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