Darth Fok, Lord of 3G
By Carlo Longino, Mon Jul 12 19:45:00 GMT 2004

Hutchison Whampoa's boss turns to a tactic he probably didn't learn in business school to explain the company's 3G business: the Jedi mind trick.

Hutch has been something of a 3G media whipping boy, singled out for its huge spending and big losses -- but all that's part of the "plan", according to Managing Director Canning Fok. A lot of hot air and vivid soundbites have come out of the mobile industry over the last several years, but Fok's interview with UK Newspaper The Independent takes the "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" theory to a new level.

Faced with some tough questions by reporter Giovanni Paci about Hutchison's success and methods, Fok doesn't give an inch, acting like everything is going right along to plan, just how he wants it to. Paci relays the pretty widely held viewpoints that things really aren't going as well as Hutchison would lead people to believe, and Fok rebuts, with hilarious consequences.

His first four answers all start with "no," then skips to a "this is not true." While one would assume the guy knows his own business, it's also hard to put a lot of faith in a man who says that pretty much every outside observer is wrong in their estimation of his company. Maybe Fok shouldn't have opened his conversation with the writer by blasting the guy's old Nokia GSM phone as "embarrassing" and saying he's "still in the last millenium."

It's hard to relate Fok's answers by saying anything other than throw out everything you previously thought about Hutchison.

Did Hutch launch too soon? "We had technical problems at the beginning, but that's normal when you introduce a totally new technology." Even though it lost a ton of money last year? "No, because it was all part of a plan." You sure about that? "No, because to us it was only a change of assets." Last chance to take that back: "To us, money is important."

Any potential partners, if there are any left, must also be licking their lips in anticipation after Fok's discussion of the company's UK network, saying how wonderful it was that KPN and NTT DoCoMo could only sell their stakes back to Hutch for a fraction of what they paid for them, serving as unwitting underwriters for the rest of the UK costs and making the network Hutchison's "best business in 3G."

Fok generally keeps his cards pretty close to his chest, and perhaps is trying to set the record straight. But blindly rebuffing all the criticism that's been leveled at his company, essentially denying there have been any significant problems or missteps, won't do his credibility many favors.