THE PEAK INTERVIEW: THE QUIET GIANT
With a rising tide of interest in ASEAN and a pending free trade deal, the quiet days may get a little noiser for Dr Jonathan Choi
During a recent conference held by the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce, Dr Jonathan Choi was clearly relishing his position. The conference was to encourage the final stages of negotiation between the Hong Kong government and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) for a free trade agreement. Attending the conference was the newly installed Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, business luminaries such as Vincent Lo and Anthony Leung, and consular representatives from ASEAN’S nations. Amid the speeches and handshakes, Choi was in the middle of it all, enjoying himself. Choi attended the conference in his capacity as chairman of the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce, which had co-organised the event. But the fact that his family-controlled company, Sunwah Group, was a major sponsor belied the double importance that Choi places on a free trade deal between Hong Kong and ASEAN. Sunwah has been present in Southeast Asia for decades, particularly in Vietnam, where the group built one of the first office towers in Ho Chi Minh City in the 1990s. As Vietnam hits growth rates that rival China’s (as are the Philippines and Indonesia), Choi admits to feeling vindicated for his long involvement in Southeast Asia.
Choi is at once friendly, talkative, quick with a smile, and secretive. Only two small parts of Sunwah Group are listed, both of which are involved in fund raising and capital markets. One entity, Sunwah Kingsway, was dubbed ‘The Small Caps King of Hong Kong’ in 2014, thanks to its quiet role in bringing small firms to market and distributing deals to family offices and funds. In 2016, Sunwah Kingsway reported a loss of HK$72 million, down from a small profit of $12 million in 2015. But Sunwah Kingsway also reported that it is now looking at deals in China and Vietnam. Given the investment priorities of Choi, they’re certain to find opportunities.
F I N D I N G FAC T S IN FISH
Sunwah Group began with Choi’s father, Choi Kai Yau, in 1957, originally as a seafood processing company out of Macau. Choi Kai Yau was determined to be ‘The King of Seafood’, and set about his goal with fierce enthusiasm, according to Choi.
That spirit of competitiveness no doubt played a part in the younger Choi’s
Dr Jonathan Choi wears a lot of hats and sobriquets as he heads up low profile conglomerate Sunwah Group. But with a rising tide of interest in ASEAN and a pending
free trade deal, the quiet days may get a little noiser.