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Friday, June 30, 2017, 12:03
Living up to the family legacy
By Sophie He
Friday, June 30, 2017, 12:03 By Sophie He

Pansy Ho Chiu-king, head of conglomerate Shun Tak, says the Macao SAR has gone to great lengths vying to recast itself as a tourist wonderland, where East would continue to meet West, and it's high time for the two SARs to ride on the new wave of the nation's economic miracle and position themselves as "super-connectors" under epic national strategies. (Parker Zheng / China Daily)

Pansy Ho Chiu-king — one of the most notable scions born into the family of Macao’s “king of gambling” Stanley Ho Hung-sun — professes she’s not a gifted entrepreneur, but sporting the business acumen of her renowned father has helped make all the difference.

Many would agree she’s already the epitome in the local business domain, sitting at the helm of her own institution that she had relentlessly put together — MGM China Holdings Ltd which she co-chairs with US resorts-and-casino titan James Murren — and heading up her family’s flagship Shun Tak Holdings Ltd as group executive chairman.

The worldly 54-year-old heiress acquiesces that gaming is not everything to Macao — a city that has gone to great lengths in the past few years vying to recast itself as a tourist wonderland, where East would continue to meet West.

She advocates Hong Kong and Macao standing together as one to rejuvenate the travel sector by grabbing the unprecedented opportunities presented by two of the Chinese mainland’s most ambitious economic undertakings to date — the Belt and Road Initiative and the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area plan.

“I think this is a significant historic moment — we’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of China resuming the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong. Two decades of collaboration between the Chinese mainland and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and you can see in concrete terms how closely we’ve grown together,” Ho tells China Daily.

Hong Kong, she points out, clearly has a big role to play in the Greater Bay Area with a host of new infrastructure projects coming on stream, notably, the mega Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge which is due to go into service next year.

Shun Tak Holdings itself hasn’t missed the boat, capitalizing on the region’s exponential growth over the past decade, spurred by Hong Kong’s return to the country, Ho says, adding the group has been putting new strategic projects in place in major gateway cities on the mainland, including Beijing, Shanghai and Zhuhai’s Hengqin island, which are new areas for development, while continuing to bolster its position in Hong Kong and Macao.

Looking beyond HK

“So, we’re putting in place a robust program and, lately, we’ve also been looking beyond Hong Kong and the mainland. We’ve just bought a site in Singapore for a commercial project, housing one of our own brand hotels.”

“Along with the Belt and Road Initiative, we’ll continue to seek opportunities in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries and Europe,” she says.

For Hong Kong itself, the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge would give rise to new integrated recreation and entertainment facilities in a commercial district north of the airport, warranting new infrastructure and facilities, all of which will enhance Hong Kong’s tourism infrastructure.

“We’ll be better linked to other parts of Guangdong province, which is what we call a ‘one-hour radius habitat’. We’re talking about the catchment of about 100 million people in our living circle, not to mention the third runway coming on within the next three or four years, which will add capacity to Hong Kong as an international city,” says Ho.

But, she warns that when people look at these infrastructure projects, they may still tend to think of “my end” or so-called ownership of this particular facility — they rarely think of the opportunities if each other’s resources can be combined. “The whole point of any bridge or any road is always about two-way flow — how both sides can contribute to reap the fruits of labor in the end.”

Combining resources

Ho stresses it’s inexorable for Hong Kong to work with Macao, whereby the two cities should not defuse their resources — Macao can do what Hong Kong can’t due to the lack of certain facilities, while Hong Kong has plenty of momentum that can be created, and it has the population to support it. So, their advantages should be combined. “We need to work out the mechanics, the concrete measures,” she says, adding she sees herself being in the right spot to promote such cooperation between both cities, as she has businesses and the exposure required and exactly the same passion to help both places benefit, not at each other’s expense but rather to build true collaboration.

So, in the long run, Hong Kong and Macao should help each other and work together to promote the region rather than just one specific location, or one specific entertainment destination. Together, they’ll become a compelling story, says Ho.

She notes that Hong Kong is trying to focus more on youth activities, sports, recreation and arts to attract tourists, and Hong Kong could well become Asia’s next arts center.

As for Macao, it has embarked on a new phase of development, led by the development of non-gaming components as it wants to boost tourism from different perspectives.

Ho herself has been actively promoting Macao’s cultural tourism, with MGM having set up a major permanent art collection called the Chairman’s Collection which will be hosted at MGM Cotai. “The Chairman’s Collection is another of our initiatives used for organizing one or two major arts events a year. We don’t get to keep that in our property, so many of visitors have failed to see a particular exhibition. It would be nice we can then at least have our own collection and, starting with that, we can now work on a permanent basis of life art.”

A pioneering father who helped put Macao on the map

Being born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth — is it destined to bring riches and fame?

To Pansy Ho Chiu-king — the billionaire businesswoman and daughter of Macao casino magnate Stanley Ho Hung-sun — her father does hold great sway over her. From him, she has learned to step out of her comfort zone and seize the opportunities.

She calls her father a pioneer as he was the first Macao entrepreneur who didn’t mind taking on new business ventures and did not stay put in his comfort zone.

“As you may know, my father had been in business in Macao since the days when he had to leave Hong Kong during the war (in the 1940s). I think that’s his destiny and his relationship with Macao. But, afterward, he did come back to Hong Kong and, in fact, Hong Kong was the base of his business,” says Ho.

She recalls that when opportunities presented themselves in the 1960s, when the Portuguese government wanted to create and regulate the gaming industry to lift Macao’s tourism, her father, with no experience in this particular field, had the vision and understanding that, at that time, the emerging middle class in Hong Kong and Macao would support a market for tourism and entertainment.

With a very macro perspective, Stanley Ho went for it and had to do everything from the ground. And, it wasn’t the easiest business to go into. People might think it’s just a gold mine, but it was actually hard work, she says.

According to Pansy Ho, her father started off with real estate, making his first bucket of gold by building residential and commercial projects. “He could have just stayed on and continued, and I’m sure he could have been just as successful.”

“For me, with this unique background, of course, it’s a great blessing. At the same time, I’ve to step in and try to maintain this significant portfolio and legacy. Of course, it’ll be a challenge.”

She recalls her father having had his moments, and she should learn from him. Now, another historic moment has appeared as Macao begins to make a substantial mark on the Chinese mainland.

“I want to continue following in the footsteps of my father and contributing to this economy,” she says.

Ho says she wouldn’t tell anybody to pick just one particular area to focus on, and admits the pure thought of going into business just didn’t occur to her in her childhood.

“I had always been very good in history, geography, culture, anthropology. So, I wasn’t made out to be a businesswoman. If you look at my report card, you might speculate that, one day, I might become an archaeologist or arts curator which would more likely be my specialty.”

But, after consulting with her family, her father told her the world was entering a new era in the 1980s, with women becoming more acceptable in the commercial world, and her father wanted her to learn more about business.

So she took the advice and chose business studies as her major, but she didn’t want to give up other fields she was interested in, so she took a double major.

The end result was a Bachelor’s degree in marketing and international business management from the University of Santa Clara in the United States.

“On one hand, I’ve fulfilled my parents’ wishes and, on the other, I continue to pursue my own interests. Half-way down the line, I realized there was no collision among them because, at the end of the day, learning business is not just about making money, it’s about organization, learning how to organize things.”

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