After steering TVB during the golden age of Hong Kong television and presiding over the Hong Kong Economic Journal (EJ) for nine years during which he created a bilingual financial news media, Robert Chan Hing-cheong is looking forward to a little more time for himself.
Then it’s off to another venture (more on that later).
Chan split most of his career between two of Hong Kong’s most prestigious media organizations.
In his final year with EJ, he oversaw the relaunch of EJ Insight, the group’s English news service, into a lively, fast-paced news website from its business-focused iteration.
Chan has a soft spot for the English team, a minority in the 42-year-old financial publication.
Two weeks ago, he hosted a dinner for a dozen EJ Insight journalists at the Foreign Correspondents Club.
Chan looked relaxed and sprightly as he recounted his long career and revealed his post-retirement plans — visit certain places, indulge his love of music, read books, breathe some fresh air, etc.
When Chan joined EJ in September 2006, one of his early tasks was to build an international business portal for overseas investors looking for insights on China.
The project, named Cai Business Indepth, came on stream in 2009. It was a joint venture between EJ owner Richard Li Tzar-kai and Caijing editor-in-chief Hu Shuli.
EJ Insight was launched in the same year as a content provider to the project.
The project was a good try but it did not succeed.
As with other joint ventures, cultural differences were an issue. Hu quit Caijing and founded Caixin Media, an influential financial publication.
EJ Insight went on to provide China-focused articles under its own banner leading up last year’s relaunch.
That was a small chapter in Chan’s colorful career which began in the late 1960s when he was a management trainee at a 4A advertising firm in New York’s Madison Ave.
In 1969, he joined TVB as a salesman before he was promoted to sales manager in 1973 and general manager in 1980, assisting the venerable Sir Run Run Shaw who passed away last year.
The following decade was considered the golden age of Hong Kong television when TVB dramas became classics, top TV actors became superstars and corporate rival ATV became formidable.
Those were also profitable years with bonuses aplenty.
Recalling this period, Chan revealed his management philosophy. “I drive people really hard… I often give them a break and then I drive them again.”
At TVB, he was the “person to blame” but he took the moniker in stride because that was part of how things could get done.
It was a time when everything seemed endless. His working hours ran from 9 a.m. till 3 a.m., during which he conducted business inside and outside the office, managing to squeeze in up to three parties in one night.
On this particular night with us, I realized why he is none the worse for wear — it’s not all business.
Chan has varied interests, each of which he tremendously enjoys – hiking, golf, diving and collectibles such as guitars, pipas (a Chinese string instrument), watches and Chinese antiques.
At a young age, he learned kung-fu which would lead to a chance meeting with Bruce Li in a sauna.
An avid student of history, Chan enjoys reading books on Chinese leadership (one of his favorites is a book about Deng Xiaoping).
Song Hongbing’s Currency Wars series has pride of place in his library.
He said he always wanted to know how Madam Soong May-ling, the first lady of the Republic of China, compromised to save her husband Chiang Kai-shek.
Still, history is only his second love.
His first love is animation. In 1987, he was the brains behind a widely watched animated program on Chinese idioms.
His production team created two characters, Dr. Panda and his robot student YY, inspired by Chan himself.
Chan would like to rekindle his first love and pursue his dream of building an animation team in Hong Kong.
We wish him all the best.
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