mainland listed companies are also required to have a supervisory committee, Ms Ma points out. The key responsibility of a supervisory committee is to monitor the activities of the board and senior management, as well as to monitor financial affairs and business activities on behalf of shareholders.

Ms Ma also mentions Hong Kong’s principles-based regulatory framework which requires directors to make judgements. ‘In Hong Kong, I am often told to make a judgement based on the guiding principles provided, while Mainland regulators appear to be more willing to produce or provide case studies that we can make reference to as we see fit when, for example, considering what constitutes a connected transaction.’

Ms Ma also notes differences between the approaches of foreign and local investors, with the former paying more attention to the financial model and the implications of government policies for financial performance, while the latter often make decisions based on the overall situation of government policies and financial performance. ‘The policy direction relating to the wind power industry has been very clear recently. The central government aims to promote a revolution in energy production and consumption, and build an energy sector that is clean, low-carbon, safe and efficient. After setting the tone, there could be minor adjustments to policy details and technical measures, but I think these small changes don’t matter a lot to the industry or our business,’ she says.

Ms Ma welcomes the latest consultation, issued on 17 May 2019, by the HKSE regarding Hong Kong’s ‘ESG Reporting Guide’ and related listing rules. The Stock Exchange is committed, she points out, to improving ESG disclosure in Hong Kong, via encouraging listed issuers’ disclosure of ESG activities and metrics.

‘We are more than ready for more stringent requirements after this round of consultation. As a clean energy supplier, we not only work to create economic value for our shareholders, employees and the public, but also to fulfil our social responsibility. We do this in a number of ways, including reducing energy consumption and emissions of wind turbine component manufacturers; propelling the transformation of the wind power industry; assisting suppliers in saving energy and reducing emissions; and assisting the development of poverty-stricken areas in Xinjiang,’ she says.

Mr Ye Yumang

Mr Ye Yumang FCIS FCS is the Party Secretary and Deputy General Manager of COSCO Logistics (Shanghai) Co Ltd. Before 2013, he was the Company Secretary for China Shipping Container Lines Co Ltd. He has nearly 20 years’ extensive experience in corporate governance, risk management, compliance and IR. He has also been involved in a broad range of cross-border and domestic transactions, including initial public offererings (IPOs), project finance, debt issuances and corporate restructuring.

Mr Ye emphasises that board secretaries need to have wide knowledge and skills and be versatile enough to carry out functions in various areas like finance, accounting, legal administration and human resources. This is particularly true where a company goes public or carries out a spin-off. He points out that the management of an IPO often falls under the ambit of the board secretary and there are a lot of regulatory matters he or she will need to handle.

Mr Ye is very supportive of the Institute’s work. ‘For over 10 years, I have attended most events organised by the Institute whenever I had time. I learn something new every time, from regulatory updates to changes in the regulatory environment, like recent court judgments, regulatory guidance and upcoming changes. Case studies shared by senior members are particularly useful as they provide inspiration and insight into different approaches. I also find the visits to regulators such as the China Securities Regulatory Commission, the HKSE, the Securities and Futures Commission and other governmental organisations very useful,’ he adds.

Though he left the position of Company Secretary with China Shipping Container Lines in 2013, the knowledge he gained through taking part in the Institute’s activities remains useful and helps him perform his current duties as Party Secretary and Deputy General Manager for COSCO Logistics (Shanghai). Among other strategic planning duties, he is more focused on strategic human resources planning and risk management policy aligned with the company’s overall strategic objectives.

During pre-IPO roadshows, the board secretary’s ability to explain the company’s complex business to potential investors in layman’s language is critical to the success of the flotation, he says. ‘A lot of people ask how does this thing work, or how does it make money? A good board secretary should have the ability to simplify and express the complexity of a business in a way that’s not too complicated.’

He adds that the key IR role played by the board secretary can help the board answer difficult questions raised by investors. ‘When it comes to pitching to investors, think through all the potential questions they might ask. Put yourself in their shoes and you will realise why they have such questions. For questions that can’t be answered immediately, be honest that you don’t know the answer, but promise to reply via email and/or to call them back without hesitation. This is how trust and integrity are built over time.’

While communicating with regulators is certainly routine and required, it is important for the board secretary to master the arts of communication, delegation and engagement, Mr Ye adds. ‘Sometimes when you are informed of having broken certain rules, the regulator may have made an incorrect assessment because the personnel in charge do not understand the company’s situation. The board secretary must be well prepared to explain to the regulator what happened and how the situation can be resolved.’

Mr Ye also emphasises the need for board secretaries to be honest with regulators at all times. ‘From my experience, when dealing with Hong Kong regulators, room for negotiation is narrower perhaps due to the fact that Hong Kong’s regulatory environment is more stringent and more developed than the one in the Mainland, but whether you are in Hong Kong or the Mainland, we all know that honesty is the best policy.’

Jimmy Chow
Journalist

 

公司治理:董秘視角

在本文中,三位資深董秘分享了他們在內地及香港上市企業工作所面對的挑戰,以及作為香港特許秘書公會會員的優勢。

郭华伟博士

郭华伟博士FCIS FCS是中远海运控股股份有限公司董事会秘书股(董秘),该公司在上海证券交易所(票代码:601919)和香港交易所(香港股票代码:1919)上市。此外,他也是中国上市公司协会监事会副监事长。

中远海运控股有限公司是全球最大的综合航运公司,是中国远洋海运集团公司旗下上市公司和子公司。中远海运控股有限公司持有中远海运集装箱运输有限公司100%股权、中远海运港口有限公司(香港股票代码:1199)47.94%股权,以及东方海外国际有限公司(香港股票代码:0316)75%的股权。

郭博士说,两家上市子公司董秘各司其职,独立执行其所属公司的治理和合规工作,如信息披露、董事会治理、内部风险控制、股东和投资者联系等。 “包括我本人在内,我们都是公会的活跃成员,时间许可都积极参与公会会议、培训和交流活动。”

“作为A+H股上市公司董秘,我们得遵守香港和内地监管机构各项规定,如投资者关系、内部风险管理和环境、社会和治理((ESG))报告等要求。很多时候,我们还要担任公司的发言人,处理投资者、分析师和媒体查询。”他说。

他补充说,由于在香港的国际金融媒体机构较多,香港办事处还设有投资者关系部门,专门处理股东、分析师和记者查问。投资者关系作为战略管理职能,其重要性正不断提升。因此,无论投资者关系工作是由董秘还是由投资者关系经理负责,负责人员都必须同时掌握财务分析和对外沟通能力,方能事半功倍。

“以我们集团公司为例,我们是做船运行业的,因此我们的董秘和投资者关系主管,对船舶运营、货物装卸、港口物流等方面都具备专业知识。对内方面,我们为董事会提供见解和观点,对外方面,我们能将复杂的财务和行业状况,以浅白的语言,向外部持分者说个明白。”

他认为,A+H股公司董秘,应当能自信地与香港和内地监管机构紧密接洽。无论在任何的司法管辖区,依法守法都是企业治理的成功基石。事实证明,香港能成为国际金融中心,法治是根本关键。但他表示,尽管内地企业治理水平已追近国际标准,但信息披露透明度仍有改进余地。

郭博士还列举内地与香港在监管方面的其他差异。例如,内地监管机构规定,上市企业必须任命一名证券事务代表来协助董秘,当董秘无法履行职责时,证券事务代表将补上并担任其代表。香港则没有这规定。另一个不同之处是法定语言。香港上市公司提交予交易所和股东的披露文件,须以中英文书写,而股东可以选择接收英文或中文版本。

“无论两地监管方式有何不同,我们都努力符合两地监管机构对上市公司治理标准的要求。在信息披露方面,我们能多透明便多透明,重点是确保我们在内地和香港发放的信息,在两个监管体系中都是完整、一致和可信的。”

在董事会多元化方面,他指出,除了董事性别组合之外,个别董事的技能、背景和经验都非常重要,实际上是相辅相成的。不同领域的多元化,董事会便能从不同的角度思考问题,采纳不同意见,从而就重大议题作出最明智的决定。因此,董事会引进不同背景的独立董事,能使董事会同时考虑和平衡外部利益, 对公司绩效有正面影响。

“中远海运控股股份有限公司的董事会设有四位独立董事,每位董事的资格、经验和见解各有不同,组合能为董事会和公司治理增值。我们董事会辖下绝大多数委员会,包括薪酬、战略、审计和提名委员会,均由独立董事出任主席。”

郭博士欢迎公会在现有“特许秘书”(CS))专业资格以外增设Chartered Governance Professional((CGP))一衔,以增强公司秘书作为治理专业人士的认可。郭博士说,成员具备CS及CGP双重专业资格,代表其在法律、财务、治理、法规、风险、战略和董事会动态治理等方面拥有广泛技能,能于不同部门、全球范围内发挥所长。

马金儒女士

马金儒女士FCIS FCS是新疆金风科技股份有限公司(金风科技)副总经理兼董秘,该公司是中国最早从事风力发电机组制造的企业之一,新增装机容量中国排名第一、全球排名第二,并于香港交易所(股票代码:02208)和深圳证券交易所(股票代码:002202)上市。

“与业界一样,我们致力维持最高标准的公司治理,同时优化管理和内部控制,以维护股东利益。但是,和很多其他央企或地方国企能源公司股权比较集中不同,我们的股东非常多元化,没有控股股东和实际控制人。”

金风科技董事会由九名董事组成,其中包括三名执行董事、三名非执行董事和三名独立非执行董事(独董)。 “我们的董事会成员在专业背景、行业经验、教育背景、文化背景、技能、年龄和性别等方面都非常多元化,这个成员构成有利于董事会指引公司做出正确的经营决策。”

“我们的主席非常开明,很乐意听取独董建议。公司董事会正值第七届,任期于2019年6月开始,为期三年。”

由于每家公司都是独一无二的,因此,建立一套能促进信息高效流通从而优化各级决策流程的企业治理体系,不仅有利于符合合规要求,还能让企业理解、识别和管理风险。为此,维持有效的信息传递系统,确保公司决策人员取得所需信息,是非常重要的。

她指出,内地上市公司须设立监事会,代表股东对公司财务及业务,以及公司董事、高级管理人员的行为进行监督。

马女士提到,香港的监管体系以原则为本,更多需要董事会作出判断。 “例如,判断是否构成关连交易,在香港,监管人员一般告诉我们须根据条例原则自行做判断,而内地监管机构似乎更乐意提供案例研究供我们参考。”

马女士还指出,外国和内地投资者的著眼地方,也有差异。前者非常注重财务模型的判断,以及政府政策对公司业绩的影响。后者则能够更加理智地从行业政策全局和公司业绩表现出发进行决策。 “目前,风电行业政策方向已非常明确,中央政府锐意推动能源生产和消费革命,致力建立一个清洁、低碳、安全和高效的能源部门。在定调后,政府不时会就政策细节和技术措施进行调整,但我认为这些细小政策变化,对整体行业或我们的业务影响不大。”她说。

今年5月17日,港交所发布了咨询文件,用以修订ESG报告指南,及相关上市规则。她对此咨询文件表示欢迎,并指港交所一直持续鼓励上市公司披露ESG活动,从而改善香港的ESG披露情况。

“我们已准备好迎接更严格的ESG报告要求。我们作为清洁能源供应商,不仅致力于为股东、员工和公众创造经济价值,还致力于履行社会责任。而事实上,我们已从多方面着手,负起更多社会责任,包括:减少能源消耗;减低风力涡轮机部件制造商排放;推动风电产业转型;协助供应商节省能源以减少排放;以及协助新疆贫困地区的发展等。”

叶宇芒先生

叶宇芒先生FCIS FCS现任上海中远海运物流有限公司党委书记兼副总经理。 2013年前,他是中海集装箱运输股份有限公司的公司秘书。他在企业治理、风险管理、合规性和投资者关系管理等方面,拥有近20年的经验。此外,他曾参与国内外多项大型融资活动,包括IPO、项目融资、债务发行和公司重组等。

叶先生强调,董秘需要具有广泛的知识和技能,在财务、会计、法律管理和人力资源等各领域具备很强的执行力,特别是当公司准备上市或分拆上市。他指出,首次公开招股(IPO)的管理一般属于董秘职责范围,过程中需要处理许多法律法规事宜。

长久以来,叶先生一直十分支持公会的工作。 “十多年来,每当我有时间我都会参加公会组织的交流活动,更新法规上的知识,每次都会学到新的东西,例如法庭案例、法规指南和即将发生的变化等。其他公会资深会员的实务案例分享更特别有用,对我们日常工作有启发引导作用。至于拜访中国证券监督管理委员会、香港交易所、香港证监察委员会和其他监管部门和政府组织等活动券及期货事务都非常有意义。”

尽管他于2013年离开了中海集装箱运输股份有限公司的公司秘书一职,但他仍受用于通过参与公会活动所获的知识。他现时在上海中远海运物流有限公司负责战略规划,特别是公司的人力资源战略规划、风险管理政策等工作。

在IPO前的路演中,董秘将公司的营运和财务状况,深入浅出、扼要地向投资者解释,是成功上市的关键因素之一。 “过程中,很多人会对繁复的业务及盈利能力逐一细问,一个称职的董秘须准备充足,能够言简意赅地向提问者细心讲解。”

过程中,董秘扮演着重要的投资者关系角色,协助董事会回答投资者提出的难以解答的问题。 “在与投资者会面前,我们应当先拟备好所有潜在问题的答案。试想想,如果你是投资者,你又会有什么问题?如果在现场无法即时解答,就老实承认不知道答案,但承诺于什么时候,以邮件或回电方式亲自解答。诚恳守诺,是与投资者建立诚信关系的第一步。”

虽然与监管机构沟通是例行工作,但对董秘而言,良好的沟通技巧可以化解在合规上的意见分歧。 “有时候,监管人员会认为公司违反了某些规则,但可能是负责人因不了解公司情况而错判。董秘要做好准备,向监管机构解释具体情况,以及提出解决方案。”

叶先生强调,董秘在任何时刻均须跟监管机构秉守诚信。 “根据我的经验,在与香港监管机构打交道时,可谈判的空间较小,原因可能是香港的监管环境比内地更为严格和成熟。但无论是香港还是内地,诚实公正、知法守法才是上策。”

Jimmy Chow
记者

 

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