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What is your role as a governance professional?

‘As an educator, I guess my role is like a time traveller, bridging the past and the present and taking the present into the future. Please allow me to explain. What is knowledge, and in this particular context, business knowledge? In a nutshell, it is the summing up of wisdom and experiences into concepts and models. University is where not only the transfer but also creation of knowledge happens. When we educate students, we are passing on the baton of knowledge to the next generation. When we do research, we are conquering the frontier of the unknown and extending our knowledge into the future. As such, while I do not carry fancy titles, I am proud to represent a sector playing a pivotal role in the nurturing of governance professionals, current and future.’ 

What was your career path to your current role?

‘My academic career started in New Zealand. I joined The Open University of Hong Kong (OUHK) as a lecturer in 1995 and gradually moved up in rank to full professor in 2008. I assumed the role of Associate Dean of the Lee Shau Kee School of Business and Administration in 2010, and was appointed Dean in 2015. I initiated the production of a number of television programmes on corporate governance, management and marketing for the university’s “Open for Learning” programme, which was broadcast on the-then two major public broadcasting channels in Hong Kong to promote lifelong learning. In particular, the “Corporate Governance in Action” programme was a collaboration with The Hong Kong Institute of Chartered Secretaries, which received excellent feedback from the public and within the profession. As an academic, I have published widely in international refereed journals, covering areas such as business ethics, global management and marketing. Serving as a specialist for the Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications (HKCAAVQ), I am regularly invited to chair, or be an expert member, on panels for the accreditation of both local and overseas degree programmes offered in Hong Kong.’

What value does governance bring to organisations and to wider society?

‘Governance is as old as time. Governance issues were relevant to the priests in 18th-century BC Babylon who created the world’s first recorded banking system. At its core, governance comes into play where someone is the manager of other people’s money rather than their own, as Adam Smith points out in Book 5, Chapter 1 of his masterpiece The Wealth of Nations. The core value of governance is imposing checks and balances to steer the convergence of the many interests among stakeholders. In fact, the shift away from a shareholder primacy to a multi-stakeholder approach, emphasising the need to serve the common good, actually brings us back to Adam Smith’s view. In Book 1, Chapter 8 of The Wealth of Nations, he writes that – “No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, clothe, and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, clothed and lodged.” This is food for thought for everyone against the backdrop of globalisation.’

What qualities do you think are needed to be a successful governance professional?

‘Since I was talking about Adam Smith, I think the virtues he outlined in another of his masterworks, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, can be a useful guide. He mentions that a virtuous person has four qualities: prudence, justice, beneficence and self-command. I think these are also the quintessential qualities that make a successful, or more importantly, good governance professional.

Prudence allows us to moderate our excesses, while justice motivates us to be accountable for our actions. As such, both are imperative in the pursuit of corporate social responsibility. Corporate scandals harm not just the companies involved, but also the lives of those who placed their trust in those companies. Meanwhile, beneficence inevitably promotes the fulfilment of the happiness of others. This reassembles the “creating shared value” concept whereby the purpose of a company should be to satisfy social needs. Finally, self-command contains our passions and reins in our destructive actions, thereby performing a crucial aspect of governance – risk management.’

How do you think governance will evolve in the future?

‘A silver lining of the current crisis is the unique opportunity for all of us to develop new perspectives. “Conscious capitalism” is perhaps an area which will get more attention in the future. In short, this suggests that profit-seeking should not be the only purpose of businesses – they should use their resources to address the economic, social and environmental challenges confronting society. Clearly, the practice of governance will need to adapt in turn to this new focus on the common good.’

What inspires you in your life and work?

‘It may sound clichéd, but if it is not for nurturing youth, why else would I have become a business educator?’

How do you fill your time outside work?

‘Nothing much. Since my schedule is packed with engagements most of the time, I either spend time with family or become a couch potato whenever I can afford to.’ 

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