Forging a better future: By the people, for the people
By opening Mission Hills, David Chu put China on the golfing map during the 1990s. Today, it’s the world’s largest golfing facility, and David’s son, Ken, has no qualms where he wants to take Mission Hills – establish the company as China’s premier lifestyle and recreational resort. Such an ambition requires discipline and strategic thinking; Ken Chu possesses these qualities in spades.
Ken is renowned for finishing his morning runs and breakfast before most people have woken up. These habits give us a glimpse into how the Mission Hills chairman operates; “My father was a Chiuchow man, and if you know anything about them, they’re very strict,” Ken recalls. The senior Chu was frequently busy with work, shuttling between Hong Kong and Guangdong when transit links between the two weren’t nearly as developed. Witnessing the sacrifices his father made, Ken decided – at age six – to help dad with work one day.
That ‘one day’ came a while later. Living away from his family for an extended period during his school years, Ken reflects how that time forged the steely discipline he now wields; “When I first got to Canada, I didn’t speak a word of English! As a foreigner, I had to work extra hard to achieve success and get the same respect the locals were getting.” To make good on the promise he made as a child, Ken crammed as many extra credit courses as he could during his first two summers at university – he subsequently completed his undergraduate degree in two years instead of the usual four. He did that so he could return to Asia to work for Mission Hills in 1995. “That’s when I built my mental discipline, during those two years in university,” says Ken.
Physically however, Ken wasn’t as strict as he could be. That changed in 2009, when David Chu was diagnosed with terminal nasal cancer. The younger Chu revamped his diet, his sleeping habits, and his exercising. More importantly, as the Mission Hills founder’s oldest son, the then-32 year old realised he would soon be tasked with leading China’s top golfing resort. “After my father’s [cancer] diagnosis, my belief in the Three Hs strengthened – happiness, health and harmony,” Ken explains. “Without happiness, one can’t attain health, and without health, it’s hard to exert the necessary energies to accomplish important goals.”
Unsurprisingly, the Mission Hills CEO – who is also a committee member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and the All-China Youth Federation – doesn’t just have one trio of beliefs, he has a second one. “I call them the Three Ps: profits, people and planet. I list profits first, since that’s the aim of all businesses; without profits, you can’t help people,” Ken says. He’s also proud of the environmental initiatives undertaken by Mission Hills – the company planted millions of trees, it’s become one of the top carbon offsetters wherever a Mission Hills is found.
In 2012, China’s business scene has shifted. Mission Hills had to change its business model after Beijing began its crackdown on luxury spending: Whereas wealthy golfers were once the resort’s primary clientele, under Ken’s leadership, Mission Hills now caters to a far wider cross-section of Chinese society. “One of the most satisfying moments of my career is seeing so many people smiling [at Mission Hills]; before it was just men, now it’s their spouses, their kids, their parents who’re enjoying our facilities too,” he says. The Mission Hills of 2016 is well-equipped with theme parks and mineral springs – in other words, there’s something for everyone. Even sports-wise, it isn’t as golf-centric as it once was: football and tennis are the two new sports Mission Hills now targets. Ken declares, “I want Mission Hills to become China’s premier recreational and lifestyle brand, one that our country is proud of.” This expansion also changed how Mission Hills is operated: “During my father’s time, it was 100 per cent privately run. Now I work with a variety of partners,” Ken explains. He’s also brought in outside professionals to help run the firm; it’s these people he calls ‘his family -’ siblings Tenniel and Catherine are the other Chus working in Mission Hills. Ken elaborates further, “My colleagues – I don’t call them employees – share my values. If they don’t, they’re better working elsewhere.”
Mission Hills makes money, and as Ken suggested earlier, it uses that to help people. To the [42-year old] however, helping people isn’t just about giving them cash - “CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) should also inspire people. That’s why I love to speak to youth all over China and Hong Kong, encouraging them, giving them whatever advice I can from my experience.” He’s quick to remind everyone why running a business is hard, “The Chinese have this saying, 創業難，守業更難, that is, starting a business is hard; keeping it is even harder.”
During his interview, the billionaire CEO also emphasises his role as a ‘Super Connector.’ “I’ve helped over 190 Hong Kong businesses set up here in China,” says Ken. In his mind, aiding Hongkongers flourish in the People’s Republic is natural; as Chinese people, we ought to do everything we can to make the country better. Speaking in tones reminiscent of President John F. Kennedy, Ken says, “Don’t ask what the country can do for you. Ask what you, as an individual, can do for society.” This is his call to pay heed to both of his guiding principles: The Three Hs, and the Three Ps.
Dr Ken Chu - a formidable businessman and an equally impressive thinker. The world expects a lot from Mission Hills in the years ahead, simply because of the calibre of the man who stands at the pinnacle of China’s ever-growing lifestyle and hospitality industry.