Happenin’ Hong Kong

Jet lag had me up at 5AM on our first morning in HK so after getting out my first blog post I hit the streets for a workout. I decided on a stair workout after discovering Ladder Street the day prior; the street is a 30-flight stair case that extends up four city blocks.

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After breakfast at the hotel, we set out for our first meeting of the day at Hutchison Whampoa with Frank Sixt. He is a McGill grad that now serves as the Executive Director for the multi-national conglomerate. He spoke about his career path, gave an overview of Hutchison Whampoa’s operations, challenges facing the company, and opportunities for growth. Hutchison Whampoa is a Fortune 500 company– chaired by the richest man in Asia–that operates businesses across 5 main categories–telecom, infrastructure, retail, energy, and ports. After a fascinating talk with Frank we got to visit one of their many businesses–Hong Kong International Terminal (HIT) at the Hong Kong Port; HIT is the largest port operator in the Hong Kong and the world, controlling 16/24 berths in the HK Port. We got a driving tour of the cargo terminal that was followed by a question and answer period with a HIT employee. The scale of the operations in Hong Kong’s port was jarring–last year alone the port moved 13 million shipping containers and employed 200,000 people. Perhaps the most shocking factoid was that there are 5 operators in the port and there is no common IT system between them for logistical coordination and communication.

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We enjoyed a delicious Dim Sum lunch at HIT before heading to the Shangri-La for our last meeting of the day. The Shangri-La is a renowned 5-star hotel chain based in Hong Kong with 89 luxury hotels across the world. The chain is a family-owned business and we were lucky enough to hear from Chye Kuok–fa senior family member and McGill alumni. Kuok spoke at length about the emphasis on Shangri-La’s customer and employee obsession and the importance of customer experience in the 5-star hotel industry. A challenge facing the Shangri-La now is maintaining the “familial” feel of the chain as they grow and approach 100 hotels. The Director of the hotel we visited specifically added a personal story of a career highlight–when the former king of Saudi Arabia booked out the entire hotel for his stay in HK. We then took a one hour guided tour of the beautiful hotel which included two Michelin star restaurants, the Presidential Suite, the world’s largest painting, amazing views of Hong Kong, and more.

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We spent our free evening grabbing a bite and drinking in the streets (totally acceptable) of LFK–the bustling nightlife strip of Hong Kong Central.

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Our first meeting of Day 2 was with McGill alumni Bruno Roy–Director of Asia-Pacific for McKinsey. Bruno was a fabulous speaker that spoke primarily about working and living in Asia in general. He spent his first 5 years In Beijing and made the move to HK last summer. Roy said the reason he loves working in Asia is because there’s so much left to be done. North America is such a mature market and work in consulting is focused on incremental improvement.

Our second meeting of the morning was a panel discussion with five McGill alumni. The interesting and informative panel was focused again on what it’s like to live and work in Hong Kong.The key points I took away from the session were:

  • Low taxes are great–16.5% is the highest tax rate you could face in HK
  • HK is extremely expensive and owning real estate is completely out of reach for most–rent ranges from $2,500-$4,000/month for central locations in HK
  • Work/life balance is non-existent so you have to love what you do–12 hour work days are not unusual and leaving the office at 5:30 usually prompts the question “are you only working a half-day today?”
    • One panelist told us his company’s recent new policy that allows employees 1.5 hours/month of personal time
  • The opportunities in HK are endless but very competitive

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After a quick lunch it was time to make our way to the airport to head to our next stop, Jakarta! All in all I can say that our stay in HK was only a teaser and I will definitely be returning for more. Further, our amazing speakers definitely piqued my interest in living and working in Hong Kong so perhaps I will be back for much longer next time!

Luxurious Layovers & A Taste of HK

Our excited group of 30 students, 2 professors, and 6 alumni departed on Thursday evening for the first stop on the Hot Cities Tour 2015–Hong Kong. Our route with Qatar Airways had us spending 8 hours in Doha before reaching our final destination. Normally, the words “eight-hour layover” do not exactly make me jump for joy, but this layover was a little different. We were picked up at the airport and driven to “the Pearl”–an artificial island similar to “the Palm” in Dubai that is the first land in Qatar to be available for freehold ownership by foreign nationals. Here we met Qatari native, recent McGill grad, and former Hot Cities Tour participant Majd Steitieh and her father for a short walk around the harbour. Afterwards we set out for the Steitieh family home where they graciously hosted all 40 of us as well as a number of other guests of honour. IMG_0963 We enjoyed an amazing dinner at their palatial home with a number of McGill alumni and Qatari locals. After dinner we heard from Morgan Waters–Executive Producer at Al Jazeera’s English channel, Andre Dubois–the Canadian Ambassador to Qatar, Issa Abu Issa–CEO of Salam International Investment, his son Mohamed–Dakar Quad Athlete and budding entrepreneur, and Stephen Anderson–Partner at PwC Qatar. It was absolutely incredible to hear from these individuals about life and work in Qatar and particularly about Qatar’s growth over the past 10 years. IMG_0962 Stephen left us with some striking statistics that make his consulting-driven branch of PwC an exciting place to work: 250,000 Native Qataris 2,000,000 people living in Qatar $210,000,000,000 GDP $50,000,000 available oil reserves per capita (native Qataris) $100,000 GDP per capita (highest in the world) To put this in perspective even further, Mohamed is planning to open a very unique and high-end gym concept in the coming year. Being a member at his gym would mean being matched with a personal trainer that monitors your progress and nutrition at the swanky facility–for $600 USD/month! 11025179_10153171586056388_6639082457885424660_n All this to say that this was a layover I certainly won’t be forgetting anytime soon! We flew Cathay Pacific for the last leg of our journey to Hong Kong and touched down late afternoon. By the time we were all checked in to our hotel it was around 4:30PM and I decided I needed to get out for a jog after 30+ hours of sitting. I find running to be a great way to explore a city–Hong Kong’s density presented unique challenges to city jogging but I still managed to dodge pedestrians, take in lots of interesting smells and wander the neighbourhood of Soho around our hotel for 30 minutes. IMG_0971 That evening, we attended an alumni dinner/cocktail in the financial district of Hong Kong. The event was facilitated by Alvin Chung–McGill’s Director of Asian Advancement–and we learned that there are roughly 3,000 McGill alumni in HK and they regularly have 200+ people turning up to events! The cocktail was a great chance to talk to a diverse group of alumni about living and working in Hong Kong. IMG_0985 Of course, it was only a matter of time before I ran into someone I knew… As I got chatting with one of the alumni at the event, it didn’t take long for us to realize that I played rugby with his daughter in first year at McGill! Of course we promptly took a selfie and sent it off to her. Despite being tired from a long day of travel, a group of us rallied to go for a walk which turned into a couple of drinks at a nearby watering hole. Hong Kong is full of expats and they definitely dominate the nightlife scene. A couple of the Brits we met at the bar described Hong Kong as a small town in a big city if you’re living in the expat community. Overall, a whirlwind 36 hours and I can’t wait to continue exploring HK tomorrow