73rd Congregation (2013)
Dr the Honourable Sir David Kwok-po LI
Membership of a distinguished family may be a privilege but should also be a responsibility. Families will not continue to be distinguished unless each generation plays its part in adding to their reputation. The Li family has been most fortunate in this respect. Their position was established four generations ago by Li Shek-pang, who imported rice into Hong Kong from Vietnam; and consolidated by his son Li Koon-chun, who co-founded The Bank of East Asia in 1918. And coming to the present generation, we at The Chinese University of Hong Kong cannot help being aware that a member of the Li family – a former Secretary for Education and Manpower in the Hong Kong Government and a leading surgeon – has also been our Vice-Chancellor.
But our former leader also has an elder brother, whose professional career has been every bit as remarkable, involving both politics and education as well as his own chosen primary field of banking. It is that career and that elder brother we are here today to honour.
David Li was born in London just before the war. He was educated at St. Joseph’s College in Hong Kong and then at Uppingham School in the UK, a school with a strong musical tradition and a belief in an all-round education. Li obviously learned its lessons well in both respects. At Selwyn College, Cambridge he studied Economics and Law, but also found time to contribute satirical sketches for the Cambridge Footlights. Noting that there were few social occasions for men and women to meet – most women attended women-only colleges – he assumed the role of impresario, by hiring the Corn Exchange as a Saturday night club and then arranging for his musician friends to perform. He thus became very popular, while he also made a handsome profit as an entrepreneur. This was early evidence of David Li’s all-round talent for creating opportunities and bringing people together.
If you want creativity to flourish, you also have to be able to create the conditions, including the financial and institutional conditions, for it to do so. If you want a great bank to flourish, first you have to create the conditions in which it can flourish.
One of these conditions is that you must know the business inside out. No one in this audience would need to be reminded that David Li leads one of the most successful banks in the region, The Bank of East Asia. He has been Chief Executive of the Bank since 1981, and Chairman since 1997. That is a long time: but in fact his commitment to his family and to Hong Kong led him to return here from England and join the Bank much earlier, in 1969. Before returning, he had become a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales. He had also become an expert in computerized banking systems. And that led to his first assignment at The Bank of East Asia – to transfer all client accounts to a central computer system. He has given his whole professional career to the Bank, and he has made it what it is today because of that dedication.
From that base his achievements have broadened out into politics, public service and patronage of the arts and education. He was Vice-Chairman of the Basic Law Drafting Committee. He was an elected member of the Legislative Council representing the Finance constituency between 1985 and 2012, and was a member of the Executive Council from 2005 to 2008. Sir David was knighted in 2005 for his contributions to British education, and received the Grand Bauhinia Medal in 2007.
In fact, a short citation such as this simply does not have enough room to list all of Sir David’s professional contributions. He holds many directorships of listed companies, including PCCW Limited, SCMP Group Limited and The Hong Kong and China Gas Company Limited; and he has served on the main boards or international advisory boards of many other companies including Avon Products Inc, Bank of Austria, Bank of Montreal, Campbell Soup Company, Caterpillar Inc, Credit Agricole, Daimler-Benz, Deutsche Bank, Dow Jones & Company, IBM, Rolls-Royce and Westinghouse Electric Corporation. He is Chairman of the Chinese Banks’ Association Limited.
But alongside his role in top-level finance, Sir David has also represented and further dignified his family by his contributions in humanitarian and cultural fields. He has for decades been Chairman of the Executive Committee of St James’ Settlement, which provides services to needy families, the elderly and the mentally handicapped in Hong Kong, and Chairman of the Advisory Board of The Salvation Army Hong Kong and Macau Command. His charitable work alone would occupy all the time of a less energetic man.
As well as that, Sir David is an active patron of the arts and of education. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Asian Youth Orchestra and Life Patron of the Hong Kong Ballet. He is still encouraging and promoting the arts just as effectively as he did when he hired the Corn Exchange in Cambridge all those years ago. And still thinking of Cambridge, he founded the Friends of Cambridge University in Hong Kong and, through its scholarship fund, the prestigious Prince Philip Scholarship Scheme sends top Hong Kong scholars to Cambridge every year. Since its founding in 1982, the Scheme has supported over 160 Hong Kong students to study at Cambridge, many of whom are now leading figures in government, the professions, academia and business. And I should add that as Pro-Chancellor of another University on the far side of Victoria Harbour he has considerable experience of awarding honorary degrees himself.
Sir David and his family have also had a long association with this University. Since 2010, he has been a member of the Committee of Overseers of S. H. Ho College. The college was founded in 2006, and is already a success story. As one of its distinguished group of honorary fellows, Sir David has played a key role in this new enterprise.
I began by mentioning previous generations of the Li family, but I am sure Sir David would regard his finest achievement as ensuring, together with his wife Penny, that yet another generation of this remarkable family will continue his work of upholding and promoting all that is best about Hong Kong into the future.
For his outstanding list of contributions to Hong Kong and the wider world in business, politics, public service, humanitarian causes and arts and education, it gives me great pleasure, Mr Vice-Chancellor, to present to you Dr the Honourable Sir David Kwok-po Li for the award of the degree of Doctor of Social Science, honoris causa.
This citation is written by Professor Simon Haines