Most CEOs have demanding jobs but few are asked to stand up to the might of the Chinese government when they are furiously trying to crack down on protesters in Hong Kong.
Yesterday, Newsweek picked up on a story published by Taiwan News which claimed that Cathay Pacific CEO Rupert Hogg resigned from the company last week because he refused to provide the Chinese government with a list of names of employees who were involved in the Hong Kong protests.
The demand came from China’s Civil Aviation Administration who also ordered Cathay Pacific to suspend the employees.
One pilot with the airline had become an internet sensation for supporting the massive ongoing protests in Hong Kong which were prompted by a government proposal to extradite suspects to be tried in mainland China – seen as a more oppressive regime with a legal system considered opaque and corrupt.
The Chinese authorities are cracking down on the demonstrations, and it’s certain that the consequences for Cathay employees for supporting a democratic right to protest would not be pretty.
The command to provide names came with the additional complication that Air China, which is owned by the state, has a 23% shareholding in Cathay, while Swire Group – a conglomerate based in Hog Kong and London – also owns some 45% of the airline.
So when the Chinese demanded names, it wasn’t a request Rupert Hogg could ignore.
But he gave them just one, his own.
In doing so, he must have known that meant he would be compelled to resign, but he did it anyway. That’s pretty admirable.
Taiwan News reports that Taiwanese Democratic Progressive Party member Wang Ting-yu described Hogg as a hero.
“He took responsibility for the strike and resigned! He didn’t sell out any Cathay Pacific employees! He took responsibility himself! Please remember the name of this gentleman. Mr. Rupert Hogg! I salute you!” Wang wrote in a passionate Facebook post on August 18th.
The Taiwanese legislator said that Hogg’s courage reminded him of famed lawyer Tang Te-chang, who was executed after he saved lives by burning the names of leaders who had been involved in rebellion against China in 1947. Like Tang Te-chang, Hogg chose to sacrifice himself to save others, Wang wrote.
Certainly, the hand of the Chinese government was evident in the announcement of Mr Hogg’s resignation on CCTV, China’s state-run television station, a full 30 minutes before Cathay Pacific said their CEO had stepped down.
Newsweek reports that “the company’s new CEO, Augustus Tang Kin-wing, quickly distanced himself from any perceived corporate resistance to Beijing or any tolerance for employee-protesters. ‘We must and will ensure 100 percent compliance’ with Chinese government aviation demands, he said. ‘We have made very clear that we have zero tolerance for illegal activities or breaches of our own policies’.”
Courage doesn’t always come easy then.
The difficulties for Cathay “shows that when China wants to put the pressure on, it doesn’t really matter whether you are based in Hong Kong or whether you are based in Shanghai. This is all still China,” said Duncan Innes-Ker, the regional director for Asia at the Economist Intelligence Unit in a Washington Post article.
“I think there are a lot of companies that are nervous that they would find it hard to resist that sort of pressure if it came on them,” he added.
Indeed. But ethics, as opposed to a blind pursuit of profit, should also be a consideration in the bottom line for companies, just as it is for individuals.
Rupert Hogg’s resistance to unethical and immoral demands, and his decision not to throw his employees to the wolves, is an example to follow.