HK: Anonymity and Understanding

One of the biggest things I want to achieve while I’m out here in Hong Kong is to help the fans who want to know more about the ownership of the club to understand how it all works. I know it’s not something everyone cares about – but I believe it’s important so that we know what to expect from Birmingham City’s owners and what to hope for.

Hong Kong Stock Exchange

Let’s talk TTA first.

Paul Suen Cho-hung is the owner of Trillion Trophy Asia, who are the largest shareholder in Birmingham Sports Holdings, who own 96.54% of Blues. It’s his name people refer to when they refer to the owner of the club.

Suen is a private guy. Contrary to the opinions of some, I’m actually cool with that. I don’t like having my picture taken either, and I don’t need to know his cat’s name or his inside leg measurement.

However, what he does in business interests me because he’s quite active publicly. He owns stakes in many listed companies and I wanted to get a feel for how he works, to understand him as a person.

If we can understand how he runs his businesses, then it makes sense we can understand he’d run Blues.

Trillion Trophy Asia are a British Virgin Islands company. Their HK office is in Wan Chai. I say that, but in reality their office is a letterbox in an office full of companies run by Suen.

This is because TTA are what is called an “investment vehicle”. The company was set up by Suen to own shares in BSH. That’s all.

Suen does this with his other investments, controlling them via other BVI investment vehicles for privacy and tax reasons.

It’s also obvious what he does in business. He’s made a real success story of himself in buying distressed companies, turning them around and selling them on. He must be good at it as he’s bought the second most expensive house in Hong Kong recently.

I actually admire Suen, because so much of what he does is publicly available. As a short-term owner, he was exactly what we needed – someone to sort out the mess in Hong Kong left by the previous owners before moving it on to someone who wanted to invest further in the club.

There are three other major shareholders in the club at this time, as I have discussed previously.

Ever Depot are based in Phnom Penh, in Cambodia and because of that I can’t do much about trying to find out more about what they do. Ever Depot are involved with the project BSH have ongoing in Cambodia and as such I think they are the least interesting to us as football fans anyway.

Dragon Villa will become the second largest shareholder once the subscription deal goes through. They are based in the British Virgin Islands. What that means is that there is a company nameplate in a solicitor’s office somewhere in the British Virgin Islands which says “Dragon Villa Ltd”. Their actual business is done somewhere else – where, I don’t know.

However, as their main shareholder is a Chinese citizen named Lei Sutong, I’m using my time here to access some of the Chinese internet resources and company directories unavailable outside of this area to see if I can learn more about who they are and who he is.

The fourth largest shareholder is a company called Chigwell Holdings. There isn’t much information out there other than they’re a business based here in Hong Kong. Again, I’m using my access to various Chinese internet resources here to find out more about their controller Wang Lehai.

Why am I doing this?

I’m a big believer that management of expectations is a good thing.

I think if we as fans understand what the owners of Birmingham City want out of ownership, it will help us as fans to understand what we might get out of the club’s owners.

As they are the people putting in the money we can’t tell them what to do – but we can try to understand why they are doing it.

A good example for me, (albeit at a smaller club) is Andy Holt who is chairman of Accrington Stanley. He frequently talks on Twitter about what he is doing at Accrington and why he is doing it. This is not because he is looking for acceptance or gratification, but for fans to understand his motives.

Now of course, a chairman on Twitter can go wrong; with some choosing to tweet their maths homework rather than anything of value. However, communication between fans and the owners on the whole is, in my opinion, a good thing.

Dragon Villa have clearly invested a huge amount of capital in BSH to put into the football team. It’s a good thing that they have done this, and I think anyone who looks at some of the players we have now in comparison to a few years ago will agree with me it’s nice that Blues can spend money on players.

However, without knowing anything about Dragon Villa, I don’t know how much more they have or even want to put in. I don’t know if they’re happy with how money has been spent; and with infusions of cash needed to keep the club running, I’d like to have some idea of how much more they are prepared to do.

Knowing that would help me understand where the club is financially – and would temper my expectations as to what we will do this season.

Tomorrow I’m meeting a local expert on football and finance out here, to ask him about how much effect the Chinese crackdown on external investment is having on football club owners – and if it could affect Blues in the future.

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