People-The Two Ronnies Ronnie Chan

Mar-2012-People
The Two Ronnies
Keen cultural conserver and radical redeveloper, Ronnie Chan, chairman of the Hang Lung Group, is indeed something of a contradictory character
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“I hear you bought some of my stock?” Ronnie Chan says to one young employee, wagging his finger in mock caution. “Risky move. After all, what the hell do I know?” Quite a lot, you might assume. Chan, the chairman of the Hang Lung Group, is widely regarded as one of the most successful, wealthy and powerful men in Hong Kong. Despite his pre-eminence, he remains, almost disconcertingly, on first-name terms with all of his staff.(Mar-2012-People) He is ubiquitously addressed simply as “Ronnie”, while everyone else gets the first-name treatment too, with Chan seeming to recognise all of his staff. Bearing in mind the group employs thousands, it is safe to assume that this familiarity doesn’t extend all the way down the pecking order. Chan has been the chairman of the group and its subsidiary, Hang Lung Properties, since 1991. Although, in true Hong Kong style, Chan ascended into a senior role in the family business, much of its current success is ascribed to him personally. His belief in the potential of China’s emerging middle class saw Hang Lung invest heavily in developing mainland shopping malls, the source of much of its current revenue. Most recently, the company reported profits of HK$1 billion. This, together with its large-scale developments in the city and in Mainland China, have confirmed its standing as one of the largest and most successful property developers in Hong Kong.(Mar-2012-People) Chan’s humour and personality are, legendarily, a key part of his phenomenally successful business approach. Deceptively lightweight on the surface, it actually demonstrates an inspirational level of respect between Chan, his employees and those he chooses to do business with.(Mar-2012-People) Famously, he once said that he wouldn’t hire anyone who had worked in investment banking for longer than two years. This, he said, was because, by that time, their moral fibre would be sorely lacking. As well as his clear disregard for the integrity and moral values of the banking community, Chan is also a keen believer in the absolute importance of cultural preservation. To this end, he is currently immersed in one of his pet projects—the now-completed redevelopment of the former British Military Magazine Compound in Admiralty. This restoration work on the site is just the latest in a series of large-scale conservation construction projects undertaken by Chan over the years. Following its completion, the compound has been added to a list of his most successful and high-profile projects. It is a list that, impressively, already includes the rebuilding of two imperial gardens inside Beijing’s Forbidden City. (Mar-2012-People)
(Mar-2012-People) Keen cultural conserver and radical redeveloper, Ronnie Chan, chairman of the Hang Lung Group, is indeed something of a contradictory character
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Chan has become a poster boy for the preservation of China’s vast and venerable array of cultural relics. Rather than seeing them merely as antique curios, he is adamant about their importance for the future of the country. He says: “The destruction of cultural relics is the sign of a nation’s fall, whereas restoration is evidence of the prosperity and progress of society as a whole. If something is worth conserving, though, it should not just benefit the local community. What we achieved within the imperial palace, for instance, will not just be a positive contribution to Chinese heritage, it’s a hugely important thing for the heritage of all mankind.”(Mar-2012-People) Chan’s multilateral cultural conscience is one of his defining motivations. It not only influences his day-to-day work at Hang Lung, but also makes a key contribution to his role as co-chairman of the Asia Society. Ever since its inception in 1956, the society has been dedicated to promoting Asian culture and fostering closer ties with the West, particularly the US. Upon taking the co-chairperson role last year, Chan became, perhaps surprisingly, the first Asian-born individual ever to occupy the position.(Mar-2012-People) Chan has actually been actively involved in the society for a number of years, holding the role of vice-chairman of the board since 1998. His involvement has seen the 160-year-old British military complex transformed into a permanent home for the society, a project that has been underway since 1999. As with the Forbidden City, it’s a development that, he believes, will have immeasurable cultural value for the wider community. Typically, property developers and conservationists aren’t regarded as the most natural of bedfellows. In Hong Kong it is far from unusual to see the two at loggerheads, particularly in light of the city’s unending appetite for new residential and commercial sites. They’re natural compatriots for Chan, however, and he feels that a great deal of benefit can come from balancing the interests of the two. He says: “My business is Hang Lung and business is good. My conservation projects are a personal pursuit, although being a realty developer doesn’t hurt.” Chan’s singular vision is to fuse the history of China with its contemporary developmental demands. As one of the world’s few remaining truly ancient civilizations, China has a stunning cultural heritage that, as yet, has not been internationally appreciated. Equally the world is watching with keen anticipation as to what kind of country China will emerge as. It doesn’t hurt Chan’s grand scheme, then, that this rapid growth requires the kind of infrastructure that Hang Lung specialises in delivering.(Mar-2012-People) Chan says: “Mainland China is facing two key issues. The first is, of course, the future. It’s a developing economy and new things emerge everyday. “At the same time, China is an ancient country so there are sites and structures that are clearly worth preserving. I favour the phrase ‘the future of the past’, as I feel that the past must have a future. We need to revive our heritage for modern purposes.(Mar-2012-People) “I don’t want to destroy everything that is old and rebuild something new. Conceptually, I want to make something out of the past. I believe that it’s only in your history that you will find your future.
The Two Ronnies(Mar-2012-People)
Keen cultural conserver and radical redeveloper, Ronnie Chan, chairman of the Hang Lung Group, is indeed something of a contradictory character
Click photo to enlarge
“At this point, China’s economic development is still at an early stage and, naturally, most people tend to look forward. It’s inevitable, but it would be nice if certain elements were preserved—not just for China, but for the rest of the world.”(Mar-2012-People) China’s global impact is yet to be fully appreciated, but there is no doubt that the country is already a powerful international economic player. There are, though, a number of commentators who feel that the world is relying way too heavily on China’s burgeoning economy bailing out the ailing Western financial markets. Chan says: “There are those who are placing too great a reliance on China, both economically and politically. In the US, Mitt Romney says on his campaign trail: ‘We don’t give a damn about the problems in Europe, they’ve got to find solutions for themselves. America isn’t here just to bail them out.’(Mar-2012-People) “Everybody, of course, cheers him, largely because, in the West, politics is regarded as being local. When it comes to China, though, the West no longer seems to recognise that politics is local. There is a definite ignorance here. “If they knew anything about China, they would understand that politics is just as domestically concerned as it is anywhere else in the world. China already takes care of 1.3 billion Chinese people, almost 20 per cent of the world’s population. That is already an impressive contribution to the world. In that regard, I think the Chinese are doing a darn good job.(Mar-2012-People) “I was told, one time, that Jimmy Carter, a wonderful ex-US president, said to Deng Xiaoping: ‘Why don’t you let your people have the freedom to leave the country?’ Deng replied: ‘How many do you want?’ That shut Jimmy up.” Chan believes that it is China’s long history and culture, rather than its potential wealth, that could hold the key to solving the world’s economic problems. Rather than looking for tangible support, Chan believes the world would benefit from learning some of the more valuable lessons of China’s past.(Mar-2012-People) He says: “Chinese historic philosophy recommends that we take the middle route. In other words, don’t go to extremes. The financial markets in the West, for example, are clearly currently going to an extreme.(Mar-2012-People) “A free market is good, don’t think I don’t know that, but there has to be limits. When you are too free it can cause chaos and the potential problems that it raises are humongous. Today, around 80 per cent of the money in the world is just sloshing about. It’s not accountable for in terms of the trading of goods and services. It’s purely speculation, it’s gambling. Shouldn’t we have something of the median way instead? “Freer, faster, bigger is not necessarily better. That system benefits very few people and it’s not sustainable. At the end of the day, the economy must service the interests of the man on the street. It must serve everybody rather than just a select few and I’m speaking as one of those few. You must have the economic benefits filtering through to a much broader base.”(Mar-2012-People) Financiers will often argue that this is exactly what the capitalist economy already provides. By encouraging a free market, they say, you’re allowing for profit generation that will, ultimately, make the economy wealthy and allow all businesses to thrive. It’s the greedy twisting of that principle that, Chan believes, is at the root of the current global financial situation. Once again, he says, rather than looking to China for economic support, perhaps it’s time to harness some of the country’s teachings.(Mar-2012-People)
The Two Ronnies   
Keen cultural conserver and radical redeveloper, Ronnie Chan, chairman of the Hang Lung Group, is indeed something of a contradictory character
Click photo to enlarge
Chan says: “Of course I know what their arguments are, but it’s truly ridiculous. They’ll tell you that it’s a free market and, in order to compete, they have to give the talented few some 50 to 60 per cent of the top-line profit. Who is that servicing? The executives or the shareholders? “When you move the Western economy toward that kind of extreme, you’re destroying the whole philosophical underpinning of the system which, as I said, is actually very good. This is just one way in which the West can learn from the East. “Shouldn’t we learn from Chinese history and say, hey, let’s not go to these kinds of extremes? I’m not proposing that we turn the clock back too far, but we’ve gone way beyond what is acceptable.” Chan’s advocacy of a more regulated financial structure will clearly strike a chord with the growing number of capitalism’s critics. In order to follow the Chinese financial model to the letter, however, Western economies would have to become largely state-owned which, despite the recent mass nationalisations of banks, seems somewhat unlikely. There is still a widespread reluctance to impose greater regulation on the financial sector, despite the recent turmoil. It is a situation, though, that Chan has some sympathy with. He says: “There is definitely a need for the international community to come together and discuss these things. There are very few industries that could sustain London in the way that the financial sector does. If the wealthy people were to leave, then it would really hurt the whole of the UK, so I can sympathise when the government in London says: ‘If we don’t pay them [the bankers] better, or we regulate the banks too much, the talent will go elsewhere.’ “America remains the largest player and the pack leader in terms of financial-product innovation so, if things become too tough in the UK, for example, the leading bankers will just go to the US. America is still saying that bigger, better, freer is best. In general, yes, but not when you go to the extremes of the last 15 or 20 years. “We’ve got to help the Americans become enlightened in this respect as they clearly need to be at the centre of this effort. New York should come together with all the economic bodies in London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, China, Dubai and India. These entities must get together to discuss that, perhaps, we have gone too far.” Chan feels that such discussions are an obvious necessity and he’s shocked that the world isn’t taking the need to temper its greed more seriously. He says: “People have not learned the basic truths that are necessary to make the global financial system secure. The philosophy behind the system must change, otherwise the financial crisis that we saw in 2008 and 2009 will return sooner rather than later. The next time will be even nastier than before and the world will become a far more terrible place.”