Why I’m Optimistic For Hong Kong Business In The Year Of The Ox
On December 31st, as covid-muted celebrations counted down to the start of 2021, an undeniable sense of relief washed over the globe. The New Year was supposed to be better; it HAD to be better. Because, let’s face it, it couldn’t possibly be any worse, could it? But, for many of us, the last six weeks haven’t felt any different to 2020. There has been a frustrating déjà vu that has left us with a sense of acceptance that, for now at least, things just are the way they are. But, argues Banyan Workspace founder and entrepreneur Rasheed Shroff, there are reasons for optimism for business in our home, Hong Kong.
According to the Chinese Zodiac, the Year of the Ox (12th Feb 2021 – 31st Jan 2022) is going to be a lucky one. As an Ox myself, born in 1973, I am naturally optimistic about “my” year, and I’m hopeful that the change-of-year fortune that so many were anticipating across social media feeds and messaging apps on 1st January were just a little premature and that it was the end of the Year of the plagued Rat that we should all have been counting down to! Or perhaps I’m just a victim of the same blind optimism I saw on 1st January, looking for any sign I can latch on to that suggests our luck is about to change.
I have always considered myself an optimist, especially as far as Hong Kong business is concerned. I realise that saying this, especially after the hammering that Hong Kong has taken in recent times, will inevitably invite accusations of blinkered privilege and I’m acutely aware of the pain and hardship experienced by so many individuals and industries last year, particularly hospitality, tourism and entertainment. Nevertheless, for many businesses, I feel that there are reasons to be positive and confident about the future. So after some careful consideration, I’d like to share a few thoughts on what leaves me feeling positive about the prospects for business in Hong Kong in the Year of the Ox and beyond.
Firstly, we are heading into the Lunar New Year with a new baseline. In business as in life, we are hardwired to strive for improvement and a feeling that things are moving in the right direction. The key performance indicator companies tend to default to is whether performance this year is better than last year. If a year-on-year comparison of our business looks healthy, then we have positive momentum and all is generally considered good. The same is true in how we generally feel about life. For many of us, there is a feeling that we hit rock bottom in the Year of the Rat, and that maybe we’ve turned the corner and that there are things we can look forward to again in the Year of the Ox and beyond.
I have always believed in the power of positive thinking and both anecdotally and through my own business, I see and feel that many company decision-makers are no longer in retreat, retrench or pause mode. That was last year! Now it feels like businesses are again looking at making plans and taking positive decisions that move them forward rather than merely focusing on survival. There seems to have been a shift in the collective mindset for many businesses and they are once again cautiously putting one foot in front of the other and that has to be a good thing.
I know that generalizations like these can feel dismissive of the scale of problems facing many industries. I also know several outstanding professionals with decades of experience in this city and working across the Asia-Pacific region who very recently lost good ‘stable’ jobs and these individuals now face a wholly uncertain outlook. Yet even within this struggling group, when I meet them, I sense that they feel that just maybe this is an opportunity, a chance to reinvent themselves and to chart a different future. As someone who began my entrepreneurial journey relatively recently, albeit in better times, I find it refreshing and encouraging that many of them are looking to start their own business or at least refocus their energies on where they have a personal passion rather than on the next job offer that comes along.
The resilience, grit and determination displayed by these incredibly talented people, unfortunate victims of the prevailing circumstances, should give all of us encouragement and hope. They are the traits and characteristics that I have always associated with Hong Kong professionals, and they are more visible in the difficulties of today than ever. What is even more encouraging is that I am seeing an obvious and genuine desire in former colleagues, friends and associates of these individuals to help and encourage those in need of support as they go through this difficult period of transition and as they look to pivot their careers and find new opportunities. This very human reaction to seeing adversity among our peers also gives me great cause for optimism about the future.
At Banyan Workspace, the sustainable coworking and event space my wife and I founded in 2019, we have witnessed firsthand this desire of businesses to grow and to help support other businesses. We are home to several members who are in the early stages of their entrepreneurial journey, and we consider ourselves fortunate to be able to do what we can to help. What’s really interesting about this is that this positivity and enthusiasm seems to be infectious; it very obviously spreads from one member or business to another and actually becomes the oxygen we all breathe within our workspace. Many of these individuals and businesses are planning to grow their teams in the Year of the Ox and we can see how this seems to rub off on other members within our space. This, coupled with an increase in enquiries from potential new members looking for private offices and dedicated desks, also suggests businesses are making plans and putting one foot in front of the other and that gives all of us further cause for optimism.
For so many fellow Hong Kongers there is a sense of fear, frustration and resignation about recent events and our prevailing situation. While I won’t go into that in any detail here, as someone born and raised here, in what I have always considered the best city in the world, I feel this acutely. Suffice to say, we had hoped and expected so much more from our leaders and for our home and never thought we would be where we find ourselves today. Despite this, I still believe Hong Kong to be one of the most entrepreneurial and business friendly cities in the world. We have some of the lowest taxes on the planet, some of the best communication and transportation links anywhere, a highly skilled workforce with a work ethic like no other (and with that grit, determination and professionalism mentioned above), a business set-up process that must rank as one of the easiest in the world, and the fastest growing economies on the planet sitting right on our doorstep.
While some of our previous freedoms and rights have become front page news the world over and are now undeniably more complicated, nuanced and challenged, from a purely business perspective Hong Kong remains one of the best places in the world to run your business from and I do not see that changing in the near term. In fact, I believe companies will endeavour to leverage the advantages Hong Kong offers as they look to grow their business in Asia, in China and for many specifically within the Greater Bay Area (GBA) that we are an integral part of. For context, the GBA is home to 70 million people, a number that would make it the twentieth most-populated country, with more people than Thailand, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, South Korea, Spain or Argentina… and it’s growing precisely because of the optimism many have for what it has to offer!
Finally, my optimism is fed and stoked by my “tribe”. This includes my ever-supportive family, my fabulous colleagues at Banyan Workspace and Dragonfly Asia-Pacific, our amazing business partners and community of supporters, my fellow entrepreneurs with shared passions and mindsets, an always encouraging network of friends and former colleagues and the local business and NGO groups that I am so honoured to be a part of. We all have our tribe(s), those amazing people who are often closest to us in both our professional and personal lives, that create the oxygen that helps fuel optimism. I believe it is optimism’s infectious nature, the way it drives our approach to business and to life, the way it helps create new opportunities, that makes it the key to moving forward in challenging times and I believe the flames of optimism are beginning to burn more brightly. It is what gives me the hope and confidence that the Year of the Ox will indeed be the turning point for the future of business in our fabulous city.