Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt frequently gives sage advice on technology and related matters like privacy and free speech. The words of wisdom he offered during a recent visit to Hong Kong did not seem so startling, though. He said our economy relied too heavily on finance and property and had to diversify to provide better opportunities and jobs. Small companies had to find a way around high rents to grow and the government should open more technical universities so that our city could increase its competitiveness.
Authorities have for years been trying to foster new industries to give our economy a fresh direction. The lack of science, information technology and engineering degrees at our universities is why so few hi-tech companies set up here. We are no longer surprised to learn that high rents have forced the closure of yet another favourite shop or restaurant in our neighbourhood. These are the realities of life in Hong Kong and many of us have come to unquestionably accept them.
It is for that reason that we should listen to Schmidt. As well as we may know the problems of our society, often it needs a warning from an outsider to shake us from our complacency. The former Google chief executive officer is no ordinary outsider. Apart from being one of the world's richest people, ranking 139th on the latest Forbes list of billionaires with a personal wealth of US$8.3 billion, he also heads the second-biggest technology firm.
Hong Kong readily embraces new technologies and has a well-educated population. Its highly developed infrastructure and free market makes it an ideal place for start-up businesses. That was why Schmidt, a software engineer by profession, was visiting. He announced a partnership programme with the Chinese University to boost the number of entrepreneurs.
Schmidt's views may not be new, but they are worth considering afresh. They are a timely reminder that we need to more resolutely take on our city's challenges.