Engaging Asia Part IV: Hong Kong

Just to recap, thus far on the trip we have experienced the organized chaos of Mumbai, the sparkly newness of Shanghai and the communistic tradition of Beijing.  Traveling to Hong Kong, in hindsight, is the culmination of all of these places.  The streets are packed and busy with people from all over the world intermingling and hustling from one place to another and exuded an attitude of capitalism and democracy.  Some buildings and attitudes were fresh and new. Finally, it was very much Chinese in appearance and language (I know they speak Cantonese over Mandarin, but the foreign feeling is the same).  If Shanghai is where the west meets China and Beijing is where the western attitudes conflict with China, then Hong Kong is where the west first engages with China.  There are strong sentiments reflecting British imperialism and they are joined with those of Chinese central planning.  It brought two worlds together wonderfully and was a great conclusion to the expedition.

In HK, I felt a stronger emphasis on the entrepreneurial ideas being applied in sustainable ways.   Our other visits ran the gambit in terms of size and focus.  From such conglomerates as J. Swire, which started out as a shipping company but has grown to an international conglomerate, absorbing multiple aspects of its individual supply chains and having a net zero impact strategy, to individuals like Edwin Keh and Lizette Smook who provided a wealth of knowledge over all aspects of business.  (On an aside, the places where we met these two individuals, the China Club and the Foreign Correspondents Club, were so historically important and prestigious that just being able to go in, let alone have a meeting with a member, was quite an event.)

The entrepreneurial community itself even had a large spectrum of opportunities.  We visited Cyberport which is a huge facility used to foster and create the next successful technology companies.  The great thing is that the technology was not limited to computers but digital art/media, telecommunications, and general digital tech as well. It was an accelerator and incubator and college campus all rolled into one and then put on steroids.  What made this even more interesting, was that it was a private company but the government owned a majority share.  Think on that one.  It had to delicately balance the needs of its shareholders with the needs of the government, which I am not sure always aligned.  It will be interesting to see what comes out of that facility in the future.  In addition to Cyberport, we also visited a smaller entrepreneurial incubator located near Central, Paperclip.  This had the more traditional focus and feel of incubators found in the US which highlighted the universal feeling of entrepreneurship.

Since Hong Kong has long been considered the financial hub of China, our trip was not complete without visiting a financial institution of some sort.  For our last meeting we visited Reorient, a startup investment bank formed by American and German expats.  This company is only three years old yet already listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. That is not a common occurrence.  While this was our last meeting and all of us were spent-emotionally, physically, and mentally-it was a fantastic finale in that it, for me at least, restored some lost trust in investment banks.  They emphasized the personal aspect of banking, which has been lost in recent years.  The bankers we talked to (including the CEO) were very open about personal and professional life in Hong Kong and were genuinely passionate about what they were doing.  They wanted to be successful, but not at the expense of carefully established relationships.  They had a deep understanding of not only where they got their money but also how.  Not to mention, the CEO had the best outfit of the trip.  Not many people can pull off pastel pink pants with royal blue and bedazzled house slippers.  It was awesome!

Final remarks: the Engaging Asia study tour will be an aspect of my MBA that I will never forget.  John Hull, director of our Business Innovation Institute, has said many times that one objective of the trip is to get students comfortable traveling overseas so when they have a professional job and the opportunity to go to Asia is presented, we can volunteer with confidence.  While it sounded really hokey before the trip, he was right.  Should I find an amazing company and have the opportunity to do work in Asia, I have complete confidence that I can go over there, not feel overwhelmed and jump right into my job.  I don’t necessarily have the desire to live over there for long periods of time, but a short assignment (6 months or less) would suit me just fine!

Written by Jenny Palm

Jenny a current Oregon MBA and Graduate Teaching Fellow in the Lundquist Center for Entrepreneurship. When she is not busy exploring how she can change the world, you can find her outside doing almost anything...especially finding that secret stash of powder on her skis! She has hopes to either help develop an awesome outdoor-oriented start-up or flex her organizational prowess in ski resort event operations.