Mr Electric: Michael Kwan talks about his family, work in electronics trading


Michael Kwan is the chairman and owner of electronics import-export company Vibrant Development Limited. He is also a former president of the Rotary Club of The Peak.

You spent a number of years studying in the US. What did you do there?
I first went to the US in the early ‘80s when I was still in high school. I went on to graduate from Peddie School, a private institution in Hightstown, New Jersey, in 1982. I then studied psychology at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, and after graduation I returned to Hong Kong to work. Texas was fun, but it wasn’t all that exciting because it was still quite old-fashioned in the ‘80s. I imagine it’s very different now, but I’ll find out for sure when I revisit this June.
Back in the early ‘80s, a lot of people my age, who studied abroad, returned to Hong Kong to work in banks or financial institutions. I was never interested in banking, but with psychology I realised I could take a completely different approach to business. I could get a feel for what people wanted, and learn how I could help fill those needs.

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Your first job was working as a front office clerk for a Mong Kok hotel. What was that like?
I had never worked in the service industry before, and when I returned to Hong Kong my father brought me to the opening of a hotel run by someone he knew. When he asked me if I wanted to work there, I was pretty enthusiastic about the offer, so I accepted and worked there for a year as a front office manager trainee. I made many friends, many of whom I still see today when I patronise various hotels. My second job was also as a hotel trainee. The chain had quite a few hotels in Hong Kong, so I trained in various departments and got a broader view of what the service industry is all about. It was a lot of fun and I learned a great deal about people too.
I always wanted to open my own boutique hotel, but I was never able to do that in Hong Kong because everything is so expensive. I thought of opening a cottage-style hotel in Canada, the US or England, but I realised it’s very impractical to do so while living in Hong Kong because you have to be completely hands-on when heading up a small venture like that.

  “I don’t have to work very hard, which my wife doesn’t like. She says she works harder than I do!”

Where else have you worked, and how did you end up founding your own company?
After cutting my teeth in hotel management, I changed track and got involved with Chinese trade. I worked in several provinces in China including Guangdong, and also in the Nanjing and Nanchang areas, where we invested in a couple of factories that built electronic components.
I was involved with three factories there, and then I took on another project that required me to move to Macau for two years. We produced copper anodes to be sold as electrical plating for PCB boards, which are installed in computers and other electronic products. I worked there for two years until the Macanese government took the land back and started developing casinos. So I returned to Hong Kong and started my own company, Vibrant Development Limited. I’ve been able to use the knowledge I gained from working in factories, but now I’m selling the basic components like resistors and capacitors rather than manufacturing them. Over the last several years I’ve also helped my family’s company with real estate rentals and renovation projects for our buildings. It’s great because I get to know all my tenants and see what they need and how we can improve upon what we do.

What’s a typical day for you?
My days are quite relaxed now because the business is on track and it’s essentially self-operating. In the morning I talk to my business associates and see if my tenants have any problems – a leaky faucet or busted water pipe, for instance. If there are no issues, I usually stay in the office for lunch and leave around 4 o’clock. Sometimes I’ll go and play golf or work out, and on other days I’ll pick up my son from basketball practice. I don’t have to work very hard, which my wife doesn’t like. She says she works harder than I do!

_MG_6398“We trust our children to decide for themselves what is best in life. All we really want is for them to enjoy themselves.”

You have two children, Chloe and Christian. Do you have any family traditions?
Every Chinese New Year we go skiing somewhere like Japan or Europe. Skiing is fun if you know what you are doing. But since I learned to ski at a slightly more advanced age, it didn’t come naturally to me, and it was harder to come to grips with the trepidation.

I do enjoy watching my family ski or snowboard though. It’s an incredible thing that I only get to see once a year. My wife, Vanessa, struggled to keep up with our son Christian last time because he’s practically a pro now, and he likes to go all the way to the top of the mountain. Vanessa usually stays with him for half the day, and for the other half we’ll take a walk or get a massage. Another reason to avoid the slopes is that I’m getting old, and I don’t want to fall. Falling is no fun.
One thing I do like about skiing is the fashion. Snowboarders wear all these stylish, saggy clothes. I can’t pull it off because I don’t have the physique to wear it with grace, but my son can wear it quite nicely. Even when they’re not skiing, people at the lodges wear such amazing clothes – Monclers, furs, chinchilla. It’s a great place for people watching, especially with such incredible scenery to take in too.


We’ve heard you also enjoy cooking. What’s your speciality?
I like to cook, but I can only make two or three dishes that I consider edible. I’m still learning. I do make an awesome roast chicken, according to my friends. I’m exploring other dishes, so maybe I’ll come up with something new in the near future. I was put in charge of Christmas Eve dinner at my mother’s, so I made roast beef and Yorkshire pudding with roast vegetables. It turned out okay. As far as I know, they are still alive!

What is your involvement with charities?

I am very involved with the Rotary Club of The Peak, which has unlimited resources to help NGOs. The club just donated a few hundred thousand Hong Kong dollars to a school for the physically and mentally impaired. It meant that they could purchase studio equipment like green screens so the students can film videos and conduct interviews.
In a separate programme, we’ve arranged for famous radio hosts to come in and teach special education students interview techniques. It really gets them thinking, and they are getting quite good at it.
I’m also involved in The Great Chefs of Hong Kong charity, which is hosted by the Heep Hong Society each year. We donate money and sell seats to Rotary members so they can invite their families to enjoy dishes prepared by over 40 chefs from Hong Kong hotels and restaurants. The proceeds from this are donated to children with special needs.
To a lesser extent, I’m involved with the Society for Abandoned Animals. My family already has a rabbit and a dog at home, so we can’t afford to take in any more pets, but we like to donate money in the hope that these animals will find permanent, loving homes.


What travel destinations are on your bucket list?
I’m definitely hoping to see the Northern Lights. I’ve seen pictures – they look amazing – and I’ve never been to a place where they are visible. Typically I tend to go to the same places over and over again. But if I were to venture into new terrain, I’d love to go on an African safari. Somewhere in South America would also be great, but my family is not too keen because they’re always worried about mosquitoes. And of course shopping is another big consideration when choosing a destination.

What is the most challenging thing you have done?
I’d have to say that raising a family is the most challenging because you have to accommodate other people with every choice you make. It’s not smooth sailing all the time, but we try to make compromises and live happily. One of the most difficult moments was saying goodbye to Chloe when she left home to study in the US. That was pretty tough for Vanessa and I at first, but then we had the chance to visit her soon after she left. We also managed to visit again with her brother, Christian, during his fall break. With our frequent visits, the first year was actually okay, especially now that she is settled in at school.
Many parents send their children to school in England at a very young age, but we do not believe in that. We trust our children to decide for themselves what is best. Chloe was accepted to a school in England and she decided that it wasn’t for her, so we didn’t push her. Christian got accepted to my old high school in the US but decided he didn’t like it, and I told him, “That’s fine. Stay.” Now he’s one of the top basketball players in his school. He’s also on the rugby team and involved in all sorts of extracurricular activities to keep him busy. He’s enjoying school, and that’s really all we want – for our children to enjoy themselves.

Thank you.

Written by Emily Petsko

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