No regrets or looking back for ex-Hong Kong financial secretary John Tsang as he focuses on technology and youth ventures

In wide-ranging interview, political veteran whose bid last year to lead the city fell short says he now balances three projects with eye on ‘meaningful returns’

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 June, 2018, 9:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 June, 2018, 9:23am

Political veteran John Tsang Chun-wah is travelling on a road of no return, embracing technology and youth ventures after losing his bid for Hong Kong’s top job to Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor last year.

The former financial secretary, who unexpectedly threw his hat into the ring of the chief executive election race and was defeated by Beijing’s preferred candidate, has left behind the past and the possibility of coming back in four years.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Post, Tsang, 67, instead focused on investing in financial technology, or fintech, with an eye on “meaningful returns”, while talking up a charity to help young people launch businesses or grow their start-ups.

“I no longer pay much attention to political matters,” Tsang said with a mild grin peeking out beneath his signature moustache that earned him the nickname “Uncle Pringles”.

The election contest last year proved a defining moment. Tsang garnered 365 votes against Lam’s 777 from an Election Committee dominated by Beijing loyalists. This was despite all major polls in the run-up to the vote showing him to be the most popular candidate.

“I have never thought about coming back for any chief executive race because I have moved on to a different stage of life,” Tsang said with conviction. “I don’t dwell on the past.”

I didn’t want to just talk about technology. I wanted to take action
John Tsang, former financial secretary

Sitting relaxed in the office of his former political assistant, Julian Law Wing-chung, in Sheung Wan, Tsang said he had not stopped working since that outcome. In fact, he noted, he maintained three offices at present.

Apart from his three grandchildren, whom he mentioned twice, Tsang revealed he had a number of projects under way. He recently joined a fintech-focused bank called Ion Pacific as its vice-chairman. In addition, he invested in a Hong Kong-based app developer of authentication technology for online transactions. And he set up a non-profit organisation to help start-ups for young people.

With the freedom to choose “what he likes to do” since leaving his 35-year government career, he described feeling drawn to investing in the commercial app developer BVL, saying its work combined “elements of youth, IT and Hong Kong”.

“After I left the government, I didn’t want to just talk about technology,” Tsang said. “I wanted to take action.” Back in 2016, during his final Hong Kong budget address, he floated a blueprint to create a new economic order for the financial services-oriented city.

He is calling for funding of about HK$5 million for his charity group, making use of his personal connections to help young people establish their businesses and expand their start-ups. The group is called Uncle Pringles Cooperative in Chinese and Esperanza in English.

Tsang did not speak about Lam, but over the weekend he had a go at her predecessor, Leung Chun-ying. He poked fun at his ex-boss, saying Leung in April “wore ancient costumes to pretend to be an ancient person” in promoting Chinese tradition.

And with another grin, it appeared clear that Uncle Pringles had moved on from his old career with no regrets.