When Peter Woo Kwong-ching describes property projects in Chengdu and Changsha as equivalent to 'two Harbour Cities', he is not thinking solely in terms of style and scale. Of course, the statistics are immensely impressive. Each development will create about 8 million sqft of multiuse space while presenting the usual range of design, technical and investment challenges. Woo's comparison, though, also carries a historical subtext. In mentioning his group's pioneering and hugely successful template development in Tsim Sha Tsui, he is also alluding to the long-term positive effect such projects have in transforming districts, cities, individual livelihoods and, inevitably, the organisations that build them. Harbour City, the phoenix risen from Kowloon's docks and warehouses, and Times Square - formerly Causeway Bay tram depot - stand as potent symbols of that spirit of renewal. They have also come to exemplify the successful corporate evolution Woo has overseen as chairman of The Wharf (Holdings), taking the group from a traditional 'hong' to a multifaceted, modern conglomerate involved in everything from telecommunications and pay televisions to hotels and mainland property development. 'We have a very strong agenda,' says Woo, winner of this year's Business Person of the Year Award. 'When I first joined, [other companies] used to manage our shopping arcades, hotels and projects, and we sold our land bank to developers. But in a very strategic change we took our destiny into our own hands, transforming everything, becoming a full-service property company and having direct contact with the marketplace and end-users.' Making that happen required a progressive shift in corporate mindset, with greater focus on organisational development, localisation and execution. The aim was to take every business up the value chain, with units or divisions run by managers who are skilled, creative, respected by their peers and capable of running a market-leading enterprise. 'From the philosophical side, we are a learning organisation, looking at best practices and trying to improve on them,' Woo says. 'It is a very gratifying journey to go from no skills [to what we have now] and, for example, from storing trams overnight to having a 17-storey mall with Gucci and Lane Crawford stores. People said Times Square would never succeed, but it is now a landmark and a spot for tourists, created out of nothing.' Woo espouses a combination of big-picture thinking - to set strategy and direction - and sufficient attention to detail. He started out as a banker in Hong Kong in 1973 and readily attributes his later success to the guidance of early mentors such as Sir Y.K. Pao. Such influences also shaped his views on public service and mobilising company resources to make a real and lasting impact on the local community. Woo has made notable contributions to reforming the Hospital Authority, upgrading Polytechnic University to its present status and drumming up business for Hong Kong through the Trade Development Council. On the corporate level, a recent initiative is to give direct, practical support to a number of local 'band three' schools so that pupils have a better start in life. 'Large companies and people with wealth should pay something back to society; that is only right,' Woo says. 'Hong Kong's success and prosperity should not be a proprietary privilege of the business community. Business has to use its advantages to package money, hardware, software and time spent volunteering more effectively.'