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Arthur Rylands Lowe was a man with ambition. Just four years after the English accountant journeyed from London to Hong Kong to work for then Butterfield & Swire in 1898, he resigned to start up his own business.

On June 2, 1902, he established himself as Hong Kongs first full-time professional accountant, and started what is today the Hong Kong office of the global auditing giant PricewaterhouseCoopers.

It was also during this year that he took up the responsibility of secretary for the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, and for the next five years he worked out of the Chamber's offices, which were then located at the old City Hall next to the HSBC at the head of Queen's Road.

Arthur Rylands Lowe (top) was joined by
Joseph Eadie Bingham (centre)
on September 14, 1903. In January 1920,
John Fleming arrived in Shanghai to start LB&M's office there.

Business flourished and he took fellow accountant J E Bingham as a partner in 1903. When F N Matthews in Shanghai joined the partnership in 1908, the firm became known as Lowe, Bingham & Matthews.

Being virtually without competition in its earlier years, Lowe Bingham & Matthews experienced significant growth, being fortunate to have amongst its clients many of Hong Kong's leading businesses of the time -- including China Light & Power, Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank, Hong Kong & Whampoa Dock, Jardines and Hong Kong & China Gas.

In just 20 years, Mr Lowe had managed to build up the largest professional accounting practice on the China coast.

But the winds of misfortune blew and in 1924, Hong Kong's first professional qualified accountant and auditor died from typhoid, aged 50.

The remaining partners invited Scots chartered accountant John Fleming to take over as senior partner in Hong Kong. He continued the firm's expansion, which was brought to an abrupt halt in 1941 with the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong. Mr Fleming managed to safely hide away many of the firm's books before he was interned in Stanley.

At the end of the war, he recovered the records and reopened the practice. The growth of the firm continued to match that of Hong Kong as a financial and trading centre. With increasing overseas investment here in the years following 1945, it became expedient for the firm to act as local correspondent for the international accounting firms that were expanding from their bases in the U.K. and the U.S.. Lowe, Bingham & Matthews at one time represented six of the then "big eight" accountancy firms.

The boom years of the 1970s created enormous demand for professional business services in the territory and all the big accounting firms, including Price Waterhouse and Coopers & Lybrand -- whose Hong Kong operation had grown out of the practice started in 1962 by Sanford Yung -- expanded fast to serve the needs of businesses in the territory.

The alliance of Lowe, Bingham & Matthews with Price Waterhouse was formalised in 1974 by a merger between two firms, although the Chinese name (?????????) remained as it was by then so well known in the community.

In1998, the global operations of Price Waterhouse and Coopers & Lybrand merged to form PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Silas S S Yang, chairman and senior partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers today, said by going into mergers, the company has been able to expand its resources, size, and pool of talent in a relatively short period of time.

"The challenge is to drive value out of these mergers. The merger of PriceWaterhouse and Coopers & Lybrand created a lot of added value for our clients," he said.

The latest merger combines the Hong Kong SAR and China practices of PricewaterhouseCoopers and Andersen, which will officially take place on July 1, 2002.

Andersen's Managing Partner for China, Albert Ng (left) and Chairman and Senior Partner for PricewaterhouseCoopers, Silas Yang, shake hands after at the official signing ceremony on April 17, which formalised the merger for combining the Hong Kong and China practices of PricewaterhouseCoopers and Andersen.

Mr Yang said he is confident that the PricewaterhouseCoopers and Andersen merger will repeat the success of past mergers, especially given Andersen's strong position in China.

"We always claim we are the leading auditing firm in China, while they claim they are number one. Now, with the merger, we are the undisputed leader," he said.

The company's growth and alliances have allowed PricewaterhouseCoopers to offer a vast array of professional services to solve complex business problems for its clients in global and local markets. But at heart it remains an auditing firm.

And this is where its strongest growth in the Mainland market will come from. Mr Yang said local accounting firms in China cannot create the same amount of comfort or accountability that overseas investors demand as those of international practice.

"Overseas investors are always looking for foreign auditing firms to give them a clear picture of a company's operations, and I see this is why demand for our services is growing so rapidly in China," he said.

The firm set up a joint venture with Mainland accounting firm Price Waterhouse Da Hwa in 1993. He said goals for expansion in the Mainland are not set in stone, but rather "the firm will go where its clients go."

Mr Yang said he sees great potential in the Mainland and the same traits that have helped PricewaterhouseCoopers, its clients and Hong Kong in general prosper will also work in the Mainland.

"Because we are in the people business, I believe excellent quality of service can add value to our clients' businesses," he said.

"We believe the way to grow is to develop long-term relationships with our clients, and to add value to the client by helping them solve complex business problems," Mr Yang said.

PricewaterhouseCoopers will expand its relationship-building philosophy into the Mainland. The company will continue to help multinationals enter China, but Mr Yang said he is also looking to gain a dominant share in the domestic companies.

He plans to achieve this by looking to help state-owned enterprises add value to their operations, improve efficiency, or attract overseas investors by helping them get listed.

"Apart from helping them get into the international arena, we want to bring in best international practice to these companies so they will be able to compete with the multinational firms," Mr Yang said.

"And finally, we want to help China develop its human capital in our profession. To this end, we will continue to invest and train Mainland talent to develop them into professional qualified accountants of an international standard."
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