HONG KONG — Emma Smith has led a management buyout (MBO) of MHP Communications' Asia-Pacific operations, six years after selling 51% of her firm to Engine's UK PR consultancy.

The business, which will now be known as Sandpiper, encompasses 26 staffers across Hong Kong, Singapore and Sydney. Smith becomes majority shareholder of a firm that will, in her words, "be 100% employee-owned."

The move is a rare one in the public relations world, where Asian firms are typically acquired by US and UK groups. "Traditionally, the large, global communication firms have been headquartered in the US or Europe, with the balance of income generated there," said Smith.

“However, times have changed," she continued. "Asia-Pacific is growing in importance, particularly with the advent of new technology, healthcare and financial services originating in the region. The key decision makers are increasingly based here, and they are looking for senior, specialist consultants who have both local experience and expertise, and an international perspective."

"Asia is now the growth engine of the world and markets like Singapore and Hong Kong are geographically well located to be global hubs and have incredible talent pools," added Smith.

After completing the buyback last week, Smith said the firm will open a China office next year and will up investment in data, research and AI-driven technologies. “The buy-back will allow Sandpiper to invest further and faster, supporting its expansion plans across the region."

Meanwhile, MHP CEO Alex Bigg told the Holmes Report that "the sale process will allow Engine | MHP to invest further in our fast-growing business in London and support our exciting expansion plans."

Smith launched The Consultancy in 2003, after serving as Asia-Pacific EVP at Weber Shandwick. She sold the firm a decade later to MHP, remaining in place as CEO and adding offices in Singapore and Sydney to its Hong Kong HQ.

 "With no legacy issues or global overheads, we will be nimbler, more creative, and able to harness new technologies to deliver advisory backed by rigorous research and deep insight," she said. "As an independent network, we will operate as one team and one profit centre, enabling us to meet the evolving needs of clients seamlessly across the region."

Bigg added that Sandpiper will join MHP’s international network as a preferred partner Asia-Pacific and "will continue to share existing clients, go to market together and pool resources where appropriate."