Close-up

Iron man Alan Chan tells Madeleine Ross about fa­ther­hood, find­ing love in the time of Sars and get­ting Hongkongers ac­tive

Hong Kong Tatler - - Contents -

Iron man Alan Chan on fa­ther­hood, find­ing love in the time of Sars and get­ting Hongkongers ac­tive. 66 Crazy Rich Asians au­thor Kevin Kwan talks about his sec­ond book and his com­ing film

ut of a sea of sil­ver hair and slick suits in the Man­darin Ori­en­tal’s Clip­per Lounge emerges flan­nel-clad, fresh­faced Alan Chan, his red­che­quered sleeves rolled up to the el­bows, dis­play­ing se­verely scratched fore­arms. “Ah, cy­cling,” he says when I ask the cause. “That’s noth­ing though,” he says with a smile. “My en­tire left side looks worse.”

Chan, one of two heirs to the Jip Cheong In­dus­trial man­u­fac­tur­ing em­pire, is a sports fa­natic. His ob­ses­sion be­gan at the age of six when his fam­ily em­i­grated to Toronto and he was in­tro­duced to Canada’s na­tional pas­time, ice hockey. “I quickly re­alised that the fastest way to make friends was through sport,” he re­mem­bers. “All the cool kids played hockey so that’s what I did. I wasn’t great aca­dem­i­cally and I was a bit of a naughty kid. Sport was the thing I was good at.”

Frac­tures and dis­lo­ca­tions be­came as com­mon as stubbed toes in Chan’s house­hold. His par­ents, though ini­tially anx­ious about his lack of fear, got used to life punc­tu­ated by trips to hos­pi­tal and Chan’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to get back to the rink. The only in­ci­dent that truly ter­ri­fied them was when he crashed his mo­tor­bike in Los An­ge­les. Chan, who had just started a psy­chol­ogy de­gree at Santa Mon­ica Col­lege, was in a coma for three days. “It was kind of life-chang­ing,” he says. “I wasn’t such a dare­devil af­ter that.”

Af­ter col­lege, Chan re­turned to Hong Kong to work for his fa­ther’s textile and gar­ment man­u­fac­tur­ing busi­ness. It wasn’t long be­fore he met his fu­ture wife, Michelle Cheng, the daugh­ter of BNP Paribas stal­wart Mignonne Cheng. He and Michelle, now the CEO of public re­la­tions agency Mazarine Asia Pa­cific, be­came friends—but it wasn’t un­til Sars struck a few years later that their re­la­tion­ship blos­somed. “Dur­ing Sars al­most no one wanted to leave their homes. But a few of us, in­clud­ing my­self and Michelle, still wanted to get out and so­cialise. We started hang­ing out and the at­trac­tion grew as we bonded.”

While Chan says he greatly ad­mires his fa­ther, an of­fice job in his com­pany wasn’t right for him. Af­ter eight years there, Chan set out on his own and threw him­self back into sport. He joined the Hong Kong Ice Hockey League, in which he still plays, and be­gan train­ing for triathlons and Iron­man com­pe­ti­tions. An Iron­man chal­lenge in­volves a 3.8km swim, a 180km cy­cle and the com­ple­tion of a full marathon—all within 19 hours. Chan has done three. He’s also in a cy­cling team made up of re­tired for­mer na­tional cy­cling cham­pi­ons and regularly goes on cy­cling tours around the world.

Chan has forged a busi­ness out of his love of sport, found­ing To­tal Sports in 2012. “Michelle or­gan­ises so many events as part of her job, and I re­alised no one was re­ally do­ing this for sport­ing events.” The com­pany or­gan­ises phys­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties, spon­sored by brands, that en­gage the com­mu­nity, im­prov­ing the men­tal and phys­i­cal health of Hongkongers while gen­er­at­ing good­will for the spon­sors. Chan lined up New World De­vel­op­ment as ti­tle spon­sor of the 2012 and 2013 Cy­cling Char­ity Cham­pi­onships to raise funds for the Tung Wah Group of Hos­pi­tals.

The big­gest such suc­cess story, though not one of Chan’s mak­ing, is the Stan­dard Char­tered Hong Kong Marathon, he says. “Peo­ple are be­com­ing more health-con­scious and re­al­is­ing that sport is a cru­cial part of well-be­ing. It doesn’t just im­prove fit­ness; it builds char­ac­ter. When ath­letes fail, they get up and they do it again. You don’t get the gold medal with­out fail­ing. Peo­ple seem to give up so easily nowa­days, in ev­ery­thing from phys­i­cal chal­lenges to re­la­tion­ships. Sport teaches us to get back up and try again.”

That’s some­thing he wants to in­stil in his sons, Ash­ton and Ay­den. “They don’t be­have around Michelle be­cause she spoils them. We al­ways thought she would be the bad cop when it came to deal­ing with kids be­cause she’s al­ways tough—that’s her per­son­al­ity. But it’s turned out the op­po­site way.”

Asked what he hopes to achieve in the next decade, he says, “My big­gest goal in life right now is to raise my boys to be good peo­ple. To see them achieve some­thing that makes them happy would be the best thing in the world.”

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