Moving Forward

Allan Zeman: ‘Hong Kong should promote itself like South Korea; young people should aim high’

Allan Zeman, the Hong Kong entrepreneur behind the Lan Kwai Fong dining and entertainment district, gives his answers to five key questions on the future of the city in an interview with the South China Morning Post

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 April, 2016, 10:02pm
UPDATED : Monday, 25 April, 2016, 10:01pm

Do you think Hong Kong is still an ideal place to do business?

Hong Kong can always bounce back. The low tax rate, rule of law and press freedom are vital for Hong Kong to be an ideal place to do business.

The strength of China, which is now the world’s second-largest economy, is also what makes Hong Kong attractive to international investors, who use the city as a stepping stone to invest in China. If Hong Kong would become separate from the mainland, the city would die and lose all attractiveness to international investors.

How is your company coping with the ­economic downturn in Hong Kong and the ­mainland?

We continue to expand our business as a lifestyle and food and beverage brand in Hong Kong and the mainland. Besides Hong Kong, we have already expanded into Chengdu and Haikou in recent years. We are also planning to further expand in Shanghai and Wuxi. I am very positive the current economic downturn will end and the economy will bounce back.

Allan Zeman, chairman of Lan Kwai Fong Group. Photo: K. Y. Cheng

What do you think the government should do to help your business to do better?

Hong Kong’s government needs to do more promotion to the world to show that Hong Kong is a friendly city. The Mongkok riot in the Lunar New Year this year did not help with the image of Hong Kong as people and companies could think the city is unstable. The government should host major world-class events every month. We have already have some, such as the Rugby Sevens, but we need more, some local and some world-class, in a bid to give a reason for tourists to come to Hong Kong. The government has the money and it should host some good shows to attract people to the city.

The government should also use the latest technology and mobile apps to showcase the many creative industries, films and music. Hong Kong should follow South Korea, which has K-pop, to show its music and films to the world.

Hong Kong has a strong film industry and many film professionals. The top two box office blockbusters in the mainland, The Mermaid this year and Monster Hunt last year, were both made by Hong Kong film professionals. Besides martial arts film star Bruce Lee, we have many film stars and talent to sell to the world to establish the image of Hong Kong as an creative city.

In addition, when the yuan becomes fully convertible, the government should peg the Hong Kong dollar to the yuan instead of to the US dollar. This would allow an interest rate cycle more in line with our economy situation. At present, both Hong Kong and the mainland face an economic slowdown, but we have to follow the US interest rate cycle as the Hong Kong dollar is pegged to the US dollar. It is not ideal.

What is your advice to young people to achieve a successful career?

It is better to start your business when you are young. Once you have made up your mind, go for it and don’t look back.

Young people should always aim high. When you aim at flying first class, you end up in business; when you aim at business, you end up in economy. When you aim at economy, you may end up staying on the ground.

If you had one sentence to say how Hong Kong could move forward, what would it be

The chief executive election in 2017 is very important. It is time we need a strong leadership. We need a government which has support from the people and the Legislative Council. Now Hong Kong is struck because Legco and the government cannot work together. Many infrastructure projects and livelihood reforms cannot proceed due to filibustering in Legco. Hong Kong is falling behind other markets. It is very disturbing.