The MTR Corporation announced a leadership reshuffle on Thursday after a series of high-profile construction scandals.

Rex Auyeung will replace Frederick Ma as the chairman of the board starting July 1. Auyeung is best known for being council chairman of Lingnan University, and was a top insurance executive at Principal Financial Group before retiring in 2017.

Rex Auyeung
New MTR Chairman Rex Auyeung. File photo: Lingnan University.

Jacob Kam, the operations and mainland business managing director, will be promoted to CEO on April 1, replacing Lincoln Leong. It is Kam’s second promotion in a year – last August, the MTR veteran of 24-years took over as Projects Director after his predecessor, Philco Wong, resigned in disgrace.

The rail operator has been under fire for shoddy construction at its upcoming Shatin to Central Link line – which has resulted in Hong Kong’s chief executive ordering an independent commission of enquiry. Other critics have demanded that certain platforms be demolished and rebuilt.

On Thursday, the MTRC also reported a decrease in net profit, which fell 5 per cent last year to HK$16 billion. Underlying profits grew by 7.1 per cent last year, amounting to HK$11.26 billion, but the firm had a comparatively slower year than the preceding one.

Jacob Kam
New MTR CEO Jacob Kam.

Overall, the rail operator will also need to reserve HK$245 million for fare rebates this year.

‘Emotional intelligence’

In a statement, transport and housing chief Frank Chan thanked Frederick Ma for his contributions to MTRC.

“Under the leadership of Professor Ma, the MTRC commenced the service of the Kwun Tong Line Extension and the South Island Line smoothly, facilitating citizens’ travelling and adding vibrancy to the areas served,” Chan wrote, adding that the high-speed rail link also began operations on Ma’s watch.

Chan also called on Kam to improve corporate governance, promote growth, and continuously enhance the safety and quality of MTR services.

Ma said that guiding the rail operator’s expansion phase was “one of the most rewarding tasks” he had ever undertaken, and that he was “proud that the Corporation has largely met the goals set for it by the Board.”

Frederick Ma Lincoln Leong
Outgoing MTR top brass Frederick Ma and Lincoln Leong. Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

Lawmaker Michael Tien, who was formerly the chairman of the legislature’s railways subcommittee, said that Auyeung had “emotional intelligence and political wisdom.”

This was seen by an incident where Auyeung was willing to sit down with Lingnan University students to resolve a dispute, Tien said, adding that it was most important for the MTR chairman to know how to listen and communicate.

Tien, one of the most outspoken critics of MTRC management during their construction scandals, said he was generally satisfied with the leadership reshuffle.

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.