In this strange Hong Kong existence of humid summers, tiny living spaces, and filthy air, there is one redeeming period: the weekend of the Cathay Pacific/Credit Suisse Hong Kong Sevens. A carnival atmosphere prevails, and nowhere more so than in the corporate boxes of the regionÆs investment banks.
We have now given out an award for the best box for seven years, and the competition has always been fierce.
I have to confess that my perspective on the boxes took a unique turn this year. Having gone into the Sevens weekend scarred by four nights of ill-advised partying, I bailed out of Friday, and spent much of Saturday in the unusual position of drinking water. They say oil and water donÆt mix, and much the same can be said of water and the Sevens.
This did, however, give me a chance to size up the boxes with a clear head, before plunging into Sunday in a more ænormalÆ condition.
My first observation on the boxes this year is that something has changed. In what must be a blow to the Shenzhen economy, there were fewer outfits being distributed within the boxes. Long gone, it seems, are those crazy un-PC days of handing out Arab costumes and the like.
The second change is the admissions policy. For the first time that I can remember, quite a few firms had people on their doors with lists of invited guests. You could argue this was necessary. The Sevens was busier than ever this year, and some bank boxes became unbearably crowded. But this very act of filtering who could come in did alter the atmosphere of hospitality that had prevailed in previous years (some of the people on the doors were also a little aggressive).
In spite of the odd door-difficulty, I got round all the boxes, and tried to see them at least twice on Saturday and Sunday.
As a SevenÆs co-sponsor, Credit Suisse (ôSome think piss-up, we think rugbyö) has specialised in having the most watered-down box at the event. This year its box was themed around celebrating 10 years of this achievement. Always an outside shot for the best box award, it retained its long odds this year too.
Normally at the other end of the scale (ie short odds) are long-time shock-merchants CLSA. The French-owned firm this year fitted out its box as an ice room û presumably in homage to the refrigerated vodka bar in Lan Kwai Fong. The centrepiece of the box was a block of ice, through which vodka was poured into a willing recipientÆs mouth. Beyond this, I found this theme had some limitations.
Further down the corridor, Deutsche Bank delivered a flight-theme. The box was decked out with mini-LCD screens, and gave the impression of being on a plane. Guests were even given pilots' hats û and these were probably the best Shenzhen material to be given out at this yearÆs boxes. But as to the theme, I was a little puzzled: given most people spend so much time on planes already, why would they want to simulate doing so at the Sevens as well? Regardless of this, it was one of the busier boxes.
Next door, Goldman Sachs went with a medieval theme and gave out inflatable shields. It was hardly original. Nor was Citigroup, which had a gladiator theme (Deutsche had done this before).
If anything, the themes got even more bizarre in the boxes on the East stand. Merrill Lynch had a skiing theme, and decked its box out as a chalet. Morgan Stanley went with ôPreppyö û a theme that only a mother could love. Both boxes were busy û indeed, going back to the earlier point, this Sevens was so overcrowded that almost all the boxes were packed.
JPMorgan went post-theme. After the emergency ward theme last year û complete with doctors' outfits and stethoscopes û the bank pulled back to a more conservative stance that celebrated ærugbyÆ. Only loud music and alcohol remained. On Sevens Saturday this was easily the most crowded box I visited û probably too crowded in fact, which led to a much more vigilant door policy on the Sunday.
Perennial box favourite UBS, chose a Wild West saloon theme, complete with æWantedÆ posters of buyside investors on the wall. There was even saw-dust on the bathroom floor.
Standard CharteredÆs main draw this year was the presence of rugby great, Jonah Lomu. This was a surprisingly good box, although the average age was clearly the highest.
Winner of the best newcomer category was RBS. If you were going to abandon the idea of a theme and go back to basics, this was the way to do it. Most boxes at the Sevens are dark. This box achieved the opposite effect. With pine walls and flooring, and a large mirror at the back, it achieved the same illusion as a Hong Kong property developerÆs show flat û it seemed bigger and roomier than it actually was. Decent wine was also served, and it proved necessary for the predominantly Scots contingent inside watching Scotland go down to Fiji. The DJ was also an interesting character. Other boxes might have specialised in Van Halen, or loud dance music. He nationalistically played Scottish music that ranged from jigs to Sheena Easton, Rod Stewart, and the Bay City Rollers.
But when push came to shove, and the best box had to be decided, the winner was ABN AMRO. In keeping with Sevens traditions, it got the whole package right. It had a bellydancer, a camel, fez hats, good atmospheric decor and food that fitted the theme. The action was also split over two boxes, so you could choose whether you wanted to party in the livelier box or enjoy a glass of wine with Richard Orders. The Dutch bank was a deserving winner in the 2007 box stakes. And, who knows, it may be the last chance we have to give ABN the award.