Jack Yeung - Lessons from my Father
Jack’s father taught him that running the family business meant considering his employees and community before the bottom line. Now he’s putting those lessons to work as one of Hong Kong’s pioneering sustainable investors.
When Jack Yeung took over the management of his family’s die and mold company he learned to do business his father’s way. The business grew beyond his father’s wildest dreams, but the real goal was to grow people and communities and leave a positive legacy.
“My father was not only concerned about financial reward. That of course was part of the business, but he was also passionate about grooming people, helping them grow to become experts in their area to run businesses and build stronger relationships within their families,” Jack said. “I want to bring some of those same values to my investing.”
Jack, 44, grew up in Hong Kong before going to Canada at age 15 to complete his education. He studied environmental engineering and returned to Asia to work for Electroplating Production Line Design and Manufacturing Co. One of the water recycling systems he designed and built was named one of the top 100 designs in environmental protection in China at the time.
He was adding some management experience to his resume when, at the age of 28, he received a call from his father. Wilfred Yeung was gravely ill and asked Jack to come work at Ace Mold Co Ltd, the family owned manufacturer of molds and dies for injection molding.
“He was worried that he might not make it and he felt a responsibility to the 400 employees and their families to ensure the company’s continued success regardless of what happened to him.”
Jack agreed to join the family business and in 2003 he took over its management and grew it at 20% a year for the next 15 years. Jack’s father survived his illness and is now happily retired, running a table tennis club — a sport that Jack himself was Hong Kong junior champion in as a youth.
Learning to Invest
The family sold the company in 2014, generating a windfall of wealth that needed to be invested.
“We were not very active investors before that because we always invested our money back into the business, so we didn’t know that much about investing.”
Jack began investing in start-ups and various funds for private investors, but after a few investment cycles he became disillusioned. His Christian faith made him feel like he had a mission to generate positive impact from the skill and financial capability he was given.
“It was rewarding from a financial standpoint, but not rewarding for my heart. Something was missing, there was a hole that I wanted to fill. I wanted to invest in things that are actually impactful, things where we can have a good financial return while helping society and the environment.”
Jack also credits the book Halftime by Bob Buford for making him reconsider his career and life achievements as he enters middle age.
“I haven’t really found my discipline in doing this yet. When there’s a need I am often not very disciplined, and I put a lot of money towards philanthropy rather than sustainable investments. But if I give to philanthropy, then I have to say no to others. If I can invest in an impactful way, then I’ll get my money back with profit, so I can invest that again and do a lot more.”
Jack estimates that about one-third of his portfolio is now invested sustainably — a high figure by Hong Kong private investor standards. The exact figure depends on how he defines sustainable.
“I’m investing in a building that will bring impact investors together under one roof, as a mentorship and also seed funding framework. That’s a kind of a sustainable property investment, but it depends on how you measure it.”
Searching for Investment Opportunities
One of the challenges is finding suitable sustainable investment opportunities. One of his hopes is that SFi will help him and other investors identify more investment opportunities through the SFi Investor Circle.
“When I talk to my banker, they have a hard time to understanding why I want to do this, and they can’t find deals for me. This is a common experience for sustainable investors here in Hong Kong. There is a swing from charity work to social enterprise in Hong Kong, but this is very recent. That makes us pioneers.”
Most of Jack’s investments are as a limited partner in various venture capital funds that share his investment goals. He was also a direct investor in Dialogue in the Dark, and experiential exhibition that allows the sighted to experience the world the way the visually impaired do.
“I look at the financial reward, and ask is that sustainable and also good for society and the employees. But it has to be able to run as a business, or you’re dealing with philanthropy.”
Since Jack has had trouble finding the types of investment opportunities he seeks he has decided to become an entrepreneur himself by opening a Shenzhen based franchise of Impact Hub, an impact startup incubator. He’s eager to return to business and apply some of the lessons he has learned as a sustainable investor.
Jack remained on the executive team of the family business for several years after they sold it, but he has now stepped down non-executive chairman to spend more time on his sustainable investments and roles on various organisations and committees. He is the chairman of both the Innovation and Technology Venture Fund Advisory Committee and the Hong Kong Startup Council and is an active leader in many other organisations including the Young Presidents' Organization, Ashoka, Christian Action and Social Ventures Hong Kong.
Those commitments take up considerable time and energy, but Jack’s focus is still on how to use his family’s wealth to leave a lasting legacy for his three daughters.
“How much money we leave behind doesn’t mean much. It’s more what we do as human beings, what we did with our wealth to grow as people, and the impact we’ve had on society,” he says.
“My father was more about helping and empowering people, and doing charity. I want to be more sustainable and have a positive impact with my investing so that my kids can learn that from me.”