Real-life inspiration for ‘Kee Gor’ mascot on HK’s MTR, operations chief Francis Li, to retire

02-Jan-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

Real-life inspiration for ‘Kee Gor’ mascot on Hong Kong’s MTR, operations chief Francis Li, to retire

Most Hongkongers will not recognise Francis Li Shing-kee. But, if they’re among the millions who use their city’s MTR network every day, they probably know his cartoon alter-ego.

After nearly three decades with the local rail operator, during which he not only inspired the animated ambassador but also oversaw operations on the new high-speed rail line, Li will work his last day on Monday.

And the 62-year-old, affectionately known as “Kee Gor”, urged his colleagues to ride out current crises by, as he put it, holding fast to their belief in serving the public.

Li’s retirement comes as a construction scandal at the HK$97.1 billion (US$12.3 billion) Sha Tin-Central link continues to tarnish the corporation’s reputation, and amid major management changes.

A shoddy-work debacle at the Hung Hom platforms for the new line led to the departure of four senior staff members, including projects director Philco Wong Nai-keung in August. CEO Lincoln Leong Kwok-kuen is seeking early retirement and chair Frederick Ma Si-hang was only reappointed for another six months, until June.

“All I want to say to my colleagues is to hold fast to their own position… Hereby I would like to thank them for adhering faithfully to their daily work despite our differences in certain views,” Li said.

“Up to this moment everyone is still serving the public with the same attitude. Not for a moment has anyone slacked off at work.”

MTR left corruption allegations against Leighton out of public report

Despite the recent setbacks, Li insisted the rail operator’s long-standing core values of serving the public good had never changed.

“How can many of us work for the MTR for 30 or even 40 years? This shows that our culture has never changed. We are still committed to serving the public,” he said.

Joining the corporation in 1989, Li started off as an engineer in charge of station maintenance. In 1997 he was promoted to planning manager, taking care of certain rail operations, including plans for the new Tseung Kwan O line.

From 2002, he was tasked with developing the Shenzhen Metro’s Line 4 with authorities there, as the rail giant saw good business in extending into mainland China. He spent the next nine years working partly or entirely north of the border.

In 2011 he was summoned back to Hong Kong to take charge of local operations.

Two years later the idea for the animated Kee Gor mascot started to take shape. Li’s cartoon counterpart was used to give travellers updates on some lines.

It was later used in MTR posters, exhibitions and board games to promote safe and courteous railway behaviour. The corporation said it was considering whether the cartoon Kee Gor would retire along with its real-life inspiration.

Li admitted that, after becoming a recognisable face of the MTR, he could be a punchbag for passengers’ frustrations, something he had expected.

He said one example of that came when a man jumped to his death on the tracks at Sheung Shui station last year, causing delays.

“I managed to arrive at the scene very quickly. But I was immediately surrounded by crowds of disgruntled passengers who blamed us for causing the service delays,” he recalled.

“I didn’t mind it myself, but it was unfair to lay the blame on my colleagues. No one would like to see such things happen.”

Naturally, he jumped to the defence of the lower-than-expected patronage of the high-speed rail service, which stood at an average of some 50,000 people per day, 38 per cent below the government’s estimate of 80,000 daily.

Pointing out that passenger numbers hit a record high of more than 90,000 before Christmas, he predicted it would scale new heights during the Lunar New Year holiday, and would exceed its capacity in five years.

Despite all the challenges, Li said he had had a fulfilling career with the MTR Corp.

“There have been some ups and downs but they never affected the company’s core values,” he said. “I really have no regrets.”


Category: Hong Kong

Print This Post