David Webb, a wealthy Englishman who lives in Hong Kong, is without doubt the world’s most effective individual retail shareholder activist in any market.

In 2003 he was narrowly elected to the board of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearance Ltd, the rock’s equivalent of the ASX, and since then he has pioneered a number of important reforms in a market not known for its high levels of corporate governance and facing ever-increasing encroachment from mainland China.

As someone who has failed in 22 attempted tilts at public company boards, I would love to one day produce a firsthand account like this, detailing how three of the six incumbent broker-directors recommended by the board were rejected by shareholders in an extraordinary palace coup.

However, after three years on the HKEC board, Webb is now facing an election challenge from a vocal group of stockbrokers who want to turn back the governance clock and exact their revenge. Check out this summary of Webb’s campaign which will culminate at the AGM in Hong Kong on April 26.

Webb has an impressive CV and has attracted an equally impressive running mate in Christine Loh, a former Hong Kong politician who now runs a think tank called Civic Exchange.

His support will come from investors who want to see better governance in Hong Kong, not brokers who thrive in less transparent environments. To this end, I was bending the ear of Axa Asia Pacific Holdings CEO Les Owen after the AGM last Wednesday, because his outfit has the biggest presence in Hong Kong of any Australian-based institution.

We’ll keep you posted on Webb’s progress but it would be a real shame if he went down.

Peter Fray

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