Tony F. Chan: What makes China’s entrepreneurs so great?

In this altogether endearing interview with Tony F. Chan the President of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Alec Hogg garnered insights into the world of Chinese technology, business and the leaders of tomorrow as Chan accounted for the supply and demand relationship that is driving eastern economies and ambitions. All the while talking past stereotypes and leaving us with an amiable air of excitement to see what’s next to come from such an enterprising and entrepreneurial part of the world. – LF


ALEC HOGG:  Professor Tony Chan is with us here in the temporary BizNews studio.  Tony, we had a good chat earlier today and you were telling about Jack Ma.  You’re glad to see him here in Davos.


ALEC HOGG:  You also know the other Ma, who’s from Tencent.  From the perspective, of Hong Kong or China actually creating these wonderful entrepreneurs: where does it all come from?

TONY CHAN:  China has talent.  China has a need for this business.  China has subscribers in the market and when you put these things together, you have innovation.  You can say that Jack Ma or Pony Ma were at the right place at the right time.  They are special people.  However, if it weren’t them, it would be somebody else.  It’s bound to happen.

ALEC HOGG:  Are lots more coming through?

TONY CHAN:  I think so.  I think so because as I said, the talent and the huge number of people using this new technology are demanding something.  Let me mention another example.  We all know Apple.  China has this thing called XiaoMi.  I don’t know whether you’ve heard of it.  In China, Apple (in terms of the iPhone) is outside the top five.  XiaoMi will probably be the next IPO of the same magnitude as Alibaba.

ALEC HOGG:  It’s interesting.  You also have WeChat, for instance as against WhatsApp in the West.  The facilities are perhaps better on WeChat.  Why do you think it is, that Chinese technology hasn’t yet been adopted in the way that it might have, in the West?

TONY CHAN:  Part of it is just communication, the media coverage and all that.  People just don’t know.  You need the business community to push it.  It doesn’t happen.  I think that Tencent is moving overseas.  I think the other one is maybe, a perception issue.  There’s always a perception that Chinese business and Chinese government are too intertwined.  That was asked of Jack Ma today and he flatly said ‘no’.  I think there’s always that residual concern regarding privacy of data, etcetera.

ALEC HOGG:  What about your university?  Are you growing young people who want to go into the private sector to become another Jack Ma, or into government?

TONY CHAN:  Yes.  No.  Well, we don’t know where they go but while they’re our students, we want to open up their horizon.  We want to give them the experience of trying something new.  Fail.  We want them to experience failure.  We run entrepreneurship competitions.  If they win the top few prizes, we give them some money to start up their business.  We enter them into teams.  For example, we have a robotics team.  They compete internationally.  In fact, one of the team members from several years back, has founded a company.  They make these pilotless helicopters.  It is a market leader in the world.

ALEC HOGG:  Hong Kong University of Science and Technology has been invited to Davos – the first Asian university to do so.  Do you think this is going to give you a boost in esteem, from a global perspective?

TONY CHAN:  Maybe.  Of course, it is a great honour.  It is a great platform for the rest of the world, and this is more or less heavily dominated by the Western world, even though I see many people from Asia and Africa.  This is our ‘coming out’, if you will.  We really treasure this opportunity.  We brought forth our best professors and I think they gave great talks on timely subjects and that’s what we wanted to do.

ALEC HOGG:  Professor Tony Chan is the Head of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology  – one of the great universities of the world, on display here in Davos.  There’s only a handful.  You have Stanford, Oxford, and Hong Kong.

TONY CHAN:  Thank you.  Come to visit us.