Dispatches from Hong Kong
Monday, April 3, 2017
24 Hours Before Departure
While I gladly accepted the invitation of a good friend to visit Hong Kong, I’m not sure I totally thought through the enormity of the trip. A seasoned traveler for sure, this one brought much more than just an overnight flight across the Atlantic, and a time difference leaving few hours I wouldn’t be awake with my clients back in the US.
I researched, studied, and of course took to social media to connect with others in the part of the world I’d be visiting, hoping to make my time there as worthwhile and memorable as possible, yet I felt I still had little comprehension of what I was really in for!
With meetings scheduled with various organizations whose remit, to connect globally through business, mirror my own efforts and interests, and invitations to more than one social event, my calendar for this very brief trip was already well full. I hoped, of course, to take in some of the sights as well!
I was grateful for the opportunity to meet Anthony Mak, Director of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council’s New York office, for a bit of pre-planning, and for his introductions to his colleagues in Hong Kong whom I’ll meet on this trip.
Tuesday, April 4, 2017
Waiting for Take Off
Well positioned in my seat (bulkhead leaving me plenty of leg room), and staking claim to both arm rests, I was as anxious about who my row mates would be as I was about what the next 16 hours of flying would bring. Captain Bob made his way down the aisle introducing himself and shaking hands like he’s running for office. Announcing that he’s nearing retirement, it was easy to assume that he’d soon be playing a role in United Airline’s PR department!
I was stocked with snacks, had hours of downloaded entertainment on multiple devices, was carrying a couple books and some magazines I had yet to catch up on, and, if feeling extra ambitious, even brought some “work” that I’d hoped to get off the “to do” list!
Wednesday, April 5, 2017
Touchdown in Hong Kong
Not to jinx myself for next week’s return flight, but 16 hours in the air really “flew” by. A couple movies, a Friends marathon, some reading, and a reasonable amount of sleep made the time pass more pleasantly than I expected
No problem navigating Hong Kong Airport, barely a glance from the man behind the immigration desk, and as the YoutTube video promised, an easy route to the Airport Express Train and I was whisked into Hong Kong’s Central Station. A well organized taxi queue meant we kept moving, and after a short ride up some winding and steep roads, I made it to my destination! The downside, if there has to be one, to the ease of travel, is that I’d gone from airport to train to taxi to house, and really saw very little along the way. There would be time for that though!
Thursday, April 6
Waking Up in Hong Kong
The jet lag and time difference has body clock out of kilter, hence the post as the sun is coming up.
Floor to ceiling windows in my room for my four day stay looked out on traditionally urban high rise residential buildings, with the accompanying sounds of a waking city, yet the plush greenery below, and noises of nature, gave a distinct feeling of calm, likely a welcome respite for the many thousands of residents that return home there every day after facing the hustle and bustle of the main business districts I see from the other side of my host’s home, and that I was preparing to head into in just a few hours.
Thursday, April 6
No matter how many times I gave address in English, and the taxi driver repeated it back to me in Cantonese, we just weren’t going to understand each other! Though we did come together on “U Turn”! Thankfully it was nothing some patience and Imaps couldn’t handle!
I arrived in Wan Chai, one of Hong Kong’s busier commercial areas, about an hour before my first meeting, just enough time to stroll around the block and find what could only be referred to as the local version of a “greasy spoon” for a quick breakfast. With a Starbucks or other well known coffee shop on every corner, this one, Bread Tree Express, had a line out the door and seemed a bit more intriguing for a visitor who too often frequents the more well known franchises while traveling. A quick, and aptly named for its simplicity, egg and cheese sandwich, served on two slices of white bread with crusts removed, and a Coke, provided some quick fuel to begin the day.
With well dressed business people scurrying to work, many with their heads down in their iPhone, aggressively large cup of coffee in hand, nothing, other than the prevalence of surgical masks, and the laborer scaling a high rise in what appeared to be a shoddy bamboo framed scaffold, struck me as much different than other cities I have visited.
Thursday, April 6
My first scheduled meeting was with David Donnelly, a 33 year, Irish born veteran of the Hong Kong Police Department. I was already waiting at our designated meeting point when he arrived, leaving absolutely no question that he was the man I was there to meet. His stature, and general presence, definitely made him stand out from others that had a walked in the door, and those I had shared a crowded sidewalk with just moments before. Our only connection being through a seemingly random LinkedIn invite I sent a few days previous, Inspector Donnelly’s mannerisms indicated a bit of curiosity, with, as many others in his line of work would, inhibition. He wasn’t going to let his guard down too easily.
True to his Irish nature, once I explained my work in the US around public safety unions, and assured him I had no motive in meeting him other than to learn about his career, he was soon regaling me with stories of his many years doing police work half a world away from where he was raised. His mannerisms and obvious enthusiasm for keeping others safe allowed me to quickly draw parallels between him and my clients and friends of the Jersey City Police Officers Benevolent Association. As is often the case, learning of his business success outside of police work, and his real estate empire that he looks forward to growing in his retirement, was as fascinating as his work on the job. I was honored to present him, on behalf of their Executive Officers, a shirt bearing the crest of the JCPOBA, a small token that again illustrated the incredible bond that exists among those that have given their careers to law enforcement.
Next I headed to meet with the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC). Already aware of HKTDC’s efforts to promote Hong Kong trade, I looked forward to learning more about their local efforts, and digging a bit deeper into their strategies geared towards engaging potential supporters and building networks around the world. I was greeted warmly by Chaucer Ma, Executive Trainee, and quickly impressed by his enthusiasm, and, despite less than two years in the “real world”, his knowledge of the job, recognition of the important role his organization plays in Hong Kong’s economic success, and apparent shared respect for the value of building relationships that are more than transaction based.
Apologizing profusely for her lateness, Anne Chung, Manager of International Relations, soon arrived adding a new energy to the conversation. Practiced in my business card etiquette in Asia, we comfortably exchanged contact information, and warm pleasantries. While Anne shared more about HKTDC’s mission and strategic vision, I was happy to offer my thoughts, based on experience, on engaging relevant communities across the US. Unfortunately, courtesy meetings such as this one never provide the time to dig too deeply, but we ended our time together with an acknowledgment that there was much to be gained from continuing the conversation, either online or in person. Following the obligatory photo op, Anne kindly escorted me to the elevator, waiting until the doors closed before retreating back into the office, a practice, I’d come to learn, is common in Hong Kong.
Thursday, April 6
Getting to Know Hong Kong
With a break from scheduled meetings came an opportunity to see and learn more about Hong Kong, and there was no better tour guide than my friend Peter Ryan. Nearly three years into his job as Consul General of Ireland for Hong Kong, Peter, the first to serve in this important role, speaks of the city as though he’s been there for a lifetime. A short ferry trip across the harbor to Kowloon gave me a view of Hong Kong I hadn’t yet experienced, and my first indication of how expansive the city is. A short walk through Kowloon, took us past the stores of some of the world’s most expensive retailers, and then those clearly more focused on a local customer base.
Having Peter to share his knowledge of the history of, as well as his perspective on the current state of business and geopolitical affairs in, Hong Kong, while also seeing it firsthand, gave me a unique understanding of the dynamic intersection of Eastern and Western cultures there, and the important role that it will continue to play in a continually more complicated global arena.
Rounding out our tour with a stop for lunch at the historic Foreign Correspondent’s Club in Hong Kong was another special opportunity that would prove to make my time there even more unique, memorable and rewarding.
Thursday, April 6
After a power nap to stave off the effects of jet lag, I headed towards the Hong Kong Football Club for the Irish Chamber of Commerce of Hong Kong’s annual Rugby Dinner. Occupying some of the most expensive real estate on the planet, the importance of the club as an indicator of social standing in the community, as well as a center of business networking, was apparent before we even got through the front door.
Typical of the sort of networking events I am used to back in the US, I was quickly enveloped into a crowd of individuals from many industries, all anxious to share information about their business acumen and swap contact details for future conversation. What set this event apart from others was the global perspective of many of the attendees, hailing from locations around the world, all in Hong Kong pursuing various opportunities.
Leading the event’s festivities were Rosa Chan, Chairwoman of the ICCHK, a Hong Kong born, Dublin raised, successful businesswoman known perhaps as much for her prowess as an investment banker as she is for she role in importing Tayto brand crisps (potato chips) to the market there. I was grateful for the prior introduction to Rosa through my friends at the Cork Chamber of Commerce, as well as her efforts, on her organization’s biggest night of the year, to make me feel especially welcome.
As is the hallmark of Irish events everywhere, this one took a more humorous turn courtesy of Philip Quinn who ably emceed the evening and “moderated” a discussion with former Irish Rugby greats Trevor Ringland and Gordon D’Arcy. Like all in attendance, Trevor and Gordon took the occasion of the Hong Kong Sevens as an opportunity to build their own networks and expand their business successes now that their playing days are behind them. Having been regaled with tales of their exploits on the pitch, I was glad to have the opportunity to chat with both, and to leave the event as the new owner of an IRFU jersey they both kindly signed.By any measure, not the least of of which was the raising of funds for the Pieta House and their upcoming Darkness Into Light walk, a global fundraising opportunity to bring attention to efforts toward suicide and self harm prevention, the event was a tremendous success.
Friday, April 8
Despite the late hour of the previous night’s event,and the continued effects of jet lag, Friday morning brought more enthusiasm for the day, and opportunities ahead.
Starting at the Irish Consulate, I was glad to be a part of the continuing tradition of First Friday networking breakfasts that Peter Ryan started during his time in New York City. Like many I have attended in the US, this one featured a wide array of individuals, from a variety of backgrounds, all out to share their “Global Irish” stories and grow their personal networks. Also similar to the ones Peter hosted in New York, those in the room were as willing to offer contacts as they were to obtain useful intelligence to help them meet their objectives.
The crowd ran the gamut from business leaders to budding entrepreneurs, academics to students, all afforded the opportunity to speak before those assembled. Again, I was grateful for the chance to meet everyone in the room, and tell of my own connections to Ireland, continued efforts to help clients of Lenox Consulting to build networks, and the work and success of Irish Network USA to encourage “investment” in Ireland through business, culture, education and sports.
Next it was off to the office of Invest Hong Kong, the government agency charged with attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). I enjoyed learning more of their efforts to attract multinational corporations, as well as SMEs, to Hong Kong. Similar to what I hear so often here in the US, they have been asked to “do more with less”, yet, by clearly defining the benefits of locating in Hong Kong, and offering a variety of professional service support and incentives, have achieved great success. The wins they have achieved can undoubtedly be attributabed to team members like Charles Ng, Associate Director-General, and Simon Tsang, Head of Innovation and Technology, who spoke passionately of the value proposition of Hong Kong has to offer.
Before heading on to the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong’s office I had a chance for a quick break to enjoy some downtime in Chater Garden. While the park was currently doubling as the location of HK Sevens Central, the usual tranquility of the park, in the shadow of towering structures all around was apparent.
Rounding out the “official” part of my trip, was a much anticipated conversation with Tara Joseph. Just weeks into her role as President of AmCham Hong Kong, Tara has a long history as a reporter for Reuters in Asia, covering the most important economic and political stories there for the past 15 years. Similar to the work of my friend Mark Redmond, AmCham Ireland, whom kindly made this introduction, Tara is responsible for leading the organization’s strategy in Hong Kong, making sure the interests of American businesses there, and in Mainland China, are heard and met, and for driving opportunities for commerce for the US in this strategically and financially critical part of the globe. At a time when uncertainty around the tax and trade policies of a Trump White House abounds in Washington, and around the globe, and in the backdrop of the President Trump/President Xi Jinping summit, this was an especially opportune time for me to have this meeting, and one that will certainly yield additional discussion in the future.
Friday, April 8
Seeing the Beauty of Hong Kong
With the work week over, there would now be a chance to experience some of the natural beauty that exists once you get beyond the towering skyscrapers of Hong Kong’s business centers. Less than a 30 minute taxi ride brought me to the seaside of Repulse Bay. While the origins of the name are questionable, with some saying it was once a haven for pirates that were “repulsed” by the British Navy, there is no doubt why the area is well regarded, and a highly visited spot, for tourists and locals alike.
The views of the bay provided an interesting juxtaposition to the high rise residential buildings among the most expensive in Hong Kong, that line the surrounding cliffside. In these building’s shadows is a vibrant restaurant and nightlife corridor as well as the Kwun Yam Shrine, featuring an array of statues each offering their own importance in Taoist tradition. Having tossed my coin into the mouth of a towering statue that appeared to be a lion, I expect to soon be rewarded with the good luck that such a feat is supposed to bring!
Saturday and Sunday, April 9-10
Hong Kong Rugby 7s
After an early Saturday morning breakfast meeting with Charles Ng, following up on our discussion from the day before, it was time to head to Hong Kong Stadium for the well known Hong Kong Rugby Sevens. Thankfully I had been well prepared ahead of time for what I was to witness. As I made my way through the inner corridors of the stadium, I passed rugby fans, or perhaps party enthusiasts, in a variety of costumes, headed toward the infamous South Stand. While many of the costumes were in good enough taste, some would have made even Barney Stinson blush. I was amazed that despite signs announcing 4 hour waits for admittance, person after person gladly lined up for their turn to enter the area that can only be defined as a fraternity party on steroids.
With my pass calling out my “VIP” status proudly displayed around my neck I found my way to the Union Suite, home of the Hong Kong Rugby Union for the 3 day event. While the crowd gathered was no less enthusiastic, it was decidedly more subdued. Making my status as a novice to both the Hong Kong Sevens, and rugby in general, clear, I had no problem finding attendees more than willing to educate me on the nuances of the game, as well as to offer me insight into the network that existed within that community.
The format of the play makes the game quick, exciting, and easy to follow, even among those whose attention span is limited by the incessant need to check for the latest alert coming through on a never out of site mobile device. Being as close to the action as I was lucky to be, and surrounded by committed fans of the game, I was, over the course of the two days, able to pick up nuances in the style of the various teams, and quickly found myself shouting along as though I’d been there before. By the time Fiji took on South Africa in Sunday’s final match, I was a Rugby 7s convert!
In keeping with the business is pleasure theme of the trip, I was amazed by the level of networking going on in the box and the ability to connect with business leaders whose backgrounds spanned the globe, and ones I never would have met outside of this environment. Pieter Schats, a South African by birth who has called Hong Kong home since for thirty years, and made a name for himself as a standout player in Hong Kong, currently serves as Chairman of the Hong Kong Rugby Union, and proved to be a most gracious host. Throughout the days I found no shortage of conversation with a variety of folks, from Australia, Ireland, Scotland, and more, all tied together by the sport. Invites to Singapore for the next stop on the Rugby 7s tour and assurances that this new network I was getting involved would continue to grow were very welcome, and helped round out what had proved to be a very successful trip.
Monday, April 10
With four full days over, it was time for a memorable, and hopefully repeated in the not too distant future, trip to come to a close. Once again showing that Hong Kong is a city on the move because it knows how to move people, travel from house to train station to airport was a breeze. Luggage is checked in at the train station making the less than 30 minute ride to the airport much more comfortable, and transit through the airport more convenient. Despite its size and passenger volume, passing through security was quick, and the only real lines were at McDonald’s!
As is always the case with effective networking, the success of this trip hinges not just on the time I spent in Hong Kong and the quality of meetings and events I attended, but also on the follow up work and time I will put in towards developing deeper relationships with those I was lucky enough to to come into contact with 8000 miles from my home base!
United Airlines provided the same top notch service I have become used to as frequent flyer with them, and a short 15 and a bit hours later I landed safely back at Newark Airport.