If I were to tell you that Johnny Hon’s (or rather, Dr Hon’s) movie-like life achievements were due to his stellar education (Cambridge and Harvard, no less), you might, quite rightly, retort that academics don’t go on to become great businessmen – or at least not often.
You might speculate it was luck that tipped the balance in his favour, because being smart as well as educated is not necessarily or always enough.
As I listened to his matter of fact biographical narrative one early afternoon in London, I was struck by two things: his ability to read and interpret global geo-political and economy dynamics and his uncanny nous for identifying an opportunity and acting on it.
Hong Kong-born, Hon arrived in the UK in his early teens to complete his education. He read psychiatry at Cambridge and might have had a brilliant career as a medical doctor alone. Somewhere along the line, however, Hon switched horses and joined ABN AMRO Bank in Hong Kong. Two and a half years later, he was headhunted to spearhead the global expansion of another company, a job that took him to several continents and gave him an entree to the business and political elite in different countries.
We all understand that contacts are a valuable asset – in theory. Rather than deploying this asset on the market place, Hon reinvented himself as a soft diplomacy fixer, helping governments to establish discreet channels of communication or even diplomatic relations where none existed. One of his numerous diplomatic successes became the basis for establishing the visa program for Chinese investors in the Caribbeans. Today, major Chinese investors are his family office clients, fuelling mergers and acquisitions (with emphasis on the latter) on global scale, hence the name of his HK based vehicle, the Global Group.
Global is a venture capital group that invests in and structures complex and major deals, using its own capital and the leverage of two tiers of Chinese investors.
His Gate Ventures company funds major media, TV, film and stage productions, working with some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry.
Occasionally acting as executive producer (as well as angel investor), Hon has seen remarkable success with the China and Hong Kong box office hit “Protégé” and the George W. Bush biopic “W”, directed by Oliver Stone. Another project, “Una Noche”, won Best Director, Best Actor and Best Cinematography Awards at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Hon is a discreet but hugely effective philanthropist who has deployed his formidable resources to build political good will between his native country and the world at large. For this, he has been awarded the Medal of Honour (MH) from the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. He is also a Fellow and Diamond Benefactor of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award World Fellowship and a Founder Benefactor of Asia House.
Given the breadth of his diplomatic efforts, it would come as no surprise that Dr. Hon holds official positions with no fewer than four Governments. He is Ambassador-at-Large for Grenada.
Awards and conventional success aside, I was truly impressed by his worldly wisdom and constructive pragmatism. He could have allowed himself a degree of smugness and been forgiven for it – his rise is, after all, nothing short of astounding – but was neither self-congratulatory nor deprecating. As ever, those who matter don’t need to be either.