Inner strength wins out in battle for business

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 February, 2011, 12:00am

Golf and business are said to be the perfect match, with many multibillion-dollar deals done on the greens. But for Midland Holdings senior executive director Albert Wong Kam-hong the centuries old martial art of tai chi has been a more successful business tool than a bag of irons and woods.

He says after 15 years of honing his tai chi skills he has developed an unusually high level of 'internal energy' that improves his performance in the corporate world.

In December, he caught the media by surprise when he displayed his physical prowess during a gathering of tai chi practitioners in a Ho Man Tin gymnasium.

As part of the display, four fellow practitioners attempted to attack him with their bare hands. Wong easily fended them off using kung fu defensive techniques, and effortlessly threw each of his attackers metres away using what he later described as his reservoir of 'inner energy or power'.

His demonstration clearly showed that he is the wrong man to mess with on the street.

In the corporate arena, he has also repeatedly demonstrated his mettle, surviving Hong Kong's property bubble burst in 1998, the outbreak of Sars in 2003, and the global financial crisis of 2008.

He says this harnessed energy has allowed him to fight for bigger market share and make Hong Kong's only listed real estate agency the industry's leader in the city.

His key to success reflects his tai chi philosophy - never go against market forces. Riding on a trend will boost your chance of making money.

This is just like the tai chi fighter who uses the opponent's force and harmonises with it. That allows the fighter to keep a balance and, with a minimum of physical force, let the attacker defeat himself. With such a powerful internal approach to fighting, one does not require great strength to beat an opponent.

Wong, 48, earned his first fortune while working as an institutional sales executive at South China Securities in 1991. Before that he was a research officer at the Hong Kong stock exchange. The wealth he accumulated was sufficient for him to retire at 35 and to make a new life with his family in Australia.

But he itched to get back behind the desk after just two years of the good life - much of which was spent swimming and learning tai chi. He returned to Hong Kong in 1997 and was invited by Midland Holdings chairman Freddie Wong Kin-yip to join the company as a consultant. In 2001, he joined Midland as deputy managing director and is now senior executive director.

Leveraging on his sharp analytical views of the equity and property market, Wong has played a key role as a strategist, helping Midland's turnover to grow to HK$3.4 billion in 2009 from HK$911.7 million in 2002. The company has 256 branches and more than 3,100 estate agents.

How does tai chi help you at work?

Tai chi improves physical health - it reduces stress, improves muscle strength which will help reduce blood pressure, improve cardiovascular fitness and strengthen your immune system. Having a strong body is a key to achieving. I set a record by delivering a market outlook speech to our agents over five or six hours. I did not take a break but I still kept my voice. After realising the benefits of tai chi, I brought in my master to teach the Midland staff once a week. It is a one-hour lesson and it is free to all staff. More than 20 staff have taken it up over the past two years.

How long does it take a tai chi beginner before they can perform like you?

Tai chi has different styles such as He, Chen and Yang. Fifteen years ago in Australia, I took up the He style from a master who was also a biology teacher with a strong knowledge of body structure. After I returned to Hong Kong in 1997, I continued the study with another master, a 60-plus woman who charges HK$100,000 for one 'act'. The whole set of He-style tai chi comprises 72 acts. Six months later, the strength inside my body was gaining gradually. My master from Australia returned to Hong Kong in 1999 and I have followed him since. Two years ago, I managed to achieve mastery level after 10 years of serious practising. In 2006, we set up Gospel Tai Chi, a group formed by Christians in Hong Kong who are lovers of this martial art.

Could you beat Donnie Yen, known as the new 'King of Kung Fu' after starring as Bruce Lee's master Ip Man in the 2008 movie?

I don't think so as his fist and movement are too fast to catch. He will hit me before I could defend with my 'inner energy'.

What are the main attributes of a successful strategist?

You need a strong analytical ability and a clear mind. The Sars crisis in 2003 seriously affected the property market, with home prices plunging more than 60 per cent from the peak level in 1997. In the middle of 2003, I was the first one to make a forecast that prices should bottom out after a six-year market slump. And I was right, as the market rebounded significantly as a result of Beijing's relaxed policies on mainland tourists visiting Hong Kong. At the time, I had another tough job as I had to do a roadshow to convince overseas institutional investors that Hong Kong's property market had started to turn a corner after the plunge in prices. No one shared my views but I had to stand firm in my belief and my analysis. I realised that I had to practise tai chi for more than a decade before seeing fruitful progress.

What are you expecting for the property market this year?

Home prices will probably increase about 11 per cent after the government's cooling measures to curb speculation. Property is still in short supply, and it will take time for the additional land sold last year to be turned into apartments.