My Parents and Siblings

This is a personal website detailing the background and business experience of Mr Chan Heng Fai (“Fai Chan”), a Singaporean who has invested in and built many businesses in England, Hong Kong, China, Canada and the United States. Fai is the controlling shareholder of Heng Fai Enterprises Limited (Hong Kong Stock Exchange Listed, stock code: 185) formerly known as Xpress Group Limited.

Message from Fai:

“Many of my close associates have asked why I am taking the somewhat unusual step of launching such a site. I have chalked up more than 40 years of entrepreneurship and business. From the desperation of an undergraduate who had to plunge into business after suddenly losing his father to running multi-million dollar corporations listed on international stock exchanges, I have had a truly remarkable experience. At times, it felt like a roller-coaster ride. I have revived businesses on the brink of death, nurtured them and brought them to IPO or sold them off with amazing returns. On the other hand, a back of the envelope calculation would show that I have also effectively lost several hundreds of millions of dollars through the decades in terms of wrong decisions or spectacular misses.

This website is intended as a platform to share the unconventional wisdom that I have garnered from decades of investing and restructuring. I have often been asked, what were the main lessons that I have learned? I would summarise them as:

Every crisis is truly an opportunity – the ancient Chinese axiom is true; the bigger the problem, the bigger the business opportunity. One must be prepared to seize the opportunity when it comes knocking.

One must have self-belief – we must trust that we have the personal skills, talents, contacts, determination and the resources to make something happen. This may be to create a new market which never existed before or to turn around a very negative situation into a positive one, and profit from it. With self-belief you will be prepared to disrupt the norm, and change the game.

Never give up – there may be times when you think that you have reached the end of the road in a business or financial situation. But don’t give up. Even if you are bankrupted, you can have a chance to come back. But you must be determined to do whatever it takes.

Execution and Risk Management are Critical – beyond the big idea or the opportunity secured, two key abilities often determine whether a business will succeed or fail. Business leaders first need to execute their dream through a combination of planning, marketing, incentivising and training staff, and managing cash flow and finances. If something does not work, change the strategy and continue executing in a determined manner. Second, business leaders need to be able to calculate risks constantly so as to avoid being wiped out, or to magnify returns. Risks must be taken, but the rewards must be commensurate with the risks taken.

Thank you for visiting my website.”

GROWING UP

I was born in 1944 in Hong Kong to Teochew parents. My father ran a small business selling embroidered tablecloth sourced from China. He worked out of the second floor of an old shop house in Hong Kong Central Business District (CBD) which was also our home. The seven of us – my parents and their five children – lived within the premises. It was very crowded. My mother converted half the kitchen into a bedroom and slept there for 18 years, while my own bed was under the staircase.

I was the oldest child. At a young age I become a Roman Catholic as I was inspired by the Christian brothers. As a teenager I taught Sunday school to street kids and served as an altar boy who recited mass in Latin. My involvement in the church helped me gain admission to the best missionary school in Hong Kong, which in turn ensured that my younger siblings would also be admitted. I dabbled in some import/export business as a teenager, but I really did not have a strong inkling for business then.

My Sunday school activities somehow helped me land a scholarship to Switzerland where I was supposed to complete a foundation programme before enrolling in university. But my Teochew tongue could not wrap around the French language, which I never mastered. The sponsors were kind enough to allow me to be transferred to England at the age of 19.

And so, I arrived in London in 1962 to start again as a student. I stayed in the dormitory of the Salvation Army for a few weeks until the scholarship money was wired over. After some time I managed to enrol in the Northwestern Polytechnic (later merged into University of North London) to study business and economics. Student life in London in the early sixties, even for a Hong Konger, was relatively easy compared to life in continental Europe. The English language was not a problem, and to supplement my scholarship, I worked nights as a waiter at a Chinese restaurant in Hampstead Heath.

And then, suddenly, crisis struck. My father passed away at the age of 51 and I had to rush back to Hong Kong for the last rites. After the funeral, my mother reminded me that as the eldest boy in a Teochew family, I now had the duty to take care of my younger siblings. I had better return home to start work or take over what remained of my late father’s tablecloth business. I decided otherwise, and took the decision to bring my two brothers and two sisters – whose ages ranged from eight to 15 – back with me to London. Somehow, I thought, I would figure out how to feed everyone and put all of us through school. But it was clear that waiting on tables at night at a chop suey restaurant would not be enough.

And hence, as a 23-year-old undergraduate with a huge responsibility on my shoulders, I decided in 1967 to become a businessman. But with no capital, what could I do?