Dr. Johnny Hon, chairman and founder of Global Group, explains how important it is that he can service an international clientele from his bases in London and Hong Kong.
What does your company do?
I founded Global Group twenty years ago. It is a venture capital, investment and strategic consultancy firm that has evolved and expanded into a diverse range of sectors, including everything from fine art to fintech. Initially, our focus was on supporting western investors in China, and we now also collaborate with Chinese investors and co-invest with them, while still working very closely with Western companies. The market has changed so much in our two decades of business. The money flow is increasingly changing direction, making the UK a great beneficiary of Chinese investment.
We have a range of divisions, including a family office that works with high net worth clients in China and elsewhere to co-invest overseas and generally advises and helps them manage their affairs. We get to work with a lot of interesting clients. Just this year we’ve brought the Duchess of York on board as a Non-Executive Director to support our entertainment investment activity, as well as Zara Tindall MBE, the eldest grand-daughter of Her Majesty The Queen and an Olympic medallist, as a Non-Executive Director for the horse racing investment arm of the business.
When was your company launched, who by and why?
I launched my company whilst still studying for my PhD in Psychiatry at Cambridge University. I had always thought about becoming a doctor or scientist so I could help the world through medical advancements. However, I came to realise I could make the most impact and be able to help more people, if I achieved success in business, and that is why Global Group has philanthropy at its core.
After a period working as a private banker, I came back to the UK to focus exclusively on building up Global – I’d accumulated great experience and private clients along the way. Initially we were helping promote investment in China my connections and experience in the UK, Europe, Hong Kong, the Middle East and elsewhere all proved invaluable. Over time, the Global Group went from strength to strength, as we worked with more high net worth individuals, entrepreneurs and innovators. We’ve continued to grow and learn and currently have offices in Hong Kong and London, with an international clientele.
How many staff are in your business?
The company currently has over 100 employees.
How long has the company been operating?
We are currently celebrating our 20th anniversary.
What motivated you to start working overseas and how long did it take?
I’ve always been fascinated by the world and was very fortunate to be able to attend secondary school in the UK and explore and get to know this country in my teenage years. Immediately after my PhD I went into banking and was head hunted by a leading financial firm to help expand their business in the Middle East. With this firm I worked in Dubai, Kuwait and Jordan and later on help the company expand into Eastern Europe, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Russia and the Baltic states.
Global Group allows me to work all over the world. In the past few years I’ve been able to travel to Africa, America and countless places in between.
Have language barriers, currency changes, etiquette and culture ever caused you any difficulties? How did you overcome them?
As someone who has been brought up across both the East and West, I am always very conscious of language barriers, cultural and currency differences and of the need to be sensitive about them. Having said this, they have never caused me significant problem, rather the diversity in business experience and interest is something that I enjoy the most and it has aided my work and become a core part of my ethos.
I strongly believe that Hong Kong, my home city, is and will remain an indispensable link between the East and West. The location means we have excellent links to mainland business hubs, like those in the Pearl River Delta and further afield like Shanghai, as well as lesser-known cities that are also full of great business prospects. We also have great links to financial centres in London, New York and emerging markets along the ‘Belt and Road’– the new Silk Road. We also have the rule of law.
‘One country, two systems’ has allowed Hong Kong to flourish on a global scale, combining its unique advantages with the strength and potential of the mainland economy. There have been ups and downs and these will continue – but overall there has been great mutual benefit, for example in listing mainland firms and, like London, helping the Chinese currency to internationalise. I would go so far as to say that I think the wisdom this dual system embodies could help to resolve many seemingly intractable conflicts and disputes around the world and that as a business person it is vital to overcome any seeming cultural challenges in order to take advantage of the opportunities this can bring.
What advice would you give to someone just starting to explore overseas markets?
I got a lot of support from friends and colleagues. Some of them are still working with me today. I networked furiously and built up my circle of contacts, friends, advisers and partners. I always believe that anyone you meet in life is for a reason, even if it takes you some time to find out what it is.
I joined and became active in the key organisations that promote business links between the UK and China, as well as Asia generally, like the 48 Group Club, the China Britain Business Council and Asia House. There is huge goodwill and expertise in these organisations and I’d recommend them to anyone. As a result, I was able to join official delegations to key emerging markets including China and India.
The Department for International Trade can provide a lot of help for SMEs but start ups often fail to access their services. Continual reorganisation at government level can also cause confusion. My advice would be to find good partners, do your homework thoroughly, join and get active in the relevant organisations and to be prepared for challenges and setbacks, but to never give up.
Where next? What markets are you looking into and where do you see the company in 5 years' time?
Looking to the future, I believe Hong Kong will continue to flourish as a special region of China. We are entering a very interesting stage, as China is increasingly leading in what’s being called the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’, with its development of robots, genetic engineering, new materials, fintech, big data, Artificial Intelligence and so on. I have a huge interest in new technologies, Virtual Reality, biotechnology and similar fields and I intend to keep investing there.
I also want to build up our presence in the art world. One of the things that I’m most enjoying is reviving classical musicals, like Sunset Boulevard and 42nd Street, both in the West End’s Theatreland and on Broadway, as well as backing and supporting new productions. I certainly intend to do more of this.
In short, I plan to be working in more markets and more sectors, and above all putting more back into society. I want to increasingly be at the cutting edge. In the words of Global’s motto – Bridging the New Frontiers.
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