• Sun
  • Dec 21, 2014
  • Updated: 6:45am

Holding the reins of a dynasty

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 July, 2011, 12:00am

Over three decades, Nan Fung Group founder Chen Din-hwa successfully transformed the former textile company into a major property developer in Hong Kong.

Now, his daughter Vivien Chen Wai-wai is at the helm and, in her two years as chairman, has worked to keep up the momentum by pursuing high-quality projects and aggressive expansion on the mainland.

'Previously, our marketing was not good enough. We should put more effort into that,' Vivien Chen told the South China Morning Post in her first face-to-face media interview.

And, she is quick to add, by improving marketing she is not talking about glossier sales brochures or heavier investment in advertising campaigns, but about improving the image of Nan Fung as a developer of quality projects.

'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 they are in the other projects.'

Nan Fung's luxury residential project at Mount Nicholson Road will be a test of her ambition.

'We are not only aiming for a higher selling price, but also trying to develop a satisfactory project,' she said.

Nan Fung bought the site together with The Wharf (Holdings) at the government's land auction last year for HK$10.4 billion - making it the fourth most expensive site in the city. It was one of several sites the group has big money for in recent years.

'Acquisition of land in recent years has been a long-term investment and part of the company's wider strategy. However, it is true I would expect to see the market continuing its steady growth in the next three years,' she said.

Chen believes Hong Kong is well positioned to become a global financial city like London or New York, and the economy would continue to grow as a result.

'In terms of the residential market, Hong Kong's rise will continue to drive demand. We believe that genuine luxury properties are becoming scarce in Hong Kong, and this situation is unlikely to change due to the scarcity of land.

'So this is a sector of the market that we are particularly interested in, and we will continue to focus on in the future.'

The mainland property market is another tempting expansion area for Nan Fung. The developer teamed up with HSBC to set up the HSBC NF China Real Estate Fund to develop property projects on the mainland in 2006.

It has also teamed up with Sino-Ocean Land, one of the major mainland developers, to acquire sites on the mainland after it became Sino-Ocean's second-biggest shareholder last year.

'If the political environment on the mainland continues to be stable, the business environment will definitely prosper,' she said. 'However, as a business that is relatively new to the mainland, we intend to pursue new ventures in the market with a cautious approach.

'In doing so it is our plan to increase our market share on the mainland over the long term. We hope that eventually the profits we generate in the market are proportional to that of the property business in Hong Kong.'

At present, 30 per cent of Nan Fung's profit comes from the mainland.

But Chen emphasised that the company would proceed with caution on the mainland.

'No matter whether it's a first-tier or second-tier city, we will only pick sites in prime locations, and the neighbourhood has to be mature.'

In Hong Kong, the company focuses on the residential market. But on the mainland, she says, the company will develop more commercial projects.

Chen was promoted to chairman and managing director of the Nan Fung Group in 2009 after the retirement of her father.

Under her tenure Nan Fung's turnover last year reached some HK$10 billion while net profit was HK$6 billion.

'So far the progress in achieving my goals is good. We have found good business partners and acquired a number of prime sites at reasonable prices such as the sites in Tung Chung and Mount Nicholson Road,' Chen said. 'We have maintained growth in turnover every year and this has kept our colleagues and business partners quite happy.'

Now, Chen says, her fundamental goal is to maintain the success of the Nan Fung Group.

'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.'

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