How much would you be willing to give up for a top government job in Hong Kong? For Martin Lau Chi-ping, the best-paid executive in Hong Kong, it would have been about HK$19 billion (US$2.43 billion), if not more.
And that is why it is rather unlikely that the Tencent Holdings president will go anywhere else.
The 44-year-old right-hand man of China’s richest tycoon “Pony” Ma Huateng was the subject of speculation after a mainland online chatroom, the Laohu Community, “broke” the story on March 31, in advance of the April Fool’s Day, that Lau might become Hong Kong’s next financial secretary.
Some netizens jokingly said Lau might be more appropriate for the top job at Hong Kong’s Innovation and Technology Bureau.
All this comes at a time when the city’s current financial secretary, Paul Chan Mo-po, is far from a popular, and Lau’s service contract will be over by the end of this year.
But many people would shrug off such speculation as they do not believe that Lau, a former Goldman Sachs banker and McKinsey consultant, will leave Tencent, which he joined in 2005.
In Hong Kong, Lau has been the model “super employee,” which refers to someone who gets rich by working as a company executive. In 2016, he made HK$122 million, of which HK$93 million was share-based compensation, which made him second only to CK Hutchison co-managing director Canning Fok, who regularly took an annual HK$200 million pay packet from his boss Li Ka-shing.
The spectacular share-price run of Tencent put Lau miles away from the other top corporate earners.
On March 27, Lau cashed out HK$436 million by selling 1 million Tencent shares at HK$434.36 each after major shareholder Naspers raised nearly US$10 billion from its first share sale.
Lau still owns close to 46 million Tencent shares, with a market value of HK$18.8 billion based on Tuesday’s closing of HK$409.4.
To poach the man who made Pony Ma who he is over the past decade is perhaps a dream too far for Hong Kong people. And of course, there is no way Hong Kong, though with a record-high surplus on its government’s balance sheet, can afford the market price for such talent.