EDDY LI SAU-HUNG WATCHMAKER EDDY LI Sau-hung would like the government to turn Hong Kong into a city that operates around-the-clock. The chairman of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Association sees the plan to introduce a 24-hour border crossing between the mainland and Hong Kong on Monday as a first step. But it is not good enough, he insists. The 48-year-old is managing director of Campbell International. He has been in the business for about 30 years and runs his 1,800-staff watchmaking factory in China, but lives in Hong Kong. Mr Li talked to The Informer about how the government could make life easier for businessmen in his position. Q: What's your take on the 24-hour border crossing? A: It is a good move. Many people believe a 24-hour border will benefit the retailers, but I don't think a lot of people will cross the border to shop or dine at midnight. It will be businessmen like me, who often go between Hong Kong and China to monitor their businesses, who will cross the border at night. But it is not good enough. The problem is that other sectors in Hong Kong are not running on a 24-hour basis. A businessmen could go back to Hong Kong at midnight, but they could not go back to their Hong Kong office as many are closed at night. Banks will have closed and there is no round-the-clock bank to handle business transactions. Even if you want to have a meeting, there are not many restaurants or meeting places open in the middle of the night to hold (one in). Q: How would you solve the problem? A: To achieve the full benefit of a round-the-clock border, the government should bring in other measures to help Hong Kong become a city where business people can work 24 hours a day. For example, they should let more offices and convention centres open for 24 hours. The government could also consider encouraging banks and stock markets to run 24 hours a day. Q: How did you get into the watchmaking industry? A: In the 1970s, I joined a Japanese watchmaking company. I worked there and learned all about marketing and manufacturing of watches. I was there until becoming involved in senior management of the firm. Q: When did you go it alone? A: In 1986, I found that I was the most senior Chinese member of staff in the company and all those above me were Japanese. I think this meant little chance for further promotion for me in the company so I decided to set up my own firm. The firm began with only me and my accountant, and now it has about 50 staff in the Hong Kong office and 1,800 workers in the factory in China. Q: You have just spent HK$55.5 million to purchase two industrial buildings in Aberdeen, do you plan to turn into a property developer? A: I just want to build a round-the-clock office which would meet with businessmen's needs. I will use about HK$40 million to turn the properties into 24-hour offices where the tenants will have round-the-clock supporting services such as catering, laundry, meeting facilities and booking air-tickets services. I want to build up an office which will fit with businessmen's needs. The property developers may not understand small and medium-sized companies' needs, but I do. I will target overseas small and medium-sized companies as tenants. With China entering into the World Trade Organisation, many of these smaller players would like to invest in China. I think they would like to use Hong Kong as a stepping stone. Q: You are also running two Chinese restaurants. Do you like your food? A: I do. But more importantly, it is because having a factory and restaurants is the perfect combination. I can serve my factory clients with good food and tea in my own restaurants, while we can discuss deals during lunches or dinners. Q: Which is more profitable - watches or restaurants? A: Restaurants are not very profitable but it is good support for the watch business. Watches were very profitable in the 1980s. Now, it is still profitable but competition has narrowed profit margins. Watches are one of the four major exports from Hong Kong, while the SAR represents about 50 per cent of the world's total watch exports. We now export watches to the United States, Europe and the Middle East. Q: Do you agree that the current weak economic situation is making it tougher to do business? A: No, I think this is the best time to do business in Hong Kong as rents are cheaper than before, salaries for staff are lower and interest rates are also the lowest in decades. What could be better?