Are you tycoon to me?
Matt Fleming hears why businessman Robert Wang has written about his amazing encounters with Hong Kong’s richest men
Robert Wang has lived and breathed the cut-throat world of the Hong Kong tycoon for many years. The 67-year-old, who was born in Ningbo and fled the Chinese civil war aged five, is a solicitor by training – the founder of Robert WH Wang & Co, Solicitors & Notaries – and an entrepreneur at heart, who started with nothing, worked his way up to everything, fell, got up and worked his way up again. He once safeguarded tycoons’ fortunes by convincing Singapore to take them in – but also unwittingly offended ‘the wrong power brokers’ and hit the rocks as a result. Now he’s charted his great rises and spectacular falls in his debut book – a novel based on the ups and downs of his own rags-to-riches life.
Hi Robert. Why write this lively look at your life?
My story is anything but ordinary. I was born poor, was looked down upon by others all through my childhood – but I felt this burning desire to make good if only to put a stop to all the prejudice I had endured. My ambition drove me to climb up to dizzy heights. I dealt with the tycoons of Hong Kong and Singapore on a one-on-one basis only to be struck down when I committed what can only be described as a trivial ‘sin’ – I unwittingly failed to observe local customs and traditions. The intervening events brought me into the centre of a catastrophic storm like none other I had experienced. It created sheer havoc, consuming me from within and, in the end, destroying me. It also drove me out of Singapore. I went through a hard time but eventually rose from the ashes. Surely, there is a lesson to be learned here.
Was it a hard climb to the top?
It was in the beginning. The hardest part was to get on track. But once on track you just take off and the momentum gets built up along the way. It’s like catching a good wave. You just surf along. Coming down is a lot harder.
How has the world changed over your time?
Making a living as a youngster during my days was a lot easier than today. A degree from a reputable university was a guaranteed ‘meal’ ticket. Today, the rich is getting richer and the poor, poorer. I can’t help but feel sorry for the young people of today, particularly those born post-1980. They live in a world of stiff competition, not just at home but also from abroad. And Hong Kong is getting to be more like a Chinese city. There are fewer expatriates and English is hardly spoken. The world has changed – Hong Kong in particular.
A penny for your thoughts on Raymond and Thomas Kwok’s recent arrests?
The three Kwok brothers are personally known to me. We do business together. Our joint venture boutique hotel – The Minden – was just disposed of on sale last month. It is not up to me to comment on the case except to say that I wish them well.
What’s next for Robert Wang?
I am a businessman. I sniff around and strike when the opportunity emerges. But what I see today is a business environment that is fraught with dangers. The European sovereign debt crisis is something completely out of my previous experiences. God knows how this crisis will shape up. I prefer to sit up, take notice and assess the situation as it evolves carefully before deciding on what I do next. Maybe, I’ll write another book in the meantime…
Walking the Tycoons’ Rope is published by Blacksmith Books, priced $138.