It was a deal that easily could have jumped off the track. But last October, the Hong Kong government sold a 20% stake in its subway, the MTR Corp., raising $1.2 billion and setting the stage for more government asset sales. Credit MTR's cool-headed chairman, Jack So, who is considered by many rivals and peers to be one of the best managers of a state-owned company in Asia. Last year, MTR's profits doubled to $525 million on sales of $970 million. Since its October trading debut, its stock has risen 45%, compared with a 13% dip in the Hang Seng index.
Skeptics doubted lawmakers would give the MTR the pricing flexibility investors wanted. But So, 56, launched an intense--and successful--lobbying campaign. Formerly an executive with the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, So has nurtured MTR mass-transit consulting services around Asia as part of Hong Kong's shift from manufacturing to services. In other cities, he says, "the subway is a drain on public coffers." Under So, it has become a valuable asset.