Citations and Speeches


121st Congregation (1984)

The Hon Michael Graham Ruddock SANDBERG
C.E.B., F.I.B., J.P., LL.D.

The Public Orator Professor Francis Charles Timothy Moore, M.A., D.PHIL., wrote and delivered the following citation:

Mr. Pro-Chancellor, "Whenever you commend, add your reasons for doing so; it is this which distinguishes the approbation of a man of sense from the flattery of sycophants and the admiration of fools". So said Steele, and it is my task today to give our reasons for commending the Honourable Michael Graham Ruddock Sandberg to you.

As you know, Mr. Pro-Chancellor, Mr. Sandberg is a banker, yet not from boyhood ambition. Indeed, with the independence of spirit which a child often shows, the young Sandberg, seeing his own father return daily from work at th Bank of England, resolved to be something different.

This resolution was first kept. During the very period in which the Bank which he was later to join was beginning to try to recover from the calamities of war and the Japanese invasion of China, he left school at the end of the Second World War, and at the age of eighteen joined the army. He saw service in the Sixth Lancers on the North West Frontier, protecting civilian traffic against the marauding Pathan, and in the King's Dragoon Guards in Palestine and Benghazi.

Compare a life at the banker's desk with that of the young officer hunting to hounds on the edge of the Libyan desert, with the elusive golden jackal as his prey.

But the boyhood idea that the profession of banking lacked adventure was soon left behind. At the age of twenty two, he had joined the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation in London, and six months later took the five day trip to Hong Kong by flying boat. This was May 1949, three months after the arrival in Hong Kong of another of our honourary graduands, Joyce Bennett, who - for her part - had arrived by the slow boat. At that time, the saying was that if you threw a stone in the streets of Hong Kong you were sure to hit a missionary. These days, they say, you would be more likely to hit a merchant banker on his way to Bermuda. I do not necessarily suggest, Mr Pro-Chancellor, that in Hong Kong in 1949, you would have seen Mr. Sandberg throwing stones at Miss Bennett, nor in 1983, Miss Bennett throwing them at Mr. Sandberg.

Yet theirs are very different professions, and Michael Sandberg had chosen the profession of money. The great English philosopher, Francis Bacon, Viscount St Albans, Lord Chancellor of England, said: "money is like manure: of very little use, except it be spread". And the purpose of this spreading was clear in the philosophers mind. He wrote: "Two things are to be reconciled. The one, that the tooth of usury be grinded, that it bite not too much; the other, that there be left open the means to invite moneyed men to lend to merchants, for the continuing and quickening of trade". These words, Mr. Pro-Chancellor, do something to characterize the role of this bank in the development of Hong Kong, and the role of this man in the bank.

For the bank itself, its loan policy was one factor which helped it to recover from the second calamity of losing its interests in China again in the late forties; for Hong Kong, the bank's loan policy was a factor in the miraculous development of the territory's economy. Returning to Hong Kong from spells in Singapore and Japan, Michael Sandberg found himself in 1958 at the centre of this crucial work, being responsible successively for import and export. His loans to local industry ran from watchbands to wigs.

Hong Kong prospered, the bank prospered, and Michael Sandberg prospered. This was Top Fortune for some, and a Rice Bowl for many. It was, we might say, a happy Quinella for Hong Kong. But the 'quickening of trade' by such a man of ambition, known for his quick thinking and his sharp decisions, known to for his love of Shanghai crabs, and his openness to local friends - this quickening of trade had its dangers. As Bacon also remarked, "the tooth of usury must be grinded, that it bite not too much". More clearly put, there comes a point where a financial structure that favours the quickening of trade can favour also exploitation, and plain cheating.

Michael Sandberg has always been vigilant and outspoken in defence of his own conception of what moral standards mean in the world of business and finance, and in condemnation of what he saw as abuses or dubious practices. At the height of the Stock Exchange boom of the early seventies, and before its equally dramatic collapse, he made a savage attack on the relevant regulatory bodies for their failure to prevent the floating of 'lap sap' companies, shells with no intrinsic value. This was, after all, a form of cheating, with small investors as the main victims. In 1980, at the height of the property boom, he argued that the Government's land release policy was ill-adapted and short sighted, and that the land should be released much faster to lower its price, and to provide more, better and cheaper housing. Were these not wise judgements? It is perhaps hindsight for us to recognize their wisdom; but it is a more direct matter to recognize their integrity.

It is an integrity which may be connected to Mr. Sandberg's record of public service: as Chairman of the Hong Kong Society for the Protection of Children, Treasurer of the Queen's Silver Jubilee Appeal Fund, President of the Community Chest, member of the Council of the Outward Bound Trust, and the Hong Kong Red Cross Advisory Council, trustee of the Croucher Foundation, Vice-Chairman of the Hong Kong Heart Foundation, of the Arts Festival Society, Chairman of the Jockey Club, President of the Society for the Relief of Disabled Children, Treasurer of this University, Member of the Executive Council. All these posts Mr. Chairman, held now or earlier, and many more numerous to list further, show a man undertaking public service beyond any call of routine or role playing or ordinary duty. Yet this is a man who has gone on record with the words: "I am not a person of great altruism".

Mr. Pro-Chancellor, we may feel justified in attending not to these words, but to those deeds. As Mr. Sandberg might have heard said by the nomad Arabs of the Libyan desert, where he hunted there many years ago: "the clouds may promise what they will, but only the rain brings fertility to the earth". Mr. Pro-Chancellor, to the extent that we flourish here today, it is partly due to such refreshing rain, or - in Francis Bacon's terms - to such manure, to that adventurous effort for prosperity which Michael Sandberg represents, and which he has pursued according to a clear conception of its moral strengths and dangers.

Mr. Pro-Chancellor, for his service to the University as its Treasurer since 1977, and for public service in Hong Kong, I present to you the Honourable Michael Graham Ruddock Sandberg, C.B.E., J.P., for the award of the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.