The international antiques and art dealer tells Suzanne Dennis why he still likes to get his hands dirty and how he juggles family life and the pressures of the burgeoning Asian market.
'I usually get up at about 8.30am. Because my son is still young, we also have to get up at around 3am, 6am and 7am to check on him for a few minutes and put him down again, so I am always keen to grab some more sleep for an hour or so before facing the day.
I am a lazy person. I would rather stay in bed than exercise, however I do occasionally go swimming in the summer months. I consider myself a free man after I get up, so I usually have a coffee then start a few of the more mundane tasks around the house, like cleaning, checking e-mails and calling people before finally heading off to work.
I open my antiques gallery at about 10am, which is very early in this business. Then I start on the important but routine things, like checking the mail, more e-mails, any deliveries of couriered items we may be expecting and making calls to various clients and suppliers. By the time I have done all of this I start to receive calls from dealers on the mainland or in the United States. I really enjoy talking to people, especially in the sourcing or pre-sales negotiation stages. These calls have been known to go on for hours.
After attending to things at the gallery office, on most days I will head over to my warehouse and workshop in Kwun Tong. I always enjoy the time I spend there. I started in this business in the 1970s by working for my father at the warehouse. It was great training in all aspects of the work and I particularly enjoyed learning the many techniques for restoring antiques to their former glory.
I have six permanent staff working at my warehouse and I regard them as the best in the world for high-quality restoration work. We have very long and detailed discussions before any restoration work is initiated and I tell them to work slowly and methodically in order to achieve the best results. I enjoy maintaining my connection with this side of the business and I still work on restoring pieces. Restoration is basically divided into two categories. For very good items, restoration is only undertaken after purchase and upon agreement with the client. For items that are of lesser quality or are looking a little rough, we undertake restoration prior to selling them. If I don't make it over to the warehouse in the early part of my day it is usually because other dealers have called in to the gallery to visit and talk about sourcing pieces. When that happens, I will make a point of calling the warehouse and telling the staff I will drop in on my way home. They are very enthusiastic and loyal, so they always wait for me regardless of the hour.
I used to travel to [the mainland] about once a month to source pieces and network with dealers, but nowadays, thanks to the internet, I can do much of the sourcing electronically; I can judge the quality of pieces on screen. Now I only travel there about once every two months.
I also travel to New York twice a year, as it is the western capital for Chinese classical furniture and major auctions are held there in the spring and autumn. Following this, it is 'the season' in Hong Kong, when the major auction houses have their sales here. This is followed by any trips I may have scheduled to London for annual antiques auctions and to meet with dealers, as well as current and potential clients.
Over the last couple of years, [organising] the International Asian Antique and Art Fair Hong Kong (IAAAF) has occupied the entire first half of the year and takes up all my time. Hong Kong is acknowledged around the world as the leading city for sourcing Asian antiques and art. There used to be an antiques and art fair held in Hong Kong every year but for some reason this ceased about 20 years ago. With the recent resurgence of interest in Asia, I decided it was time this annual event was relaunched. My antique furniture clients remain constant but organising IAAAF means meeting with and talking to new people, building relationships, building trust. At my gallery, any profit is from the buyers but at IAAAF we all make a profit together, so all the exhibitors are happy, which bodes well for the event in future years.
I try to end my work day by about 8pm as I know my 16-month-old son is waiting for me and I am very keen to see him. I like to play with him when I get home as it helps him to settle down and sleep. He wants to get involved with our meals as well. I have become very aware of how fast time passes since he was born, so I am one of those fathers who constantly has a video recorder in his hand; I love recording anything he does. Having him is heaven for me but modern life passes so quickly. I would happily spend every minute of every day with him but unfortunately work also beckons.'
The International Asian Antique and Art Fair Hong Kong is at the China Resources Building in Wan Chai until Tuesday.