Flamboyant businessman John Hung created ripples when he decided to quit Hong Kong and go fishing in New Zealand.

Now, the 63-year-old former managing director of Wheelock is creating a few more ripples - by playing a leading role with Telecom Plus.

After just more than a month in self-imposed retirement in New Zealand and England, the doyen of the corporate world is back and ready to go.

Hung could only handle so much fishing, rugby watching and wine drinking in New Zealand, and his thoughts of retiring to London disappeared when he experienced the bone-chilling English winter.

Hung returned to Hong Kong and quickly realised one thing.

``You can't retire in Hong Kong. You have to work, the whole place is about work. It is not about money, money is part of it, but it is about work, because if you live in Hong Kong where everybody works and you don't, you fall out of circulation very fast and you'll lose all your friends,'' Hung told the Hong Kong iMail.

``So my wife and I accepted that I probably would have to do work of some sort, the difference is now I refuse to do anything that I don't enjoy.''

That enjoyment now comes from working his magic with Telecom Plus Holdings.

Before he made the decision to join the company he had plenty of options, including the tranquillity of New Zealand. But when he met Telecom Plus chairman Zou Yishang out of the blue, thoughts of landing Kiwi trout in crystal clear waters were forgotten - he was moving back into the fast lane.

``The first thing that appealed to me was that the man knew what he was doing.

``He's smart and has a tremendous deal-making ability,'' Hung said of his new boss.

Zou started the transformation of the Chung Tai Group to Telecom Plus Holdings in January 2000.

He personally led the corporate restructuring and financial re-engineering to turn a company in distress with about HK$500 million in net liabilities around. It made a profit of about HK$10 million for the six months to the end of September.

The advisory contract ends late next month, but Hung is likely to stay on beyond that as he sees good prospects with the company.

``I feel very much part of this company and I have a role to play,'' he said.

After 35 years with Wheelock, Hung now leads the corporate office of Telecom Plus and manages investor relations.

``If I decide to stay on, my role will not be just an adviser. I will probably run the Hong Kong office, leaving more time for Zou to build up the China business,'' he said.

What Hung made clear was that he now had the luxury of only working in a post that he enjoyed, and he would continue to do it as long as he did enjoy it.

He rejected many positions before joining Zou.

``I could have taken up a number of pretty high positions in Hong Kong, working as a senior director or senior adviser in a variety of big companies,'' he said. But he could afford to be selective.

``I wanted to be fairly independent. I would rather do a number of things that interest me than just one, and put my heart and soul into them.''

After working so long in a frenzied corporate environment, Hung now concedes he just can't sit around for too long doing nothing.

``I love New Zealand. It is a beautiful place. I love my home there. I wish I could spend more time there, but having tried that I just can't go fishing all day, drinking wine, watching horse racing, watching rugby and all that.

``Sometimes you need to have something more to maintain your attention. Living there I found it difficult as I didn't have something to keep me busy all the time. I got bored quickly.''

He hadn't been long in New Zealand before he was back working on deals.

``I established some connections and maybe in a few years I will end up having enough work there, enough friends and an established network.''

In the SAR these essentials are already taken care of.

``In Hong Kong there is nobody that I can't get to,'' he said. ``My strength is networking and connections. I have got friends here all over.''

During his two-week stint in New Zealand he worked on the idea of becoming a consultant for Kiwi companies trying to find a way into the mainland market through Hong Kong.

`I'm sure I left them with certain ideas. In time, anyone I met who wants to come to Hong Kong and access China will have me on file,'' he said.

``But it's not that straightforward for New Zealanders. They probably have to go though a board to make a policy decision and only then they might do it, so during the two weeks I was there I also took time to enjoy myself.''

Hung also stayed for two weeks in London, but this time the bone-chilling weather prompted his return.

If Hung did not realise it before, his return to Hong Kong made it very obvious - he had contacts that others could only dream of.

``They all want my network,'' he said. ``I thought I was a man of many parts, but then when you retire you go out and you start to see how people react to you and then you realise that is not necessarily how you look at yourself.''

Of course, if the networking eventually becomes tedious he can always go back to working a landing net for Kiwi trout.

``Most people considered me a pretty well-rounded person, and there are views they all had in common. They valued my network, my bilingualism and my personality more than anything else,'' he said. ``That's how they see my value - the fact that I can write very well and have a brain doesn't seem so important. Of course, these are things that people might take for granted, but I thought I was a good administrator. There are many things that I'm reasonably good at, but it is clear that a lot of people appreciate only my network and my family background.''   - 2002 May 10     


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