Dr Johnny Hon is the founder of Global Group, a venture capital company that invests in a wide range of business ventures around the globe. He talks about bridging the gap between the Chinese and UK markets, getting the most out of his team, and the need to continue personal development at the highest level...
What is it the company does?
Global Group is a venture capital, investment and strategic consultancy company, with a global outlook and a special focus on China and the UK. As such, we respond to opportunities and to the needs and interests of our partners, clients and fellow investors, rather than having any narrow sectoral focus. The company has developed diverse interests which range over banking, property development, financial services, education, media, entertainment and leisure, sports, gaming, telecoms, mining, biotechnology and much more. We help our clients to invest and we invest ourselves, both alongside them and independently. We have introduced many UK companies to the opportunities in China and we have helped a number of Chinese companies to list in the UK and elsewhere. We have also brought UK and Chinese companies together to co-invest in third markets.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
I see my role as being to lead, inspire and coordinate. Particularly as the company has grown, no one person could possibly do everything, but it is important to have an overall vision and strategy and an ability to bring people together and motivate them. I believe in employing good people and letting them get on with the job. But I both supervise implementation and go out and secure new business. I also hope that any member of my team feels confident in coming to me for help and guidance at any time.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I started my business 20 years ago when I was still studying for my PhD at Cambridge. Upon receiving my doctorate, I worked as a private banker for ABN AMRO, travelling extensively and acquiring valuable experience for when I returned to my own business full time a year later. Initially headquartered in London, Global opened its first overseas office in Beijing. A little later, I decided to move the company’s HQ to Hong Kong, as it remains the ideal place for us to develop our key focus of bridging East and West. However, our London office also remains extremely important. Sports and banking were two of my early key areas, but I soon went on to diversify into such areas as mining, oil, education, real estate, hi-tech, films, theatre, and so on. One interesting change is that, when I started, people in the UK were just getting interested in the possibilities of investing into the Chinese market. Now they also see China as a key source of investment.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
You need to keep learning. There is no limit to knowledge and this is a prerequisite to teaching others. You need to be able to keep inspiring people. In both good times and bad. For that you need vision. You need to lead by example. People will work hard when they know that you work harder than anyone else and that everyone’s success depends on what you do. And, as someone who studied psychiatry, I always remember that there is no more complex thing on earth than the human brain and the human personality. Managing human capital is much harder than managing money capital. That is the biggest challenge. Master it and you are on the road to greatness.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
My biggest challenge is always the lack of time. There are simply not enough hours in the day. I also need to travel constantly because nearly all the company’s clients and key partners prefer to talk to me directly. Trying to establish some kind of reasonable work/life balance is therefore a constant struggle, particularly with a young family. I am now taking up the challenge of succession planning, developing the next generation of leaders of the company. But to do this, you have to allow people to make mistakes and sometimes to fail. Unless people go through this learning process for themselves, the company will not be able to keep growing in a sustainable way. Delegating a task can mean it takes twice as long as doing it yourself, but this needs to happen. It may cause some short term problems, but it is vital for the long-term.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
I like to compare a financial transaction to a game of golf. When teeing off, you can instinctively feel if your swing is right. And if your swing is right, then your game will be smooth. It’s the same in business. If the project is good and you prepare well, if you feel comfortable with it, then the result should be good, too. No need to stress!
I also love spending time with family and friends, learning new things and going to the cinema.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up
I wanted to do things that were interesting and different. I was inspired by life – all the people that I knew and the things that I saw and experienced around me. I liked finding out new things. And I still do.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
Because I am always so busy, and have so many interests, I always have a tendency to rush. Therefore, I find it hard to tolerate a lack of speed. I always want things done yesterday! Spending more time with my growing family is helping me to become more philosophical about this.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
I hope that we will continue to grow and develop, securing more clients and developing new projects. That we will make good use of opportunities and expand into new markets and sectors. I want to see the company playing a vital role in linking the markets in developed and developing countries and contributing in that way to development, peace and prosperity in the world.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
You need to have the resilience, faith and willpower to fail in some of your initial attempts, but to always pick yourself up and come back stronger, wiser and more determined. As the old saying goes: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again.” As your company grows and develops, you need to instil that same spirit in your team.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
All of the above!
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