From the moment that a business traveller lands at Hong Kong International Airport, perhaps on Cathay Pacific flight CX252 from Heathrow, she becomes — by history and by choice — a captive of two companies.
Her flight is operated by one, her bags handled by the other. She buys a Starbucks coffee for the train and 20 minutes later strolls across the pedestrian bridges, through a Hongkong Land mall and on towards the Mandarin Oriental hotel.
On the way, she grabs paracetamol from Mannings and a Coke from 7-Eleven. Later, she winces at the grating jingle for YUU reward points emanating from a branch of the Wellcome supermarket chain.
She drops her bags, leaves a shirt at the Vogue laundry and heads for a meeting in the One Island East skyscraper before rushing to lunch at Thai Basil in Pacific Place. She knows she’s running late because, as the cab rounds Victoria Park, she can hear the noonday gun which (wartime excepted) has been fired daily since the 1860s.
Our hypothetical business traveller is just halfway into her day and most minutes passed, footsteps taken, elevators ridden, calories consumed and Hong Kong dollars spent have been under the umbrella of two family-run empires: Jardine Matheson and the Swire Group. History, ambition and what was once thought of as the west’s capacity to master the east crackle around these two names.
The Jardines and Swire empires owe their success in China and broader Asia to backroom network-building and personal relationships. Now worth around $40bn and $13bn, respectively, Jardine Matheson and Swire Pacific employ hundreds of thousands in the region.
Both are founders of a Hong Kong economy that critics say concentrates too much commercial power in too few hands; both are still run by descendants of the founders; both are press-shy, conservative and, in the face of intensifying adversity, unswervingly confident. In keeping with their guarded engagement with the media, neither Swire nor Jardines provided comment for the FT’s article.
For two centuries, the businesses have been central to Hong Kong’s transformation from, as Prince Charles put it when the territory was handed over by the UK to China in 1997, “a small coastal settlement . . . into one of the greatest trading economies in the world”.
As the pair have morphed from traders of textiles and tea into property, transport, retail and industrial conglomerates, their transformations have helped to shape Hong Kong — as a city, as a hub and as an idea. Swire and Jardines, says a senior executive at one of their local…
Go to the news source: Why Hong Kong’s historic businesses face an uncertain future