Standard Chartered Bank

Handful of century-old businesses show their staying power

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 May, 2015, 5:57pm


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In the age of 'here today, gone tomorrow' start-ups, it is a miracle that any Hong Kong companies have survived for more than 100 years.

But according to the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce there are about 20 century-old companies in the city. The South China Morning Post, established in 1903, is one of them.

Also on the list are two department stores in Central - Sincere Department Stores, which turned 111 this year, and its rival Wing On Department Stores, which was founded in 1907. The Chinese Gold and Silver Exchange Society, the local gold exchange, also celebrated its centenary last year.

But even they are spring chickens when compared with other firms, according to the chamber of commerce, which last Friday celebrated its 150th year.

The chamber said its first member when it was founded in 1861 was Standard Chartered Bank. The bank's predecessor, Chartered Bank of India, Australia & China, was founded in 1859 in the city. HSBC, now the largest lender in the city, opened its doors in 1865. Jardine Matheson & Co, a trading and retail conglomerate, also joined the chamber in the same year as the 62 founding members.

Jardine set up in Hong Kong even earlier than Standard Chartered Bank. The firm was established in Hong Kong in 1842 when the island had just been ceded by China and became a British colony. The company has offices in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Fuzhou and Tianjin.

As such it should be considered the city's oldest firm - it still owns a majority of properties in Central, the Mandarin Oriental hotel, supermarket chains, and shipping and transport interests.

Surviving for more than 100 years is by no means easy, especially considering the turmoil present in this part of the world during the last century. During that time we have seen the overthrow of the Qing dynasty in 1911, two world wars, the communist revolution of 1949, the 1967 riots, numerous financial crises and the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak of 2003.

The key to corporate survival, according to many chief executives, is a good succession plan. Only if the management is passed smoothly on to the next generation is a company able to get through the tough times.

This is why some family-run businesses have fallen by the wayside, with court disputes over ownership when the founder died.

The few exceptions include Ying Kee Tea House, Hong Kong's oldest and largest tea leaf retailer, with 10 shops in the city and two in Tokyo. Ying Kee was started in Guangzhou by Chan Chau-ying in 1881, in the eighth year of Emperor Guangxu, the penultimate Chinese emperor. It opened in Hong Kong in 1950. The company, now run by the third- and fourth-generation of the founding family, has disproved the traditional Chinese saying that 'wealth does not pass through three generations.'

According to Ying Kee executives, part of the reasons for the success of the company is that it owns the property housing its shops. This is probably the only way to survive in Hong Kong - own your properties or be at the mercy of the landlord.

Please don't stop the music

More on survival stories. HMV's Central shop will close on July 3 after 14 years in the heart of the city. This is definitely bad news for White Collar friends in Central who like to listen to music and shop for DVDs during their lunch and tea breaks. After the closure, the only remaining HMV store on the island side will be at Causeway Bay.