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Corporate governance: No family is an island

Family disputes in Asian listed companies have an unfortunate propensity to boil over unresolved into the public arena, raising important corporate governance issues.

The Jacobean poet and cleric John Donne once wrote to the effect that families, like states, do well to keep their internal struggles private, and to "compose and determine all emergent differences" behind closed doors. How some of Asia’s most prominent families must be wishing they could have done just that in recent months.

In Hong Kong, investors at Sun Hung Kai’s annual May results meeting were shocked by the absence of the three Kwok brothers, Walter, Thomas and Raymond, who have been fixtures at such meetings since their father died 18 years ago. It then emerged that Walter, eldest of the three and the then chief executive, had gone to the courts to prevent himself from being sacked after disputes with his brothers over the way their company was managed.

Unsavoury details about the two younger brothers’ attempts to have Walter diagnosed with a mental disorder were to follow and although Walter fought back, the courts refused to back him and he was eventually ousted by the board.

In India, the billionaire industrialist Anil Ambani’s dreams of a merger between his firm, Reliance Communications, and South Africa’s MTN group were quashed when his elder brother Mukesh intervened.

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