School’s out for Murphy

Written on the 6 July 2009

School’s out for Murphy

Retiring TSS chairman Derek Murphy is a former Supreme Court barrister and a recently appointed non-executive director of Icon Energy. Murphy has enjoyed a distinguished career in international relations with various director roles in Hong Kong and is revered among the corporate governance cognoscenti as a no-nonsense diplomat

It is said that when one door closes, others open. It must be with a tinge of sadness that you step down from the chair at TSS after 12 years?
Yes, but it’s time for fresh leadership and new ideas. Under the school’s constitution I’m required to stand down. It’s been a great honour and privilege to chair the council as the first Old Boy to do so and to contribute to its mission. Our role is that of governance, setting the strategic direction and developing policies for the betterment of our students and our staff.

I’m very fortunate to have such a dedicated and enthusiastic team of council members who give freely of their time and each brings a special quality to the team. I am also very grateful to my wife Yoshiko for encouraging me to remain on council for the last 2 years when I had thought I might step down earlier. I need new challenges to keep the train ticking over and so I could probably handle one or two (more) non executive public board positions.

As a TSS Old Boy, what legacy would you like to see carried on at the institution?
First and foremost, I would like to see our rich traditions of more than a century carried on. In particular, TSS is one of the few schools on the Gold coast which offers boarding as well as day school.
Secondly, I am a firm believer in manners and etiquette being instilled into our boys from an early age. Sadly, modern society seems not to care so much about the importance of simple courtesies such as saying ‘please’ and ‘thankyou’ and ‘may I’ and respecting the elderly, the disadvantaged, the disabled and the marginalised.

Thirdly, we want TSS to become a ‘world-class’ school to be benchmarked against the very best in the world. To this end we are endeavouring to dramatically improve our academic ethos.
Tell us a bit about Hayco, the Hong Kong company you’re involved in.
Hayco is a Hong Kong-based private company involved in the manufacture of brushware and household cleaning products in China, exporting worldwide with budgeted sales in 2008 in excess of HK$1.5 billion. I’ve been a shareholder and director of Hayco Manufacturing limited since about 1994.

The chairman Donald Hay, grandson of the founder of SABCC (South Australian Brush Company) is a friend of mine. He has built one of the most successful companies headquartered in Hong Kong but manufacturing in China and employing more than 8700 people.
It produces household products like toilet brushes, toothbrushes, Swiffers, Brita Water purifier jugs, outdoor sweepers etc for export particularly to the United States and Europe. We are endeavouring to move to a sustainable model in terms of carbon emissions and have recently engaged Bond University to assist us with this important project.

How do you see foreign relations between Hong Kong and Australia in terms of future investment opportunities?
Hong Kong is still a wonderful and exciting city in which to do business. While it has lost much of its manufacturing capacity as Southern China opened up for export industries, Hong Kong remains a vibrant financial and service centre with a level playing field, a sophisticated banking and fund management focus, a highly educated and hard working people with outstanding management skills and is, of course, one of the food capitals of the world. The recent removal of tax on imported wine has done wonders for the economy.

I greatly enjoyed my 20 years in Hong Kong and watched it grow dramatically during that time. When I first arrived in 1978 as a young Crown Counsel, the per capita income of Hong Kong was one fifth that of Australia. By the time I left in 1997, the per capita income of Hong Kong had overtaken that of Australia in less than one generation.

You were awarded the coveted ‘Director of the Year Award’ in HK for the non-executive director of a private company category in 2004. What was the catalyst for this?
My friend Donald Hay (chairman of Hayco) understands and appreciates the importance of good corporate governance and nominated me for this award, believing that I had made a contribution to improving the structures, accountability and governance of Hayco.

I was greatly honoured to receive this award from the Hong Kong institute of Directors, alongside the winner of the Director of the Year Award for an Executive Direction of a Public Company, Mr Vincent Cheng GBC, now chairman of HSBC Asia.

How did you come to establish and manage a Vietnamese detention centre for the Hong Kong Government for 9600 detainees with an annual budget of HK$90 million of public subvention with 140 employees? How did this experience shape you as a leader and mentor?
One evening, in the Hong Kong Club, I was approached by the Chief Secretary of Hong Kong, Sir David Ford and asked if I would consider HKHSR running a detention centre on behalf of the Hong Kong Government for the thousands of boat people i.e asylum seekers arriving daily from Vietnam.

After a feasibility study was conducted, we concluded that we could do so and a centre was established in a very short time at Tai A Chau, a remote island near the border with China. I insisted that these people be treated with dignity, so there was no barbed wire. We painted the grey fences Wimbledon green.

We bought in a pastry chef from the Mandarin Hotel to teach the residents how to bake bread.
We set up fish farms, chicken farms, vegetable plots, an embroidery school, a bicycle repair shop etc to give the people something to do because boredom we knew led to violence.

It was a challenging but rewarding experience and I learnt that compassion for people in dire circumstances, seeking to flee persecution from torture and mistreatment, should not be treated like dogs but understood and valued as fellow human beings.

Icon Energy shares are on the move in the right direction following another CSG discovery. What attracted you to this listed mining company and what do you bring to the board?
I was approached by Dr Ray MacNamara, a member of the School Council of TSS and director and company secretary of Icon, who was looking for a non executive director for the company. For some time, I hesitated because I had many other commitments but knew that I was due to stand down from the school council at the end of 2009.

I thought I could usefully add value and finally agreed to join the board. I was also excited when shortly before my appointment, the Queensland Government, through its wholly-owned subsidiary Stanwell Corporation, contributed up to $36 million by way of a farm-in agreement with a gas sales contract provided certain conditions are met.

I’m the first to admit that when I joined the board I knew nothing about coal seam gas or geothermal opportunities but I’m learning fast and am greatly enjoying the experience.

Is there a business mantra that you have adhered to throughout your career? How does that influence the way you conduct business today?
Integrity is everything in business. At board meetings, I see the role of a non-executive director as being scrupulously honest in assessing and evaluating the subject matter under discussions.
My advice is always to listen carefully with what is being proposed and don’t rush to a hasty conclusion.

In some parts of Asia corruption is endemic. I won’t be involved in any company that is prepared to be corrupt and to pay for favours. Hong Kong has come a long way in rooting out corruption.
China has much to learn from Hong Kong in this respect. My other advice is to treat people the way you would like to be treated. Be respectful and courteous at all times.

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