Nan Fung

Driven to succeed: tycoon's daughter has big ambitions

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 May, 2015, 10:49am

In 2009 Vivien Chen Wai-wai took over the reins at the Nan Fung Group in an impatient mood. She wanted to maintain the expansion pace set by her father, Chen Din-hwa, who founded the now-unlisted Nan Fung business empire in 1954.

'Previously, our marketing was not good enough. We should put more effort into that,' Chen told the South China Morning Post in June last year.

'We want people to know that Nan Fung is not a second- or third-tier developer. We want to strive so that people know Nan Fung's products are different from the others.

'For instance, the swimming pools and the kitchens in our developments are bigger than those in the other projects.'

Nan Fung's luxury residential project at Mount Nicholson Road provided an early test for Vivien Chen's ambitions, after the firm bought the site together with The Wharf (Holdings) at a government land auction for HK$10.4 billion.

That made it the fourth-most expensive site in the city at the time and one of several sites for which the group had paid big money in recent years.

'As the saying goes, it is difficult to start a business, but it is even more difficult to keep it a success. It is a great challenge to match up to my father, who was such a capable businessman,' said Chen, the younger of Chen Din-hwa's two daughters.

Vivien Chen joined the group in 1981 and told Forbes that she had worked in various areas, including property sales, property development, textiles and human resources.

Forbes said she had joined the business soon after completing an education abroad, including high school in Switzerland and a design school in San Francisco.

'At 52, she is assisted by Frank Seto, her long-time live-in partner and group vice-chairman who represents Nan Fung on the advisory committees and investment committees in a number of funds managed or sponsored by HSBC,' Forbes wrote in May last year.

In her interview with the South China Morning Post, Chen said among her most treasured possessions was a photo of herself and her father taken by a Post photographer in 1989, which shows the two smiling during the bidding for a site at a government land auction. She said it captured one of the happiest moments in the working life she shared with her father.

Her father, a Buddhist, was noted for his philanthropy, but she said he was also business-savvy.

'My father was good at capturing opportunities. He taught me about risk management, how to assess the risk and how to capture the right moment,' she said.

Vivien Chen, too, has involved her children in the family business.

'Their performances are so far so good,' Chen said, sharing a laugh with her daughter, Karen Cheung, her executive assistant, who was present during the interview with the Post.

'They complained to me that I was strict when they were small. Now, I have three grandchildren and they have to go through what I did before.

'My dad was also strict when I was small. But they are well-behaved, which is a blessing. I'm sure they will bring new ideas to the company.'

Her relationship with other branches of the family are less amicable, however, and the fault line that separated her and her father from her estranged sister and their mother became publicly visible when their parents were divorced by mutual consent in April last year.

The break-up ended a half-century of marriage between Yang Foo-oi, 88, Vivien's mother, and the 89-year-old patriarch, who was by then suffering from dementia. It was widely reported to be Yang's attempt to help her elder daughter, Angela, regain control of the business empire.

The terms have remained confidential, but embarrassing claims were made when Yang filed for divorce in 2009. As reported in Hong Kong's local media, Yang alleged that her husband had 'touched' the genitals of their great-granddaughters - aged five and eight - in a car while they were heading to a Halloween party. Such 'unreasonable behaviour' had resulted in her being unable to live with him anymore, she said.

Yang had also sued her younger daughter, claiming Vivien had made misrepresentations to her ailing father, leading him to transfer his assets to her.