Million Dollar Dance Lessons Turned Ugly

by: Steven Towns

Excerpt from our One Page Annotated Wall Street Journal Summary (receive it by email every morning by signing up here):

Banker Now Regards $15.4 Million Lessons As a Serious Misstep

  • Summary: Mimi Monica Wong, the top Asia private banker for HSBC Holdings PLC, acted like quite the obsessed big spender when it came to her private dance lessons. In 2004, she agreed to pay $15.4 million for eight years (half of the amount up front) to secure unlimited Latin dance lessons from 15-time world Latin dance champion Gaynor Fairweather of the UK and her Italian husband, dancer Mirko Saccani. Wong, a 61-year old widow claimed she was "looking for the last bit of glory in life." Her extravagances are nothing new to Hong Kong, where there is said to be no shortage of big spenders. However, an Argentine dance instructor offering lessons there at a more modest rate of $70 per hour commented, "It's just ridiculous. No one could actually take enough lessons to make it worth it." Never mind the costs, dancing is serious business in Hong Kong and Wong is known for seeking perfectionism at any cost. She is now in court suing her instructors for the return of her prepayment following an embarrassing and threatening incident she suffered at the hands of Saccani at a mock dance competition. According to court documents Saccani shouted at her to "move your arse" and called her a "lazy cow" in front of fellow dancers. After this incident Wong came to realize the money involved for her lessons was "stupid," "crazy" and "completely out of hand," leading to a further falling out between them. Soon thereafter, she won a court order to freeze her instructors' bank accounts. Although the publicity surrounding her obviously isn't good, HSBC is standing behind its top Asia banker. A judgment in the court case is expected later this summer and in the meantime Wong is paying a new instructor $21,000 per month.
  • Comment on related stocks/ETFs: For someone who manages money for a living it really seems Ms. Wong lost touch with reality. Then again, she is in Hong Kong, which has "some of the craziest prices in the world," according to the president of the Hong Kong Ballroom Dancing Council as quoted in the article. HSBC (HBC) must be relieved to have its top Asia banker back and will need her full attention is at tries to sustain its spot as the new number one bank in the world by assets, after having reported a strong quarter earlier this week.