(Yicai Global) July 1 -- "This is the place where you can dream of something at night, and make it a reality in the morning. There's little government intervention here. It's simply a paradise for entrepreneurs," said Allan Zeman, known as the 'Father of Lan Kwai Fong', in an interview with Yicai Global.
Zeman's father died when he was a young boy. He left Canada and went to Hong Kong in the 1970s, where he started his own business. Soon after he arrived, he was deeply impressed by the city's 'can do' spirit.
Hong Kong offers an unrivaled business environment: low taxes and safe society. As a shrewd business man, Zeman made his first fortune – about one million dollars, shortly after his move to the island, which strengthened his resolve to stay in Hong Kong. He was convinced that a lot more things are possible in the city.
He opened a restaurant named California on a small lane in Central in 1983, and it later became the start of his 'Lan Kwai Fong' empire. Some 30 years later, he now owns roughly 70 percent of properties in the area, and the small lane has become a landmark and the center of nightlife on the island.
The business magnate attended the Hong Kong handover ceremony in 1997, and he sat in the exhibition center until 4 a.m. "It was a historic moment. Knowing that people all around the world was watching the event on television, I felt very lucky to be able to witness the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong in person in the audience," he recalled.
"'One country, two systems' is an ingenious invention by Deng Xiaoping. It's something no one had done before, but I think it worked very well," Zeman said about the resilience of Hong Kong's economy. The city has 'reinvented' itself during the 'severe acute respiratory syndrome' (SARS) epidemic and the financial and real estate crises. "I'm always confident and optimistic about Hong Kong. The city has a highly independent governance system, and local regulations are based on the basic law, which is very important for Hong Kong."
Time to Reinvent Again
Allan Zeman believes that Hong Kong is still a very dynamic place, but social development is hindered by certain issues. The biggest problem is housing prices. The government needs to take steps to lower property prices to solve conflicts caused by growing wealth disparity.
Financial services are naturally very important for Hong Kong, he pointed out, but the government should also look at other businesses such as technology, education and the creative industries.
Technology is the world's future, he notes, and the Chinese mainland got it right very early on. Zeman goes to the Chinese mainland almost every week, where he finds that people are using Alipay, WeChat Pay, QR code and [mobile] payment services everywhere. He is surprised with the discovery, because people in Hong Kong are still using cash and credit cards.
Hong Kong used to be the gateway to foreign markets for Chinese exporters. The Chinese mainland cities have developed, and Hong Kong should not lag behind. It should learn from mistakes and rise to the challenges.
Being asked why he gave up his Canadian citizenship and became a Chinese citizen in 2008, the billionaire said, "I've done many things for Hong Kong. I helped them build the ocean park and Lan Kwai Fong. People [here] trust me and respect me. I asked myself why I knew so little about Canada. I haven't returned to Canada in 15 years. My kids all grew up in Hong Kong, and they will probably go to Canada only five times in their lives. Canada is no longer my home. My home is here. I belong to Hong Kong and China. I trust China, and I'm not worried about China's future. I've seen great changes in the country, and I'm totally confident in its future."