86th Congregation (2018)
Dr IP Sik-on Simon
Today the Chinese University of Hong Kong honours one of Hong Kong’s leading public figures – Dr Ip Sik-on, Simon for his many distinguished contributions to Hong Kong society. The abiding theme of those contributions is that of ‘leadership’. Throughout his professional and public life, Dr Ip has demonstrated a willingness to lead. He has shouldered tasks which others might, fairly, have declined, citing other professional or personal commitments. He has been steadfast in his willingness to take up these challenges. In all of his various leadership roles, Dr Ip has combined leadership with service, thus giving practical expression to his understanding of leadership, for, in his own words, ‘Leadership’ is not about ‘the power to rule, but rather the privilege to serve’.
Dr Ip’s roles in leadership and service find their roots in his successful career in legal practice. In 1971 he qualified as a solicitor in England and Wales. He returned to Hong Kong the following year where he joined what was then Hong Kong’s leading law firm, Johnson Stokes & Master. He remained with the same firm throughout his practicing career, becoming one of the most successful litigation solicitors of his generation and progressing from a very junior assistant solicitor to Senior Partner and Chairman of the firm, in which capacity he served from 1996 until his retirement from practice in 2004.
(Those of us in the University who are involved in the academic study and teaching of law might usefully, or ruefully, take note of the fact that these successes were achieved without the benefit of a law degree. Dr Ip qualified as a solicitor by serving five years’ practical legal apprenticeship as an articled clerk. Some might regard that as the hard route to professional qualification. Dr Ip regarded it as ‘the practical route’: learning from doing, and, importantly for a young married man, getting paid for it.)
As Dr Ip has established himself professionally, it was not only his clients who appreciated his qualities as a lawyer. His professional peers began to take note of his abilities, and from the mid-1980s there followed a succession of leadership roles – all undertaken on top of his busy practice.
In 1985 he received a request to attend a meeting of the Council of the Law Society of Hong Kong. He went along, unsure as to what the purpose of the meeting was. Had he unwittingly committed some professional error? He was no doubt relieved, and equally surprised, to receive an ‘out of the blue’ invitation to become President of the Law Society. He declined, citing his own lack of experience and the demands of his practice, but agreed to serve as Vice-President. Two years later he was elected President – at the age of 38.
As President he soon had to tackle pressing and thorny issues. There was, for example, considerable pressure from the United States to open up the market in legal services to United States lawyers without their first acquiring a Hong Kong qualification or accreditation. While the immediate concern was the future of legal practitioners, it was clear that such pressure might be brought to bear on other professions. In order to ensure a satisfactory solution to meeting these demands he enlisted the support of other professions, recognizing their common interests. And through this experience he learned the practical value of collaboration and mutual understanding.
This was also the time when much legal work needed to be done on the very sensitive questions surrounding the development of the Basic Law. As Law Society President, Dr Ip chaired a Working Party on the drafting of the Basic Law, seeking to ensure that its provisions were consistent with Hong Kong’s legal principles, and the expectations of Hong Kong society. He also became a member of the Basic Law Consultative Committee established by the Central Government.
From 1991 to 1995 he served as a member of the Legislative Council representing the Legal Functional Constituency. Even today, he is the only solicitor to have served in that capacity. During this time he undertook the responsibility of chairing the Bills Committee dealing with the all-important and sensitive task of establishing the Court of Final Appeal.
These are by no means the sum of Dr Ip’s contribution to Hong Kong’s legal life. Many other examples could be cited, but the list might seem rather too long, if not improbable. Suffice to say that Dr Ip has served on more than 20 bodies concerned in different ways with Hong Kong’s legal system.
Further recognition of his qualities as a leader came, also, to his mind, rather unexpectedly, in 1993, in the shape of an invitation from the Secretary for Education to chair the Committee tasked with the foundation of what was to become the Hong Kong Institute of Education. Dr Ip’s personal experience of schooling in Hong Kong had not been a very positive one. Indeed, that is why he moved to England for his schooling, the approach to which he found better suited to his spirit of inquiry. The establishment of a University-level institution directed towards the training of locally-grown teachers seemed to him to be key to the improvement of the education of Hong Kong’s young people.
This was no easy task. It involved the bringing together of five hitherto independent Colleges of Education, each with its own history, tradition and culture and educational methods. And always for many of the staff involved, the fear of redundancy. It is a testament to Dr Ip’s leadership that the process of amalgamation, and the creation of a new entity was achieved in such a way as to bring about the establishment of the Hong Kong Institute of Education which in due course provided the foundation for what was to become The Education University of Hong Kong. Following the establishment of the Institute, Dr Ip went on to serve as the Founding Chair of its Council for nine years, from 1994 to 2003.
Hong Kong has thus benefited from Dr Ip’s vision and energy in two fields – Law and Education. By themselves these contributions would be fully worthy of recognition. But having achieved prominence and success in these fields, he has gone on to demonstrate innovation and leadership in charitable endeavours through his work with the Hong Kong Jockey Club, and more specifically through the major policy changes that have been introduced into this aspect of the Jockey Club under his leadership as Chairman of the Board of Stewards.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club is one of Hong Kong’s great institutions. As such, it is not only a reflection of Hong Kong’s ‘passion for the horse’ (to use Dr Ip’s own words) but through its Charities Trust which is one of the top ten charitable donors in the world (as well as a contributor of more than $20 billion annually in duty and profits tax to the Government). In its most recent years it has donated around $4 billion annually to more than 200 charitable and community projects. The University has, of course, been a major beneficiary of the Jockey Club, whose many donations to the University include the $1.3 billion gifted in 2014 to support the establishment of the University’s new teaching hospital, the CUHK Medical Centre, which at the time was the largest single donation made by the Charities Trust in its 130-year history.
These are, by any measures, remarkable figures and in the face of such success there is always a temptation to ‘leave well alone’. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ may have the ring of common sense, but it is too often a manifestation of complacency. Leadership involves more than good management. Exceptional leaders can find ways to improve upon success.
Under Dr Ip’s leadership as Chairman of the Board of Stewards, the Jockey Club has taken very significant steps in its approach to charitable giving and to improve upon the Club’s undoubted successes in working for the community. Historically, the Jockey Club performed rather as a ‘passive’ donor, receiving and responding to requests for support. Under Dr Ip’s leadership, the Club has developed a more strategic and longer-term approach to its role in the betterment of Hong Kong society.
Working with a wide range of partners, including Government and non-governmental bodies and agencies, the Charities Trust has adopted a proactive approach, identifying four areas for support: youth development, creating a more age-friendly society, building a ‘sports-for-all’ culture, and support for arts, culture and heritage.
Central to this development has been Dr Ip’s commitment to promoting collaboration between different individuals and groups in our community. As a passive recipient of disparate requests for support, the Jockey Club has achieved a great deal. But Dr Ip’s approach is based on his own experience that through promoting collaborative working, much, much more can be achieved, not least by transforming potential competitors seeking support for their individual interests, into willing collaborators pursuing a collective interest. The strategy promoted by Dr Ip envisages the Club as a ‘trusted neutral party’, seeking to create a platform for different groups to pursue the common good and to shake off the constraints which may operate as a barrier to true collaboration.
It is not at all surprising, in light of his outstanding public service, that Dr Ip has received honours and awards over the years. He has been a Justice of the Peace since 1981. In 1997 he was appointed a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. His contribution to the community and Hong Kong public life have been recognised by the award of Honorary degrees from the Hong Kong Institute of Education, the City University of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. In 2017, he was awarded the Gold Bauhinia Star of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
Dr Ip has observed that ‘Leaders must first learn to serve the community, to see and understand other people’s plight, and empathise with their problems and lend them a helping hand.’ There can be no doubt that in his contribution to public life in Hong Kong Dr Ip has diligently observed this model of leadership.
Madam Chancellor, in view of his outstanding contribution to Hong Kong public life, and the leadership and service that he has contributed to our community, it is my privilege to present to you Dr Ip Sik-on, Simon for the award of Doctor of Social Science, honoris causa.
This citation is written by Professor Christopher Gane