After being office-based for almost 60 years, 78-year-old Sir Michael Kadoorie had to adjust to working from home and video conferencing the directors of his family’s business interests, which include Peninsula Hotels, electricity, property, carpet-making and transport. As restrictions eased in Hong Kong, monocle met him at his office to discuss his unique perspective on his hometown.
Where does the virus rank among the crises you’ve lived through?
A crisis is a crisis. In 1967 we had riots; walking from the Star Ferry you might have come across two or three paper bags with explosives inside.This one is worldwide but the impact for each and every life is again how to survive it; how to look forward and have optimism. That is what you have to master. I’m a great optimist.
What’s your long-term view of the hotel business?
If you don’t learn from each day you’re pretty foolish. But the hotel industry will be the hotel industry. In essence,you will be striving to be the best in your class and your class is adapting all the time, whether you have a pandemic or not. You’ve got to live through thisand try to see that people have work. You certainly don’t wish to let staff go.
Where will be the first place that you fly to when all of this is over?
Probably to the US because we have three hotels and Quail Lodge [& Golf Club] there. And then to Europe as we have a hotel opening in London. I normally travel around the world four or five times a year but Hong Kong is my base. This is where our work is conducted from.
Some billionaire business owners have been criticised for accepting government subsidies. Where do you stand on this issue?
The government is not going to do this forever and, frankly, their subsidies are helping you stay alive. There’s only so much pain that any company can take before it has to sack people. I’d rather take the subsidies and not sack people. I’ve no compunction on that.
While other cities look forward to the return of tourism, Hong Kong faces the prospect of renewed pro-democracy protests.
This is a period when everyone has time to review their thinking. Young people need a future and Hong Kong is not worth anything if they don’t have a future. I understand the anxiety but I wish we could find an avenue where young people could see and understand that the mainland is not a threat. That’s something that the private sector can help the government with.
How should the government approach the protests?
Dialogue. If you communicate, you remove fear. Meet young people. Talk to them and, more importantly, listen to them. What are their fears? Some are genuine, some are not. Some are realistic, some are not.
Has the pandemic made you think about retiring?
You’re out of your mind! My father was in this office at the age of 94; the day before he died, he was right here, in this office, sitting at that desk.
About the interviewee:The Kadoorie family has been in Hong Kong for more than 140 years. Sir Michael is the third-generation head of the family business.