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Chen Liping, Executive Director and General Manager of CSSC Offshore & Marine Engineering (Group) Company Ltd, offers an interesting perspective on the role of the board secretary based on his own experience transitioning from financial management to governance.

In October 2009, I bid farewell to my position as the Chief Accountant of Guangzhou Wenchong Shipyard Company Ltd, and transferred to Guangzhou Shipyard International Company Ltd (GSI), which was renamed CSSC Offshore & Marine Engineering (Group) Company Ltd (COMEC) in May 2015. At that time, affected by the international financial crisis, the global shipbuilding market was faced with unprecedented adjustments. As the world’s largest shipbuilding country, the Mainland has been severely impacted by the slowdown in world economic growth, as well as a sharp decline in shipping trade. The reform and development of GSI was greatly impacted. The company’s A share stock price dropped from its peak at RMB100 to around RMB11, and its H share stock price also dropped to as low as around HK$7.

Against this backdrop, the company’s management team was eager to break through the constraints brought by the economic crisis and this posed a great challenge for me when I started my work. As the company faces the international market and is a manufacturing enterprise that makes export-oriented ships, any fluctuations in the exchange rate will have a huge impact on the company’s performance. Therefore, addressing exchange rate exposure became an important part of my role after I took office. Leading the company’s financial department, I improved the exchange rate risk prevention and control system, making it able to compare market exchange rate, rate changes and capital costs. I also hedged risks through a variety of innovative methods, including forward settlements and factoring, to prevent losses and create financial gains.

Through the joint efforts of the company’s management and the financial department, from 2010 to 2015, the company gained more than RMB700 million in financial income. Deficiencies at the operating level were also gradually reversed, main gross profit steadily increased and the company started to grow again.

Through my work in financial management, I started to appreciate the huge difference between non-listed and listed companies. Listed companies are public companies and need to be supervised by regulatory agencies and the general public, therefore the company’s finances must be rigorous and standardised. For listed companies, financial information is an important indicator reflecting operational quality, so it must be timely, complete, accurate and objective. This not only affects the judgement of information users, but also directly affects corporate credibility and the company’s market image, which further affects the company’s performance on fundraising, market value management and the implementation of corporate strategies.

People in charge of the financial management of listed companies must also pay attention to listing rules. From the accurate disclosure of accounting information, such as financial reports and performance forecasts, to the compliance requirements for connected transactions, refinancing, fund management and accounting policy changes, the financial officer must be familiar with relevant rules and best practices must be in place. In order to meet these compliance requirements, listed companies must have a solid financial management system and continue to improve their governance standards in financial information disclosure mechanisms, building teams of diverse talents, as well as setting up financial management norms and systems. These experiences all laid the foundation for my later career as a governance professional.

Moving to the next level

In 2012, although GSI made great efforts to adjust its structure, reduce costs and increase efficiency, due to the overall industry environment, there was no enthusiasm for trading of the company’s stocks in the secondary market and the company’s stock price was also hovering low. That year I was appointed as the board secretary and began to work more closely supporting regular board meetings and handling information disclosure, investor relations management and other corporate governance work.

As the person who used to be in charge of financial management, I had participated in the formulation of the company’s strategy and decision-making on important matters. I also fully understood the company’s operating conditions. Because of my participation in the formulation and implementation of the company’s business plan, I could more accurately grasp the current market environment, the measures taken by the company to respond to market competition and its potential financial impacts. I could also give investors a more comprehensive understanding of the company.

However, I needed to have a deeper understanding of the regulatory rules and information disclosure procedures, and I also needed to deepen my understanding of corporate governance and strategic development. This was when, by chance, I came into contact with the work of The Hong Kong Institute of Chartered Secretaries (the Institute). From the corporate governance training organised by the Institute to its annual roundtable meetings, the Institute provided me with effective help at a stage when I needed theoretical guidance and practical experience the most. These experiences deepened my knowledge and understanding of corporate governance and company operation from all aspects. Since 2012, I have been an Affiliated Person (AP) of the Institute and a supporter of the professional development of the Institute in the Mainland.

In 2013, the Clarkson’s Newbuilding Price Index gradually bottomed out. GSI’s management began to study market trends and industrial policies in the Mainland, and decided to initiate major mergers and acquisitions in order to seize the opportunities provided by capital acquisitions. From 2013 to 2015, the company implemented two major asset reorganisations. The first involved the issue of H shares from May 2013 to February 2014 in order to raise cash for low-level acquisitions of 100% equity of Guangzhou Longxue Shipbuilding Co Ltd (Longxue Shipbuilding). The second involved the issue of A shares from April 2014 to April 2015; these funds, together with cash payments, would enable the purchase of 100% equity of CSSC Huangpu Wenchong Shipbuilding Co Ltd and the shipbuilding assets of Yangzhou Kejin Shipbuilding Co Ltd.

The acquisition of the Longxue Shipbuilding was a second attempt. The first attempt, made in 2008, was terminated due to various reasons. In 2008, both the capital market and the shipbuilding industry were in downturn. Trading of the company’s A share and H share stocks was not enthusiastic, but the company was in urgent need of larger shipbuilding sites and facilities due to the restricted capacity of its old factories. Due to municipal planning, the company’s old factories were also under pressure to relocate. In order to effectively solve the company’s capacity bottlenecks and capacity transfer issues, and give full play to the company’s competitive advantages in brand, technology, experience, management and other aspects, the company took the initiative to launch the reorganisation in 2013.

However, the issue of H shares encountered several major obstacles – the first being the disagreement of internal and external directors; second the target’s issue price per share was lower than the company’s net assets; and third was that the target’s underlying debts were close to 100%, and the acquisition in a sustained downturn in the shipbuilding sector was not in line with market sentiment. As a major and unprecedented transaction, the road ahead was difficult and dangerous. Almost no large foreign investment banking institution was willing to support the acquisition, which was considered to be high risk. However, from the perspective of the company’s strategic development, as the board secretary, I always firmly believed that it was right to persevere – progress is achieved by people and we must innovate with courage while remaining in accordance with the rules.

I organised many preparatory meetings, and provided a lot of information and legal opinions relating to the Longxue Shipbuilding project and the benefits to the long-term development of the company, as well as the protection measures of the interests from small and medium shareholders and independent directors. This finally eliminated the doubts of the independent directors, and the project plan was successfully approved by the board of directors. In order to obtain the approval of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council to issue shares lower than their net asset value, I organised meetings for the management to coordinate and communicate with independent financial consultants, controlling shareholders, the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC), Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission (SFC), the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong (the Exchange), the Shanghai Stock Exchange and the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council on many occasions. Finally, we successfully issued the shares.

To promote the acceptance of issuing H shares by the capital market and small and medium shareholders, we asked management to conduct roadshows in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore and other places. Through intensive centralised roadshows and continuous communication with investment institutions and investors, we were able to focus the discussion on the significance of the issuance to the company’s business strategy and future performance prospects, and have successfully won the support of a large number of investment institutions and investors. The issue was finally approved by the SFC, the Exchange and the CSRC. The company’s first capital transaction since its listing was then completed.

Assisting this project also became a milestone for me in transitioning to a role as governance professional. I had already become deeply aware that a board secretary is not only the coordinator of company meetings and the executor of information disclosures, but is also a spokesperson for all parties involved in governance and the key person in a listed company to ensure best corporate governance practices. The important role of the board secretary in corporate governance and the capital operations of listed companies will be increasingly recognised.

Climbing to the top

In the course of my work, I have always adhered to the principles promoted by the Institute. As an AP of the Institute, I have always been committed to the formulation and implementation of good corporate governance policies. I also regularly participate in the corporate governance training organised by the Institute, and study the laws and regulations related to company secretaries and company administration. The Institute has deepened my understanding of law, finance, strategic development, corporate management and corporate governance in both Shanghai and Hong Kong, and I have gained practical experience in my work ensuring compliance with the regulatory requirements of both places, participating in capital operations and promoting best governance practices
to companies.

In March 2016, I was appointed as an executive director and general manager of COMEC. Since taking over as the general manager, I have promoted good governance, and at a higher level and in greater depth. As an executive director and general manager, I adhere to the concept of high standards, strict requirements and zero mistakes at work. I recognise the importance of holding regular board meetings and ensuring quality information disclosure. My mission is to constantly improve the level of corporate governance and continue to promote convergence to best practices in listed companies.

Chen Liping

Executive Director and General Manager
CSSC Offshore & Marine Engineering (Group) Company Ltd

 

SIDEBAR: A polymath perspective on governance

Are the roles of board secretaries, directors and general managers closely related? Chen Liping believes that although the roles of general managers, chief finance officers and board secretaries are different, and the way they each participate in corporate governance differs, they all share common goals and play the same role in promoting the company’s long-term development strategy. The board secretary, a key position in corporate governance, requires solid knowledge in finance, law and governance. Board secretaries are responsible for supporting the company’s board meetings, information disclosure and legal compliance. As part of the company’s senior management, they also need to understand and participate in the company’s operations management, assist in capital transactions and strategic planning, and provide suggestions for the company’s long-term development.

As the link between the company and the capital market, board secretaries also need to effectively coordinate internal and external relations, and connect with shareholders, regulatory bodies and the media, in order to maintain the company’s market image and enhance the company’s value. The above-mentioned roles not only make board secretaries important in the areas of governance and the operations for listed companies, but also widen the opportunities for career development. Mr Chen’s financial management experience gave him a good grasp of business management. This, combined with his experience as a board secretary, has made him an outstanding role model for people who wish to become chief corporate governance officers.

Kenneth Jiang FCIS FCS(PE), Chief Representative, Beijing Representative Office of The Hong Kong Institute of Chartered Secretaries

 

从财务管理到公司治理 一趟个人旅程

中船海洋与防务装备股份有限公司执行董事及总经理陈利平根据他从财务管理转型到公司治理的经验,提供了对董事会秘书角色的一个特别视角。

2009年10月,我从广州文冲船厂有限责任公司总会计师调任为广州广船国际股份有限公司(广船国际)总会计师。广船国际在2015年5月更名为中船海洋与防务装备股份有限公司(中船防务)。彼时,受国际金融危机影响,全球船舶市场面临前所未有的深度调整。中国作为全球造船第一大国深受世界经济增速放缓、航运贸易量大幅下滑的严重冲击。广船国际的改革发展受到了极大的冲击。公司A股股价从人民币百元高峰值下滑到人民币11元附近,H股股价更是低至港币7元左右。

在此背景下,公司管理团队急于突破经济危机束缚,这对上任伊始的我形成了较大挑战。由于公司面向国际市场,以出口型船舶为主的制造企业特性,汇率波动对公司业绩影响巨大,因此,防范汇率风险,成为我上任后在财务管理方面的一项重要课题。我组织公司财务部门建立并完善汇率风险防控体系,结合市场汇率变化,综合比较资金成本,把握时机,通过多种创新手段及远期结售汇、保理等方式对冲汇率风险敞口,减少汇兑损失,创造财务收益。

通过公司管理层与财务部门的共同努力,2010至2015年,公司累计实现财务收益人民币七亿元以上,防范汇率风险的同时实现财务创收,经营层面的不利局面逐渐扭转,主营毛利稳步提升,经营业绩实现逆势增长。

由所熟悉的财务管理领域切入,我深刻体会到非上市公司和上市公司的巨大不同。上市公司是公众公司,需要接受监管机构监管以及社会大众的监督,因此财务层面必须严谨、规范。首先,财务信息是反映上市公司运营质量的重要指标,要保证及时、完整、准确和客观。这不仅影响信息使用者的判断,更直接影响到企业公信力和资本市场形象,进而影响到资金筹措、市值管理及公司战略的实施。

此外,上市公司的财务管理工作还必须重视上市规则。从财务报告、业绩预告等会计信息的准确披露,到关联交易、再融资、资金管理、会计政策变更等事项的合规运作,财务负责人员都要熟知相关的规则并践行到位,这也是上市公司合规运作的重要内容。为满足这些合规要求,上市公司势必要有完善的财务管理体系作支撑,在财务信息披露机制、复合型的人才队伍建设以及明确的财务管理规范和制度等方面不断提升治理水平,这为我后续更深层次参与到公司治理打下了基础。

更上层楼

2012年,虽然广船国际力推调结构和降本增效,但受整体行业环境影响,公司股票在二级市场毫无交投热情,股价也低位徘徊。这一年,我被任命为公司董事会秘书(董秘),开始深度参与到三会运作、信息披露以及投资者关系管理等公司治理工作中。

一方面,我作为财务工作的负责人,深度参与公司战略制定和重要事项的决策,充分了解公司的经营情况。而且由于参与了整个经营计划的拟定和落实,我能够更准确地把握公司所处的市场环境、公司应对市场竞争而采取的措施以及由此可能带来的财务影响,也能够帮助投资者更深入地了解公司。

但另一方面,我需要更深层次地理解监管规则和把控信息披露工作,深化对公司治理、战略发展等各方面的认知。机缘巧合之下,我接触到了香港特许秘书公会(公会)。从公会组织的公司治理培训到每年举办的圆桌会议,及时在我最需要理论指导以及实践经验的阶段,给予我最有效的帮助,深化了我对公司治理和运作的全方位认知与理解,多维度考虑各方面对于公司治理的要求。这也是我自2012年至今一直保留公会联席成员身份,支持公会的内地专业发展的初衷。

2013年,Clarkson’s 全球新造船价指数开始出现逐步见底的态势,广船国际管理层开始研究市场动向和国家产业政策,审时度势,果断开启重大资产并购,以期把握资本驱动发展的契机。从当年至2015年间,公司连续实施两次重大资产重组,分别是2013年5月至2014年2月发行H股募集现金低位并购广州中船龙穴造船有限公司100%股权,以及2014年4月至2015年4月发行A股股份及支付现金,购买中船黄埔文冲船舶有限公司100%股权和扬州科进造船有限公司造船资产并募集配套资金。

收购龙穴造船项目,是广船国际在2008年首次资本运作因为各种原因宣告终止后所作的再次尝试。彼时,资本市场和船舶行业市场处于双低迷阶段,公司A股及H股股票交投热情不高,同时公司受老厂区造船设施和产能限制,急需更大的造船场地和设施,且根据广州市市政规划,公司老厂区面临搬迁压力。为有效解决公司产能瓶颈及产能战略转移问题,充分发挥公司在“品牌、技术、经验、管理”等多方面竞争优势,公司主动出击,启动该项目。

然而,项目在推进过程中却遇到几大障碍,其一为内外部董事意见不一;其二为破净发行,发行价格比公司每股净资产还要低;其三为标的资产负债率过高,接近100%,在船舶市场持续低迷的形势下进行收购,与市场意愿不合。作为“重大无先例”事项,前路艰险,几乎没有国外大型投行机构愿意接手该项目,认为是异想天开,但基于对公司战略发展的判断,作为董秘的我,始终坚信事在人为,并要在规则之下勇于创新。

为此,我高度重视与独立董事的沟通工作,多次组织预备会、专题讨论,邀请中介机构参会,提供大量资料和法律意见,向独立董事全面论证项目方案的特点、必要性、对公司长远发展的益处和中小股东利益的保护措施,最终消除了独立董事疑虑,项目方案顺利获得董事会通过。为获得国务院国有资产监督管理委员会(国务院国资委)对于破净发行H股事项的认可,我多次组织管理层与独立财务顾问、控股股东、中国证券监督管理委员会(中证监)、香港证券及期货事务监察委员会(香港证监会)、香港联合交易所有限公司(联交所)、上海证券交易所(上交所)及国务院国资委协调沟通,最终打破常规,成功发行。

为缓解信息披露所面临的巨大压力,促成项目方案被资本市场及中小股东接受,我组织管理层赴上海、香港、新加坡等多地进行路演,通过高强度的集中路演及不间断的与投资机构、投资者见面沟通,着重针对本次发行对公司经营战略的意义以及未来业绩展望进行大范围且富有针对性的宣传,成功赢取大量投资机构和投资者的支持。项目最终获得香港证监会、联交所及中证监的核准,完成了公司自上市以来的第一次资本运作。

此项目成为我在公司规范化治理道路上更进一步的里程碑。我深刻地意识到,董秘不仅是上市公司三会运作的协调人,贯彻信息披露政策法规的执行人,也是各方利益交汇点的发言人,更是上市公司践行最佳公司治理的关键人,董秘对上市公司的公司治理及对资本市场的重要作用将会日益被更多人认同。

勇攀高峰

在公司改革发展历程中,我始终坚持稳扎稳打、不断锤炼,特别是在董秘岗位上,作为公会的联席成员,始终秉持着其致力于制定和执行良好的公司治理政策的宗旨,定期参加其组织的公司治理层面的培训,不断学习和研究公司秘书及行政的法律与实践,深化了我对于上海、香港两地法律、金融、战略发展、公司管理及企业治理等各方面的认知与理解,并由“知”到 “行”,在需同时满足两地监管要求的基础下,推动公司践行最佳上市公司治理,特别是通过深度参与资本运作,让我更能深入体会
董秘的职责,有效实践了在公会学习的理论知识,个人综合素养得以不断提升。

2016年3月,我被任命为中船防务执行董事及总经理,在个人管理生涯中实现完美一跃。接任公司总经理以后,我及时调整自身定位,在更高层次、更广深度推动上市公司治理和发展。战略规划层面,财务管理和资本运作经验进一步提升了我个人战略思维,有助于更好地掌控公司战略方向;行政管理方面,持续的全面了解公司运营管理及各方关系协调,不断夯实个人管理能力;合规治理方面,作为“资深老董秘”的职业敏感性使我能做好前置把控,做好上海、香港两地合规管理,持续提升上市公司治理能力。

陈利平
中船海洋与防务装备股份有限公司
执行董事及总经理

 

SIDEBAR: 治理的多角度观点

从董秘到董事、总经理,是偶然还是密切相关?陈利平认为,总经理和财务负责人、董秘职位角色不同,参与公司治理的表现方式不一样,但实质来看,都有着共同的目标,在推动公司长远发展战略上所发挥的作用是一致的。尤其是董秘,作为公司治理的关键岗位,需要具备扎实的财务、法律、治理等方面的专业素养,负责公司三会运作和信息披露等工作,确保公司合法合规运作;作为公司高级管理人员,需要具备一定的公司管理能力,深度了解甚至直接参与到公司生产管理,以掌握公司运营状况,协助制定公司资本运作方案和发
展战略规划,为公司长远发展献计献策。
作为对接资本市场的枢纽,需要具备较高的综合协调能力,才能有效协调对内与对外关系,与股东、监管机构、媒体等各方有效衔接,维护公司的资本市场形象和提升公司的价值。上述角色不仅奠定了董秘在上市公司治理和运营管理中不可或缺的地位,更在很大程度上拓宽了董秘的职业发展空间。结合陈先生财务管理工作的经历使他在经营管控方面能把握大局,而董秘的经历又使他深刻认识到资本市场的重要性。陈先生是由董秘成为实质的“首席公司治理官”,进而上升到执行董事及总经理的杰出典范,是有志加入治理专业人士的模范。

姜国梁FCIS FCS(PE)
香港特许秘书公会北京代表处首席代表

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