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Webb's Hong Kong crusade

Since retiring from investment banking at 35, Hong Kong's David Webb has devoted his considerable energies to that rarest of Asian stock market specialities, shareholder activism.

Since retiring from investment banking at 35, Hong Kong's David Webb has devoted his considerable energies to that rarest of Asian stock market specialities, shareholder activism (see story, page 62). The former BZW Asia banker's no-holds-barred Web site - Webb-site.com (get it?) - has excoriated tycoons and traders alike for excesses that have embellished Hong Kong's reputation as the Wild East.

At the height of the Internet bubble, wet blanket Webb insisted that Internet entrepreneur Richard Li's Pacific Century CyberWorks, then trading at HK$26 ($3.33) a share, was worth HK$6 at most. Sure enough, the stock plummeted 85 percent from its peak.

When Hong Kong Financial Secretary Donald Tsang stressed the importance of good corporate governance in a recent speech, Webb seized the opportunity to plug his pet cause. He asked Tsang to set up the Hong Kong Association of Minority Shareholders, or Hams, to lobby for legal reforms, rate companies on governance and mount quasi-class action suits against the worst abusers of shareholders' rights. To keep Hams out of hock, Webb has urged that the new organization be funded by a levy on stock trades.

"We could sit around here for ten or 20 years waiting for a Calpers to emerge in Asia," he says. "I'm challenging the government to put its mandate where its mouth is." Within ten days of Webb's proposal, almost 60 institutional investors had endorsed the idea. The government has vowed to study it.