No matter the trials of living in Hong Kong, dream big and do it
Politics aside, the city faces many challenges in business but there are a few who step outside their comfort zone to try to make a difference
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …"
That’s what Charles Dickens wrote about the French Revolution and some people say today’s Hong Kong is more or less in this kind of situation.
On politics, we can write tens of thousands of words in a doctoral thesis to argue whether Hong Kong is now in the best or worst times. Put politics aside, and Hong Kong also faces many challenges in the field of business.
Hong Kong is not a political centre for the rest of the world. CNN only put Hong Kong on its top news list when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden was here. But Hong Kong has been a business centre, especially for the financial industry, for Asia and the whole world for decades.
On the other hand, perhaps because our financial industry is so well developed already, the question whether Hong Kong is in the best or worst times for business is related to whether we rely too much on the financial industry; and real estate of course, since land prices in any global financial centre won’t be cheap.
Let me tell you a story about two young entrepreneurs whom I will call H and E. I met H and E last year. They e-mailed me and said they liked my columns and wanted my advice on a project they were planning to launch at that time.
We went out for coffee and they told me they were doing a new social media application, which would help Hong Kong people quickly find their friends in Lan Kwai Fong for drinks on a Friday evening after work; or enable several old and new friends to plan a hiking event almost at the 11th hour.
Apart from the project itself, I was very interested in the two young men’s career backgrounds. H used to work for Goldman Sachs as a junior investment banker in Hong Kong; and E was a consultant at McKinsey in the city.
Both had decent jobs and thereby good salaries; so if they continued down their traditional corporate career paths, they could make themselves senior executives at the two firms some day. But instead they are trying to make a difference because they believed it was “the best of times” for young people to take advantage of new technology to realise their own business ambitions.
Indeed, things like iPhone “apps” cost a lot less than starting a garment factory like many Hong Kong people did in the 1960s amid the city’s manufacturing boom. But for those who believe it is “the worst of times” to start your own business the problem begins with various complaints from high rents to rising competition from the north, and very few of them even want to try.
I was at the Hong Kong Business Award 2013 ceremony on Friday evening. One of the winners, who was definitely not a second-generation of a rich family, moved to Hong Kong many years ago and struggled to start his own business. He said the key to success in Hong Kong was all about “you get a great idea, work hard, and dream big”.
When I heard this I thought of H and E. I wish them the best of luck. Even if their project doesn’t take off, they have made a priceless decision because by having a try they make a huge difference in the debate over the best or worst of times.
George Chen is the Post’s financial services editor. Mr. Shangkong appears every Monday in the print version of the SCMP. Like it? Visit facebook.com/mrshangkong.