August 1, 2021

Adrian Cheng: Hong Kong Billionaire Ambassador of French Culture

“To well-born souls, value does not await the number of years!” Corneille’s famous words seem to fit perfectly with the portrait of Adrian Cheng, the new CEO of New World Development (NWD).

Henry Cheng Kar-shun’s son continues to live in a true pioneering spirit – the family runs an empire with total assets under management of $ 76 billion as of December 31, 2019. From the introduction of the Cannes Film Festival in Hong Kong at the helm of the prestigious Hôtel de Crillon, Adrian combines business and art in an original way. The young entrepreneur, for example, launched the innovative concept of museum-commerce by installing works of art in shopping centers – but always with a French touch. His contribution to France has also been rewarded by the government with the Order of Arts and Letters.

From the top of the K11ARTUS building, the 360-degree view is majestic.

Philippe Branche: What was your response to the COVID-19 emergency?

Adrian Cheng: When the crisis hit, we wanted to help in an original way. Philanthropy is usually about giving money, without really measuring the real impact that this donation can have. The new generation of entrepreneurs prefer to share resources with society in a more direct and sincere way. The NGOs told us about a shortage of masks and we simply decided to produce them. In two months, I assembled a team, set up several local production sites and gathered machinery and materials from all over the world. Today we offer a choice of 4 colors that correspond to the identity of our company. Today, we are able to produce 7 million masks per month and will reach over a million beneficiaries when production is at its peak. We decided to distribute the masks via vending machines, launching the “Mask to Go” initiative. Eligible citizens can directly collect their masks using a QR code. A completely autonomous approach where one does not feel the beneficiary of a charitable organization. The response from the public has been incredible!

Mask dispenser
The “Mask to Go” distributor which helps individuals to collect their masks using a QR code / Credit: NWD

Why donate masks to France?

Adrian Cheng: We collaborate with many French fashion brands, artists, designers and sellers. But the real reason was friendship. The demand for masks from our foreign friends sparked the #LoveWithoutBorders initiative. And this action has become official thanks to the very active French consulate in Hong Kong. We worked effectively with the Consul General of France, Mr. Alexandre Giorgini and shipped ready-to-wear masks to companies, individuals and hospitals. In total, we have donated over 2.5 million masks to France, Italy, UK and South Korea and an additional 500,000 masks to UNICEF for children and communities vulnerable.

How have Asians and Europeans reacted differently to the crisis?

Adrian CHENG: The main difference is in the attitude towards wearing masks. Europeans seem reluctant, while Asians seem more willing to follow directions. In Hong Kong, 98.8% of the population has made a voluntary decision to wear masks before authorities ask for it, especially as Hong Kong faces a third wave of COVID-19 infections. Wearing a mask has become a form of social etiquette: those who do not wear a mask carry a kind of stigma. In Europe, citizens are naturally not inclined to wear masks and I cannot say why. Nonetheless, Europeans seem more keen on wearing personalized and fashionable masks, so I hope personalized masks encourage the adoption of this new habit.

How will the coronavirus impact the hospitality and retail industry globally?

Adrian Cheng: Tomorrow, the only certainty will be lingering uncertainty. No one knows if there will be COVID-21, 22 or anything. In our hotel business, hygiene will become a major driver of traveler satisfaction. People will also mitigate risk by favoring short trips over long distances, which will make tourism more localized or regional. Our research team is constantly monitoring new consumer trends, interviewing millennials and Generation Z through the K11 Chinese Millennials Taskforce (link to the report here). We are carrying out original and thematic research to decode Chinese millennials and the consumption model of Generation Z. For example, our task force has revealed a significant shortening of product life cycles in Asia: three years compared to nearly ten in the West. Young Chinese consumers are changing and reacting more quickly to new trends, which means that products and innovations must constantly adapt. Entrepreneurs in Asia should be aware that a product or concept can have a very short product cycle. It also explains my continued efforts to rejuvenate NWD.

In this situation, what is your vision for NWD and K 11?

Adrian Cheng: I am reinventing a 50 year old family business and creating a new business model for the company. As CEO of NWD, I oversee the strategy and operations of the group. The group includes New World China Lands, NWS Holdings, Chow Tai Fook Jewelry Group, a global leader with over $ 8 billion in revenue and 2,400 stores and owned by Rosewood Hotels and Resorts, managing the Hotel de Crillon in Paris and 40 other hotels.

I am also the founder of the K11 brand – which understands the project Victoria Dockside, a $ 2.6 billion flagship cultural district project that took 10 years to build. It combines art and business through shopping centers with K11 MUSEA, offices with K11 ATELIER, and housing with K11 ARTUS, and finally the first property of Rosewood Hotel in Hong Kong. Thanks to a series of business stimulus measures, since the start of the crisis, attendance at K11 MUSEA has increased by more than 50% and retail sales have more than doubled in May 2020 compared to February 2020. D ‘ By 2024, K11 will conduct 35 projects in 9 cities across Greater China. Regarding the name K11, it is a pure symbol with no particular meaning. It is this randomness that makes it significant in my opinion. I just wanted the name to be universal and understandable in all languages. Likewise, the constant integration of advanced technologies into our business is the key to our success.

How do you integrate art, innovation and business? And how do Asians perceive culture differently from Europeans?

Adrian CHENG: At K11, we combine art with retail experiences as well as innovations like AI and virtual reality to enhance the customer experience. A perfect example was Monet’s very first exhibition in mainland China, Master of Impressionism – Claude Monet, at the Shanghai K11 Art Mall. We borrowed masterpieces from the Marmottan Museum in Paris and used staging technologies to create an immersive experience, resulting in a 30% increase in sales. Digitization is also essential to the consumer’s journey. We have partnered with Chinese giant Tencent to allow Millennials and Gen Z, those born between the 1980s and 2000s, to test all of our products through avatars. This consumer segment represents 566 million people, more than the entire population of the European Union. The integration of art, innovation and business helps to optimize their shopping experience.

The French have lived surrounded by museums and culture since their birth. In China, the culture of conservation is a recent phenomenon. I kind of educate the Asian audience to appreciate art more. To this end, K11 has partnered with Le Cordon Bleu cooking school and has a Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry school, the second of its kind in the world. Asians like efficiency and appreciate aesthetics differently while the French naturally devote more time to the fine arts.

The General Delegate of the Cannes Film Festival Thierry Frémaux, founder of the K11 Group Adrian Cheng and Cannes Family declare the first Cannes Film Festival week in Hong Kong open at the K11 Art House

How did you bring the Cannes Film Festival to Asia?

Adrian Cheng: I had the great pleasure of presenting the first Film Week of the Cannes Film Festival in Asia at K11 MUSEA. Our goal for K11 MUSEA is to build a ” Silicon Valley of Culture In Hong Kong. By working with Pierre Lescure, President of the Cannes Film Festival and Thierry Frémaux, General Delegate of the Cannes Film Festival, we have found an ideal partner with our shared vision of promoting film culture, incubating international talent and making films more accessible. world-class cultural content for Asian audiences. The first “Cannes Film Festival” Week in Asia debuted on November 12th. It was not the first time that I worked with a French institution. In Paris, we collaborated with the Palais de Tokyo for three years and we joined forces with the Center Pompidou to promote Chinese artists. Our main goal is to bring the work of the world’s greatest artists to Hong Kong with an unprecedented celebration of creativity, culture and cinema.

To conclude, who are your favorite artist, film and book?

Adrian Cheng: Two French artists spontaneously come to mind: Neïl Beloufa and Tatiana Found.

Regarding films, I choose In the Mood for Love by Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2000. I love the aesthetic of the film as well as the Yumeji-themed soundtrack. I even wrote a thesis on Wong Kar-wai’s films while studying at Harvard.

Finally, I am currently reading Originals: How Mavericks Move the World by Adam Grant. This book examines what successful Mavericks have in common. I like books that are practical and combine art and science so that I can apply them directly to my work.

The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.