The harmonious cycle of change

Dr Gus Chow IEMP1995, founding-father of the London Business School (LBS) Hong Kong alumni club, uncovers the importance of a thriving network and how the School’s community, a ‘global family’, helps him keep pace with the latest trends.

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Every five years, China’s policymakers reveal the direction of the country’s long-term social and economic policies with the aim to boost the economy. The five-year blueprints were adopted in China in 1953 and are implemented by central, provincial, local, and district governments, along with industry regulators. Dr Gus Chow, CEO at Harmony Asset, guides his business strategy to align with China’s focus. 

Harmony Asset is listed on the main boards of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, and invests in emerging private companies in Hong Kong, specifically those focusing on high growth from the domestic market. Dr Chow explains that in order to add value, the company must recognise a trend before it appears and back away from ones that are becoming less prominent. In doing so, he has to sync with government plans. 

He explains: “Harmony Asset has four main areas of investment: resources, technology-enabled manufacturing, food and healthcare. We are gradually exiting the resources space because we have to follow the trend. It’s a decision that’s been proven correct as the sector’s investments are down substantially.” 

A few years ago, Dr Chow saw that food and healthcare had the potential to address China’s biggest problem: its growing population, which amounted to 19 per cent of the world’s population by the end of 2010. “The region is behind on its healthcare reforms, so we saw the opportunity and followed the trend,” he says. China lays out specific economic targets such as GDP growth rates and social development goals in areas such as healthcare and education which become priority areas for businesses operating in and around the region. Dr Chow’s job is to observe demand and follow the thread. 

How to spot a trend
To say that Dr Chow is well connected in Hong Kong does him a disservice. He founded the region’s alumni club in the late ‘90s, which started with just a few alumni but now has more than 500 active members and he is on the School’s Global Advisory Council. 

He also has experience of managing multiple listed companies globally, giving him knowledge in a variety of industries, and a great understanding of how and when to act on opportunities in the region. He spots trends in five ways:

1. Tap into a truthful network
Dr Chow says: “When I’m looking for investment opportunities, I’ll call up key contacts from the LBS network and I’ll expect honest and truthful facts about whether a company is worth investing in or not. You can’t expect that from business partners outside of a network such as this. It’s because we are alumni that we give each other nothing but the truth.” 

2. Gain a deep understanding
“LBS alumni in Hong Kong work across a range of sectors, so just a few phone calls will lead me to the right people,” he says. By speaking to alumni in different sectors, Harmony Asset benefits from a first-hand account of products, services and sector-specific information that can help it to spot a potential gap in the market. 

3. Build up resilience
“Through the LBS network the business becomes more resilient,” says Dr Chow. He explains that every five years, because of the government cycle, he learns something new. Whilst the government cycle drives essential change, it’s the alumni network that distils the best investment opportunities and validates Dr Chow’s evolving strategy. “A few years ago I asked the alumni network what would be ‘hot’ and healthcare came through, which is an area of focus for the company now.” He explains that because of low-cost technology and the popularity of social media, the pace of change is fast; therefore the only way to stay ahead is to speak to knowledgeable people.

4. Think beyond borders
Dr Chow applies the title of a book he is writing Beyond Borders, to the view he holds of converging of industries – there has been, and continues to be, a redrawing of industry lines. “You cannot confine to one industry now, it’s a mix of industries and sectors together. In order to spot a trend and be successful, you have to pool resources from different sectors and come up with innovative business models.” 

5. Be opportunistic
“Sometimes businesses appear, such as Europe’s disruptive taxi mobile app, Uber. Three years ago it didn’t exist but now it’s incredibly popular,” says Dr Chow.
Harmony Asset invests in capital, but Dr Chow explains that the business stands for more than just the exchange of money. “It’s about providing our business partners with the right network, and expertise, such as useful distributors,” he says. He talks of the development cycles of his clients’ products and services: in order to maximise opportunities, Harmony Asset provides a backbone for each client, shortening their development cycles. This level of support allows new products and services to be launched in a shorter space of time. Speed ensures their clients launch ‘hot’ products that respond to market demands rather than nice ideas that are slow in coming to market and outdated at the point of launch. 

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Working in harmony
Shortly after her graduation, Vivian Yan MBA2010, Investment Director at Harmony Asset, saw Dr Chow at the School’s Hong Kong Worldwide Alumni Celebration (WAC) event. While chatting to Dr Chow, Vivian explained that her pre-LBS job in commercial banking had left her feeling boxed in and that she had entrepreneurial dreams of her own.

Soon after, Dr Chow offered Vivian the job of setting up a hedge fund at Harmony Asset, she then moved into other areas at the firm, she is now an Investment Director with Harmony and has been with the company for nearly five years. 

As a Generation Y (GenY) employee, research shows that Vivian might have moved on to new opportunities by now, but she continues to thrive in a company where Dr Chow applies a mentor and mentee approach to their relationship.

Vivian says: “Our common LBS background enables us to have an open dialogue when it comes to what I want in my career advancement and what the company requires of me.”

Dr Chow adds: “Vivian was a perfect fit and natural extension for the company. She’s fast and smart and I can trust her. I used to worry about hiring smart people. I thought they wouldn’t last as an employee here for long. But by having the mentor and mentee relationship that Vivian and I have, she is able to continue to progress with Harmony Asset.

“I believe we should listen more to GenY so that we can learn from each other, rather than a high-handed top down approach.”

Dr Chow proffers a water tank analogy: as his experience is vast and deep, the water in the tank is marked as ‘full’. Meanwhile, Vivian’s experience is currently somewhere in the middle of the tank. Over time, the water tank will level out on both sides. He says: “Business is about what we can all contribute. Everyone has a contribution to make: how you piece them together is what’s important.”

Dr Chow takes a harmonious approach to everything he does, moving in a fluid and cyclical way: relationships, strategy, government targets, or investment opportunities, whatever the entity, whatever the required output, he synchronises his thoughts and directions, striking the right chord. 

Author: Anna Johnston