Exclusive Interview with Allan Zeman
Digital Tech Improves People’s Lives: Allan Zeman
Hong Kong-based businessman Allan Zeman, chairman of the property and entertainment conglomerate Lan Kwai Fong Group, likes his companies to be early adopters of new technology without necessarily being first movers.
“We felt we would still have a traditional business… which is very important: property development; the Lan Kwai Fong brand; food and beverage; theme parks; every part of the creative industries,” he told Innovation Hong Kong in an interview.
The group however saw the need to keep pace with the constant changes in the market. “We decided that if we just stayed in traditional businesses we would not be around in the future… We saw that new technology brings disruption to ways of doing things. If you don’t adapt, it eats into your business,” said Mr Zeman.
Managing adaptation does not mean simply jumping on a trend, he noted. “Many of the companies that were first movers in virtual reality have not done well: they invested a lot of money and it didn’t take off as they thought it would.”
“But you can see it is starting to develop in different companies who are using it to enhance the experience in theme parks, for example. You can go to an aquarium, put on a pair of glasses, and virtually feel like you are in the aquarium; in the bottom of the sea.”
Mr Zeman added: “Luckily our business is focused on young people. So, I have a team of young people who are technology experts… that are always looking at the latest thing; what’s new; what’s fashionable, what’s coming. We have our own network set up on the Internet, whereby in the morning you wake up and you are constantly looking at what other companies are doing and how it can be applied, and whether it applies to your own business… and how might it make you better.”
He said an example of enthusiastic adoption of technology without going out in a limb was for the group to welcome and encourage use of E-payment in its outlets.“You don’t necessarily need your own digital payment system… you can use the infrastructure that is already there, like WeChat,” he noted.
“It is easier to stick to one system, such as an app in your phone, that is accepted everywhere… otherwise you are fumbling around and might as well use your credit card.” Technology – at its best – was about “simplifying your life”, said the entrepreneur.
“What we are doing with technology in the restaurants, in retail, in everything we do; is to try and change Hong Kong, so that more and more people can use the E-payments system, so it is simpler and easier; so they can book tables, they can order ahead,” said the businessman.
He added “The reason it works so well in mainland China, with 1.3 billion people… is because before, to get a taxi they had to line up; to go to a restaurant, they had to line up; going to a bank they had to line up. Their whole life was about lining up. Digital ordering and payment came along and was able to change the life of the people. That’s why it got accepted so quickly.”
Digital technology makes it easier for consumers to pay for services, and it also helps to track who’s paying, the businessman noted.“It feeds into big data… it gives you the ability to understand when your busy times are; when your slow times are; what you have to do to get the slow times busier; to understand how your product is accepted or not accepted. All these things that are today so important to perfecting your business… this technology really makes you more professional,” he asserted.
TV, digital agency
The group recently had a soft launch for a Web-based television channel called LKFtv. Its programming – focused on lifestyle topics – is initially available in Cantonese and English, with plans to expand into Mandarin content.
The group has also launched a digital media agency called LKF Xcite. “It’s about how we can take an outside brand and position it in today’s world, in terms of digital media. We have been approached by corporations, big names, but I don’t want to mention them at the moment,” said the businessman.
The agency’s proposition is based in significant part on the alignment between the Lan Kwai Fong group’s own customer demographic and the target audiences of the brands.“In the past the older generation complained about younger people somehow being lazy: I don’t agree with that.
If you are really out there you see the amount of innovation in Hong Kong among young people who are really very tech savvy… I just think the government needs to do more,” Mr Zeman asserted.“I know Carrie Lam [Cheng Yuet-ngor], the Chief Executive, has that as a plan, and has put together a group that she will chair. She’s asked me to join, and I have accepted.”
Mr Zeman added the government could consider attracting big-name corporations to set up research and development centres in Hong Kong; possibly at Lok Ma Chau Loop – a place near Hong Kong’s border with Guangdong’s manufacturing and technology hub Shenzhen. Lok Ma Chau has been earmarked by the Hong Kong government as the site for a “Hong Kong/Shenzhen Innovation and Technology Park”.“We can have the Apples and Googles and Alibabas… to set up in Hong Kong, because that can then start to attract fresh talent,” said Mr Zeman.
“Another thing that is very important is education – not just in Hong Kong but everywhere in the world… because technology moves so quickly,” stated the businessman. “Education is still lagging behind what is going on in the world. Many people when they graduate, go into financial services, or the legal profession, because they know they are not going to fail. We need to modify the thinking on that.”