Global Group Focus
If variety is the spice of life, then Johnny Hon’s spice rack is overflowing. The Hong Kong international investor, philanthropist and founder of the Global Group, with interests ranging from augmented reality to musicals like Sunset Boulevard, has worked around the world, including stints in the Middle East, the UK and Eastern Europe.
With such a multifaceted and multidimensional lifestyle, it’s hard to believe he once considered a career in the more strictly defined field of medical research. But after obtaining a doctorate in psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, this seemed like the natural path to take. Instead, he went into business.
“I prefer to learn different things,” says Hon. “Moreover, the sector had become commercialised, with much of the medical community’s research based on pharmaceutical investments.”
Hon was convinced that he could do more good by expanding his horizons. Today, he invests in diverse business ventures that span the globe, with a healthy portion of the profits donated to a variety of worthy causes.
“My philosophy was that by getting into business, I could make more money and help more people, so philanthropy is an important part of this process,” says Hon. “We’ve donated to more than 160 charities worldwide and half of the money we’ve made goes towards helping charities in developing countries.”
When it comes to managing such diversified global interests, Hon’s background and training in psychiatry play a key role. “I always remember that there is no more complex thing on earth than the human brain and the human personality,” he says. “Managing human capital is much harder than managing financial capital. That’s the biggest challenge; master it and you are on the road to greatness.”
While there is certainly no single road to success, Hon believes there are some distinct, guiding blueprints to getting there: never stop learning, lead by example, inspire people and, not least, work harder than everyone else.
Hon works especially hard at understanding human motivations. When it comes to investing in startups, the person, he has learned, is always more important than the business plan.
“Of course, you want to see the plan to make sure that they have given it some thought, but it’s mainly about the person behind the plan,” he says. “You really need to look at the entrepreneur, their ambitions and their personality.”
While understanding the entrepreneurial mindset is a key first step, it is only the beginning of the journey. Early-stage businesses, Hon stresses, need to be nurtured with care, not overwhelmed with an excess of funding. “It’s like flooding a plant with water,” he says. “If they have too much money, they tend to have a lot of offers, a lot of staff and they believe in their product too much.”
Instead of a fire hose approach to funding, Hon provides a drip feed, which, he says, encourages entrepreneurs to better adapt their products to the market.
Hon practices what he preaches. Since its founding in 1997, he’s built Global Group into an international venture capital and angel investment company with a worldwide network of offices and a team of multilingual employees with interests ranging over banking, biotechnology, education, entertainment and leisure, financial services, financial technology, gaming, media, mining, oil and gas, property development and sport.
So would the Johnny Hon of today have invested in his younger self? “Johnny Hon of 2018 would definitely invest in Johnny Hon of 1997,” he says. “He understood well the positioning of his company, which back then was mainly helping Westerners invest in China.”
Indeed, Hon wishes there were more people in Hong Kong who shared his vision and ambition. Despite its reputation as an entrepreneurial city, he says that it is difficult to find good local startups. With property prices rising so sharply during the past two decades, the people who have done well are those who have simply parked their money in real estate rather than expanding their businesses or looking
for new opportunities.
“That environment kills off a lot of entrepreneurs,” he says. But it hasn’t stopped Hon. By following his passions, he has forged a unique road to success.
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