“WHEN YOU ARE NEVER HAPPY.”

NUM­BER ONE , YOU

The Peak (Hong Kong) - - The Brief -

early ed­u­ca­tion. He once de­scribed hav­ing to get down to the Kennedy Town fish mar­ket by 5am in the 1970s to cir­cu­late among fish­er­men and their catches, de­cid­ing which catches to buy and get to Sunwah’s pro­cess­ing plants. It in­volved mak­ing snap de­ci­sions and in­stant cal­cu­la­tions. “That was how I was trained and pre­pared for man­age­ment,” Choi told SCMP in 2006. Shortly af­ter, at the age of 20, he was us­ing money gen­er­ated from the seafood busi­ness to pur­chase prop­erty in Ma­cau.

From prop­erty, there were moves into fi­nance, at first for mort­gage lend­ing, later for fi­nanc­ing and in­vest­ment bank­ing. Then it was into tech­nol­ogy and soft­ware in the early 2000s. The seafood busi­ness, which started with ex­port­ing prod­uct to Ja­pan, is now a food im­port-ex­port busi­ness with in­ter­ests stretch­ing from Viet­nam through Hong Kong to China and Ja­pan.

Af­ter Choi took over Sunwah, he had a chance meet­ing with his fa­ther’s chief ri­val in the seafood busi­ness. The old man and Choi, then in his 40s, wound up shak­ing hands and laugh­ing at the way in which he and the el­der Choi had fought each other over the years. The old man (Choi de­clines to name him) even had a fish pro­cess­ing fac­tory right next to Sunwah’s. Choi re­mem­bers his fa­ther com­ing home at night and be­rat­ing his com­peti­tor at the din­ner ta­ble, all in his ef­fort to re­main king of seafood.

The dis­cus­sion had quite an im­pact on Choi’s think­ing. “When you are num­ber one, you al­ways

– Dr Jonathan Choi

• POP­U­LA­TION • POP­U­LA­TION GROWTH

RATE • UR­BAN­I­SA­TION • UR­BAN­I­SA­TION GROWTH

RATE • GDP IN 2016 • GDP IN 2011 • TO­TAL VALUE OF TRADE

WITH HONG KONG (2016) • HONG KONG TRADE VALUE AGAINST GDP • POP­U­LA­TION • POP­U­LA­TION GROWTH

RATE • UR­BAN­I­SA­TION • UR­BAN­I­SA­TION GROWTH

RATE • GDP IN 2016 • GDP IN 2011 • TO­TAL VALUE OF TRADE

WITH HONG KONG (2016) • HONG KONG TRADE VALUE AGAINST GDP

• POP­U­LA­TION • POP­U­LA­TION GROWTH

RATE • UR­BAN­I­SA­TION • UR­BAN­I­SA­TION GROWTH

RATE • GDP IN 2016 • GDP IN 2011 • TO­TAL VALUE OF TRADE

WITH HONG KONG (2016) • HONG KONG TRADE VALUE AGAINST GDP • POP­U­LA­TION • POP­U­LA­TION GROWTH

RATE • UR­BAN­I­SA­TION • UR­BAN­I­SA­TION GROWTH

RATE • GDP IN 2016 • GDP IN 2011 • TO­TAL VALUE OF TRADE

WITH HONG KONG (2016) • HONG KONG TRADE VALUE AGAINST GDP

be­ing the head of a con­glom­er­ate with in­ter­ests in ASEAN. “It’s my op­por­tu­nity; we have been there for a long time. It’s good for Hong Kong. Of course, it’s good for my com­pany so I pro­mote it.”

At the same time, Choi makes the point that po­ten­tial for busi­ness in ASEAN for Hong Kong com­pa­nies is too great for any one com­pany, so he prefers to work with part­ners and make in­tro­duc­tions, as much as do busi­ness. “We don’t take com­mis­sions, we don’t care,” he says of com­pa­nies or in­di­vid­u­als seek­ing his help. “If we do help some­one, our sta­tus, our in­flu­ence is that much bet­ter.”

Choi earned the nick­name ‘Mr ASEAN’ for his re­lent­less pro­mo­tion of Hong KONG-ASEAN trade ties, and prob­a­bly also for his own in­ter­ests. More re­cently, he’s earned the ti­tle ‘Mr Belt and Road’ for his in­sis­tence on the virtues of Belt and Road busi­ness to Hong Kong. He is quick to re­cite Hong Kong’s tra­di­tional strengths – rule of law, cur­rency con­vert­ibil­ity, ac­cess to global mar­kets – and also the One Coun­try Two Sys­tems part­ner­ship with China. He es­ti­mates that half of his busi­ness is in China, the other in ASEAN.

In the mean­time, Choi is near­ing 60 and con­tem­plat­ing suc­ces­sion. He has five chil­dren, one of whom is now over­see­ing the Viet­nam busi­ness. His brother, Michael, is also in­volved in Sunwah, as is his wife Jan­ice. His sis­ter, May, works in the seafood busi­ness still. He says the key to suc­cess­ful tran­si­tions is to of­fer all the help you can with ed­u­ca­tion – pro­vid­ing a plat­form, but not money. It is, he says, a “work in progress.”

Choi was once listed as one of Hong Kong’s rich­est men and though he has since fallen off that list, he’s con­vinced that it’s a good thing. It may be that by build­ing up a new South­east Asian busi­ness em­pire out of Ho Chi Minh City, he may be able to mus­cle his way back onto that list. Whether he’ll be happy to be back on a rich list is an­other mat­ter.

Jonathan Choi, to­gether with Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Car­rie Lam and var­i­ous Hong Kong busi­ness lu­mi­nar­ies at the ASEAN Hong Kong Sum­mit 2017 ear­lier this July.

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