Straight Shooter

He was men­tored by CY Le­ung, knows Hong Kong so­ci­ety like the back of his hand and is a keen en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist. tells about re­tail, de­tail and the loves of his life

Hong Kong Tatler - - Clos Up | Faces -

Madeleine Ross

’m in the lift with Karim Azar, de­scend­ing from his of­fice to IFC Mall, where he wants to in­tro­duce me to Bul­lock, a mem­ber of the ca­nine se­cu­rity squad that pa­trols the lofty av­enues sniff­ing for ex­plo­sives. Bul­lock is the ap­ple of Azar’s eye; he takes her home on week­ends for a glimpse of life be­yond the shop­ping mecca. Most peo­ple would take this 15-sec­ond ride in si­lence, col­lect­ing their thoughts be­fore re-en­ter­ing the daily grind. Not Azar. IFC Man­age­ment Com­pany’s straight-shoot­ing gen­eral manager of re­tail leas­ing is al­ways “on.”

“Hello? Hi? Hello? It’s Karim,” he ut­ters into the lift’s mi­cro­phone, tap­ping the call but­ton with his in­dex fin­ger as if trans­mit­ting morse code. “There’s no mu­sic in this el­e­va­tor. There should be mu­sic in all the el­e­va­tors please.”

A mo­ment later the doors open and Bul­lock bounds into his arms. Af­ter a few tricks and hugs, Bul­lock re­ceives a coa­truf­fling farewell and Azar’s at­ten­tion is once again fixed on busi­ness. His eyes are hawk­like; they dart from one thing to the next as he whisks us around the mall, point­ing out ev­ery­thing from new bou­tiques to en­er­gy­ef­fi­cient light­ing. Mid-sen­tence, he flips his mo­bile to his ear. “It’s Karim. There’s a dusty air vent on the first floor; could we get this cleaned ASAP, please.” I sur­vey the gleam­ing sur­faces be­fore us, won­der­ing what he de­fines as dust. “It’s all about de­tails,” he says.

It’s easy to see why Azar has won the trust and loy­alty of some of Hong Kong’s most in­flu­en­tial busi­ness barons. He’s in­dus­tri­ous and high-en­ergy with zero airs and graces, and his in­tense, boy­ish en­thu­si­asm makes him im­me­di­ately like­able. Is he a worka­holic? “Put it this way, you will never get a bounce-back email from me say­ing ‘I’m out of the of­fice.’” Over 17 years, th­ese qual­i­ties have seen him rise through the ranks of Sun Hung Kai and now IFC Man­age­ment Com­pany, which is a

Karim Azar

joint ven­ture be­tween Sung Hung Kai and Hen­der­son Land Devel­op­ment. Since tak­ing con­trol of re­tail leas­ing, Azar has in­tro­duced nu­mer­ous brands to Hong Kong, in­clud­ing Tom Ford, Tory Burch, J Crew, Loro Piana and Ap­ple, all of which had their first stores at IFC Mall. His mission is to make sure the com­plex evolves as an in­ter­na­tional shop­ping hub with a dis­tinctly cos­mopoli­tan clien­tele. “We have a very low per­cent­age of main­land Chi­nese traf­fic,” he notes. “Your trade mix de­ter­mines your cus­tomers. We have filled the mall with very so­phis­ti­cated brands like Giuseppe Zan­otti, Cé­line [un­der con­struc­tion], Valentino, Emilio Pucci and Miu Miu.” Shop­pers on the main­land are less familiar with th­ese kinds of brands, he notes.

Azar, 41, was born in Hong Kong to a Le­banese fa­ther and a Bri­tish mother, both of whom are now re­mar­ried. Azar lives with his fa­ther and step­mother very hap­pily. “I had the choice of mov­ing out but dad is get­ting older, he’s 79 now, so I want to stay with him for a while. He gives me such good ad­vice, is my teacher in all things and an amaz­ing guy.”

When he was nine Azar was sent to school in Switzer­land, where he learnt to speak French and Ital­ian flu­ently. Four years later he left for a sports-ori­ented board­ing school in Eng­land called Mill­field. “I was not a great stu­dent. I was a naughty boy. I used to tease the teach­ers. I had lots of friends though.”

Two years into a busi­ness de­gree in Bos­ton, Azar de­cided he’d had enough of academia; he quit the course and re­turned to Hong Kong, han­ker­ing for some­thing hands-on. His first job was just that: scrub­bing floors and dishes in the kitchen of the Re­gent Ho­tel. A lit­tle more than a year later he and his fa­ther opened a Le­banese restau­rant in Lan Kwai Fong with a hand­ful of part­ners, in­lud­ing Ron­ald Ar­culli and David Tang. His fa­ther owned the prop­erty and Azar over­saw the restau­rant’s op­er­a­tions. When they sold the busi­ness 12 years later, Azar joined a small

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