Cover Albert Yeung and son Alex are celebrating the Emperor Group’s 80-year anniversary. The duo look back on their journey to the top (Photo: Simon Schilling)

In May, Alex Yeung was appointed vice chairman of the Emperor Group. As the family business celebrates its 80th anniversary, Yeung and his father Albert tell Tatler about the legacy they are building

When Alex Yeung joined his family business in 2009, he knew exactly what he was getting himself into. After all, he practically grew up in the Emperor Group’s offices, and spent every chance he could learning the tricks of the trade from the man who knew the company best: his father and the chairman of the group, Albert Yeung. Alex’s recent appointment as vice-chairman comes as Emperor Group is celebrating its 80th anniversary, giving the Yeung clan two reasons to celebrate.

Founded in 1942 by Albert’s father Yeung Shing, Emperor grew from a small watch shop in Kowloon to an integrated group with diversified business units, which include property, financial services, watches and jewellery, entertainment, culture, hospitality, digital media and home living. 

The group fared well during the pandemic: despite challenging economic conditions, the team expanded the Emperor Cinemas business into The Lohas in Tseung Kwan O, Times Square in Causeway Bay and The Venetian in Macau. A new theatre brand, Emperor Cinemas Plus+, is also due to open in 2023.

Now Alex has taken up the reins as the company’s third-generation leader, he hopes to take the business to new heights while continuing his philanthropic efforts in youth development and protecting the business’s storied history and legacy.

In celebration of the Emperor Group’s 80th anniversary, the team is launching a virtual tour this autumn that will be accessible to everyone, in collaboration with a local social enterprise. The tour will take viewers on a journey through time to witness how the group has played a defining role in the history of Hong Kong, with projects in locations including The Pulse, Repulse Bay’s beachfront shopping centre, and the revitalised commercial complex 4 Kin Fat Lane in Tuen Mun.

“From Time to Timeless’ is the slogan for our 80th anniversary,” says Alex. “The number 80 has meaning too: eight is a symbol of infinite loops and zero is a circle that has no beginning and no end. It’s a reflection of how our business units work together as one.” For the first time, the father-and-son duo sit down for an interview with Tatler and share their proudest moments and biggest career mishaps.

ALBERT YEUNG, CHAIRMAN OF EMPEROR GROUP

How did you first get your start in the family business?

In 1942, my father, Yeung Shing, opened the Shing On Kee Watch Shop on Shanghai Street in Kowloon. In 1964, I opened the Observatory Watch Shop on Nathan Road and, eventually, set up the brand Emperor Watch and Jewellery to consolidate the business following the success of those two shops. We have grown into a diversified conglomerate consisting of six listed companies on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, with our business footprint spanning across Hong Kong, mainland China, Macau, London and Southeast Asia.

What has been your proudest accomplishment so far?

I am proud of the team spirit of my colleagues, which is amazing considering the significant size of our group. A number of our staff across different business units have been working shoulder-to-shoulder with me for decades. We owe our success to our people. My children and I are in close contact with not only our existing staff, but also those who have retired.

What is your fondest memory of your father?

I remember my father as a man of action. He would roll up his sleeves to tinker with watches and renovate the shopfront. He could always carry conversation easily with any customer. He was also a fair and strict father to me and my siblings, and instilled in us the principles of life and business that he firmly believed in. These philosophies have inspired all areas of my life.

What do you think your father would say to you today, as the company’s 80th anniversary approaches?

I believe he would have been satisfied with what we have achieved, but there is always room for improvement. Life is a journey of continuous learning. I think he would have asked everyone in the group to keep up the good work and set our eyes on the future.

What’s the best piece of advice your father ever gave to you?
The importance of integrity, loyalty, respect and impartiality towards our friends. Also, that you cannot simply judge a person by his appearance, status or line of work. This piece of wisdom has helped me cultivate lots of goodwill and helpful connections, which contribute to the success of our group. My father was the best mentor I had. When I was a child, I would follow him to his business meetings, where I would learn first-hand the art of doing business. He taught me to be generous without worrying about return, and that sometimes, today’s loss can lead to tomorrow’s reward.

What was your biggest career failure and what did you learn from it?

In 1983, I over-leveraged my business and plunged into insolvency. After an extremely difficult time, I finally managed to save my business from being liquidated by the banks, all within two years. A company must have ample cash flow to prepare for the unexpected; only then can you pick and choose your strategy. This painful lesson forever changed the way I do business.

Do you have any secret hobbies?

I am a great fan of movies. It’s my favourite pastime. I usually watch at least one movie per week at home; it’s like stepping into a dream. That is why we invested in the movie industry: to offer people a window to experience an alternative reality. The first movie I invested in was back in the 1970s called Encore, starring Danny Chan, Leslie Cheung and Mary Jean Reimer.

What is your hope for the future of Hong Kong?

Having been rooted in Hong Kong for 80 years, our group has gone through many historic moments with the Hong Kong people. Hong Kong has always been inclusive, open and diverse, and its people always see opportunity in adversity. I am confident that there will be many more opportunities for success in Hong Kong as the economic growth roadmap of mainland China unfolds.

ALEX YEUNG, VICE-CHAIRMAN OF EMPEROR GROUP

Did you always want to work in the family business?

When I was little, I would go to dad’s office to pick him up from work. I would run around the office to help deliver documents. In primary school, I already knew what “HR” and “accounting” meant. I would often hear dad chatting about business with the other senior members of the family. In high school, my summer holidays were spent interning with the company. The group has always been part of my life. It was only natural that I chose to join straight after college.

Growing up, did you ever feel there was a certain expectation of you?

Yes, and this very expectation has become my motivation. The most important thing is to make sure I’m doing my part and the rest will fall into place.

What do you admire most about your father?

“The will to win”—that is my dad’s life motto. Life isn’t always smooth sailing, and my father always taught us to never lose the will to win. He said that we had to stand on our own two feet and not expect others to come to our rescue. His tenacity is an inspiration to us all. My dad has always been my role model. He plays doctor and fireman every day in the company: doctor because he listens to the pulse of the business from various line managers, and firefighter as he instantly comes to the rescue of those in tricky situations. I have been learning how to be a doctor and a fireman from him ever since I was a child.

Is working with family difficult, especially when high stakes and emotions are involved?

Our family meeting on Sunday afternoon has been a long-standing tradition of ours. More than 30 family members sit down together to chat about life. This is how we have built and cemented the family bond. Family business succession is about keeping everyone on the same page on our family values and reaching common ground through candid conversation.

Out of the various industries your family operates in, which is your favourite?

Every business segment in our group has its own characteristics and appeal. Entertainment and culture are the two segments that I have been involved in the most. We’ve digitised our Emperor Cinemas experience by installing wireless phone chargers in the seats and by offering free digital ticketing. Recently, we’ve ventured into the metaverse, where we’ve built a virtual community in The Sandbox, which has a venue for digitised entertainment that brings artists closer to their fans. 

How are you preparing the company for future generations

Young people are my muses. I am actively involved in youth work, and I am currently the chairman of the Hong Kong United Youth Association. Young people are the future, and it’s important to listen to their ideas and help them realise their potential. Understanding their everyday lives is part of our market intelligence.

What does the future of entertainment in Asia look like to you?

The rapid advancement in technology and the digitisation of entertainment are closing the distance between artists and their fans, giving way to new, immersive experiences for our audiences. This also opens windows of opportunity for Asia to export music, movies and drama into the international arena and for cross-collaboration within the creative industries. Riding on the wave of the metaverse, we are hoping to create new business ecosystems in our entertainment and cultural businesses.

Do you believe in luck?

Life is 30 per cent luck and 70 per cent hard work. I am convinced that life is not determined by sheer luck, but by one’s will to be a winner.

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