Allan Zeman needs no introduction. The “Father of Lan Kwai Fong” is responsible for shaping a quiet alley in Central into the bustling nightlife district we know today. The chairman of the LKF Group and former head of Ocean Park tells Andrea Lo about starting young, building the new California Tower—and how he never used to wear socks.
I was born in Germany, but I’m not German. I grew up in Montreal.
My father died when I was 7. I didn’t really know him.
I started working when I was 10. I was going to school but delivering newspapers in the morning. I was earning 25 Canadian dollars a week, which was a lot of money to me.
When I was 12, I lied about my age and said I was 16. I got a job on weekends cleaning tables at a steakhouse.
I bought my own car—a convertible—and of course, all the girls were chasing me!
At 16, I decided to go to university at night. I had a taste of money and was already an entrepreneur. I guess I had that entrepreneurial spirit even when I was young.
I started importing ladies’ sweaters. I made my first US$1 million.
It was a different time and different world. There were no computers.
I always looked around to see what was available, and how I could be better.
I came to Hong Kong when I was 19.
It’s been 35 years since I started Lan Kwai Fong. I’ve seen crowds come and go.
People were saying everyone was going to Wan Chai instead; Tsim Sha Tsui was being talked about. Wyndham Street and SoHo became another area. But Lan Kwai Fong has continued being very busy throughout the years.
It’s a testament to your achievements when people recognize you as the “father of Lan Kwai Fong” and also as someone who helped transform Ocean Park into a world-class theme park. It’s not a thing money can buy.
I’m very much involved with the government. Helping to try to come up with a solution to the crisis that awaits us—that’s my biggest challenge at the moment.
Universal suffrage is very important to Hong Kong. I’m very much involved in trying to see if we could make it happen.
Before the Handover, Legco was kind of a rubber stamp for whatever the governor wanted to pass.
When the first Chief Executive came into power, things changed dramatically. Legco became very antagonistic towards the Chief Executive.
People have lost hope. Young people graduate and don’t see a future. People have to keep moving house because landlords constantly raise rents. Things are too expensive and people can’t see a way out.
It’s not the right thing for Hong Kong. We need to find a way to allocate more land for housing. The government is saying it has a plan. At the rate we’re going, I don’t see it happening.
I’ve been asked many times if I could run for Chief Executive. It’s not an easy job.
The system was designed to defeat the Chief Executive. He or she can’t do exactly what they want because they don’t have a party behind them.
I’m more comfortable being a businessman than a political leader.
Every day, my life is crazy. I don’t lead a normal life.
There are crazy things I end up doing—from Ocean Park to California Tower to Lan Kwai Fong, to being on the board of a hospital.
I didn’t wear socks until a number of years ago.
The day before the Handover, my wife and I were invited for lunch on board the Britannia.
I still remember the British naval officers standing to attention, and looking out of the corners of their eyes at this guy wearing a suit but no socks, coming to see Prince Charles.
It was the first time I really felt self-conscious about it. It kind of made me think that I should join society and wear socks!
I’ve been teetotal all my life. I know very little about alcohol, even though I’m the “father of Lan Kwai Fong.”
I just don’t see the point of people getting drunk.
I like to have my feet on the ground. I don’t like to lose control.
Every day, you give yourself advice. The world changes very quickly. You should always be thinking ahead of the pack, and of the future—not of the past.
I have no desire to leave Hong Kong. I’ve been here for 47 years.
I gave up my Canadian passport 10 years ago to become a Chinese national—which I think shows a vote of confidence in Hong Kong.
A good entrepreneur looks for opportunities. I believe that people who have been successful in certain areas can be successful anywhere.
The most important lesson is to be a good human being and to give back to society. To be a good person and respect others, and to go through life being open-minded.