One of the most successful businessmen from Hong Kong, William Je is CEO of Hamilton Investment Management, a global fund manager with multi-billion assets under management, and founder of global digital exchange Himalaya Exchange. He currently employs over 200 staff.
Now UK-based, Je was previously chairman of equity capital markets, Greater China at Macquarie Banking Group (MGQ.AX), a role he held for 10 years, as well as positions at China Merchant Securities Hong Kong (6099.HK), Credit Agricole Indosuez (ACA.PA) and NatWest Markets (NWG.L).
There are different stages and different learnings but I first learnt how to deal with doing business in China and its clients under Liping Zhang.
He was my boss in investment banking at Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein. I was there for four years and I was a director and head of business development, while Liping later joined Blackstone (BX) where he is now chairman, Greater China.
I was kind of a right hand man to him at Dresdner and I understood the importance of being humble, no matter how good you are.
I learned many different styles of management and leadership with Liping. Some bosses have been pushy or relaxed, while Liping would always give guidance rather than order and any decisions you were made to feel part of.
I found that very effective. When you buy into the idea, you will do it from your heart and this has been my management style today. None of my staff see me yelling, and I try to explain the reasons behind each of the decisions so that they buy in and try their level best to complete the mission.
If you are someone who isn’t approachable then people won’t try to persuade you. As a friendly leader, people always want to persuade you but Liping always held strong principles. I think this is quite rare in the business world.
Although I worked with him over 20 years ago, he is someone you remember for life.
As an investment banker and then fund manager, I have been careful over the years while I’ve taken great interest in cryptocurrency from the early days, while my younger brother is chairman of a blockchain association in Hong Kong.
Four years ago I started to look into the details behind crypto and we found something that will probably change the world's financial systems. We made investments and set up a crypto exchange (Himalaya Exchange) as well as blockchain payment apps. It is still in its infancy and there are still the ups and downs which are all very normal.
Like the FTX case, there will be more casualties coming but it’s good for the development of the whole industry. The market will consolidate, bad companies will disappear and stronger ones will form. I’m really confident in the sector.
This is in contrast to the current China economy. For it to develop, it has to go hand-in-hand with politics. At some point you need to liberalise the politics, but right now it’s getting more tech controlled.
I lived in Beijing for two years and visited over 200 cities in China and so I’ve been keeping in contact with all the top businessmen in China and there is rightly a concern. After all, what is the point of investing more money if the next day their assets will be investigated?
The whole political environment is getting tighter and will become more state controlled, with the government taking control of more private companies. They will set up a party committee in private and listed companies and effectively the control of the whole listed company is with the party, not the board. This is very alarming.
My company is being attacked by China because we support democracy. I have set up many advisory businesses, including a cyber security company. I’ve set up a fund to help Hong Kong people study in the UK and the exchanges are attractive to overseas Chinese. A lot of people have similar objectives, in as much as freedom and democracy, so this has upset a lot of people in China.
I’ve had to deal with 40 million DoS hacks in 30 minutes and my cyber security team says this is purely a state-sponsored attack. I’m lucky that none of them are successful. There are several incidents with people watching my activities, while two people recently asked for me with fake names. Luckily, I have a very good security team but it’s something I am very familiar with. The infiltration is serious but sad.
How do I stay positive amid these challenges? Well, I’m lucky in that I have means to protect myself and set up companies. Not everyone is in the same position, and that’s why I need to speak out through my resources. At the end of the day, if everyone stopped talking then the truth will not be revealed.
Winston Churchill said that ‘courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities’. There are many smart people, many more than me, but you may not be able to find someone with strong courage to do something. That’s my mission. It is a blessing for me so why not use it, as long as I’m still surviving.
I would hope that Liping sees me as someone who wants to do their best and is happy to see me progressing well. I know he's been happy for other people’s success and willing to help, which is a great characteristic. It’s not always like that in business.
William Je set up the charity Hong Kong People Association which was founded to provide help and guidance for newcomers to the UK.