Rising Son

Jonathan Zeman, cheif executive of Lan Kwai Fong Group, is happy to let his father steal the limelight



Halloween in Hong Kong would not be complete without Allan Zeman’s cosplay. And this year, the “Godfather of Lan Kwai Fong” has a new partner in crime: his son Jonathan.

Low-profile Jonathan Zeman, 40, is chief executive of Lan Kwai Fong Group, the entertainment, hospitality and property development conglomerate founded by Allan after the latter quit the garment industry. Allan remains its chairman.

Last month, Jonathan launched the group’s first mobile game, called LKF Monster Mash, produced by a new business unit – a virtual reality and mobile gaming start-up. The ghost-hunting app has a geo-location feature that players use to capture ghouls, witches and zombies in Lan Kwai Fong. Players can also add stickers to their selfies.

Although Jonathan has been involved in running the family empire for almost two decades, it’s hard for people to immediately associate him as Allan’s son as he resembles his fashion model mother Charmaine.

“My father has brown eyes. I have green eyes. We have similar hair color, similar height, but he is skinnier than me. He exercises a lot so he manages to keep trim. And so far, I have more hair than my father, but in a few years, it will be the same,” joked Jonathan.

A sense of humor is perhaps one recognizable trait that Jonathan has inherited from his father. Another is their taste in clothes. Father and son favor a simple and clean style. They don’t like to wear ties.

Personality-wise, they are polar opposites.

“We are very different but an apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” he said. “My father is very energetic, very outgoing. He wants to get things done very quickly. I am much more reserved, much more quiet. But I also want to get things done very quickly, and get things done right. That’s basically my character.”

Jonathan joined the family business as a management trainee in 1998 after university. He majored in East Asian studies at the University of California in Los Angeles and had thought of becoming an architect or a film producer.

“It was the Asian economic crisis, which had a severe impact on Hong Kong. There were no jobs out there, and it was not the time to start a business,” he recalls.

So he agreed to work at one of his father’s restaurants, Baci Italian Restaurant. A month later, he walked into his father’s office and offered to quit.

“I was working around 80 hours a week. It was a great experience, but it was also one of the most tiring in my life,” he recalled. He had to deal with patrons who would name-drop, claiming they knew Allan Zeman to get seated right away on a busy night. “That put me in a difficult situation.”

As it turned out, the elder Zeman was the better salesman that day. He convinced his son to stick it out. The rest is history.

Over the years, Jonathan has made his mark on the company, from setting up the first e-mail server, to managing the operations of 17 restaurants at one time, opening a second Lan Kwai Fong in Chengdu, and setting up the Andara Resort and Villas in Phuket.

However, the renovation of California Tower, which reopened last year, cemented his position as curator of the group’s future. He had to win his old man over on modernizing the entire building.

Allan Zeman opened his first restaurant, California Bar & Grill, in 1983 on the ground floor of that building, where Ciao Chow, an Italian cafeteria, is situated today. He had a strong emotional attachment to the building, making him reluctant to see any changes.

The younger Zeman said his focus now is to add more businesses within the Lan Kwai Fong Group such as online media platform LKFtv, which will produce content about culture, fashion, food, music and lifestyle for the millennials. The platform will be accessible on social media, mobile app and the group’s website. Jonathan wants to expand its reach to include internet-delivered TV channels.

As for the group’s property arm, two major projects in the mainland are due to be completed in 2018.

First, a third Lan Kwai Fong will open in Wuxi’s central business district in southern Jiangsu province. The 170,000-square-meter plot will have shops, as well as bars, clubs and restaurants modeled after the ones in Hong Kong.

Second, the Lan Kwai Fong Group has partnered with DreamWorks Animation, China Development Bank and mainland mogul Li Ruigang’s China Media Capital to turn an old cement factory in Shanghai into a mega office, shopping and entertainment complex named Shanghai DreamCenter.

The article first appeared in the Standard on October 28, 2016.

Brexit Fears Loom Large

Universities and international students caught in the political crossfire of British divorce from the EU

File photograph shows an employee walking over a mosaic depicting pound sterling symbols on the floor of the front hall of the Bank of England in LondBritain’s decision to leave the European Union, commonly known as “Brexit,” has made many current and prospective international students feel concerned about graduating from a British university with potentially worse-off prospects.

In a televised interview last week, Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May said she would trigger Article 50, a clause of the Lisbon treaty that must be invoked to start the Brexit negotiation process, by the end of next March. With a two-year negotiation period, the move signifies that Britain is likely to leave the European Union by 2019.

There are great uncertainties surrounding the topics that will be discussed at the negotiating table, and how those outcomes will affect the governing policies of British universities and the quality of higher education.

For example, postgraduate students particularly may bear the brunt of reduced university funding if the European Union no longer sponsors some of the inter-varsity research and exchange projects under the Horizon 2020 agreement. British universities might raise tuition fees for international students. Academic and administrative staff from Europe might face a tighter visa regime if there is a halt of the free movement of EU citizens in the country.

Valerie Amos, director of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London said the immediate negotiation outcomes of Brexit will not affect students from Hong Kong, although she admitted the longer-term impact will take time to manifest itself.

“[Non-EU] international students are completely separated from the debate around Brexit because…what universities are going to charge for their courses is not in any way determined by Brexit,” Amos said during a visit to Hong Kong for a SOAS centennial event.

“The issue is what happens to European students. If the government makes a decision that they will no longer count as the same as home students, then it’s the fee for EU students that will rise, it’s not that the fees for [non-EU] international students will rise to make up for EU students.”

According to SOAS, 16 percent of its student body are European Union citizens. There are slightly more at postgraduate and doctoral degree level than at undergraduate degree level. In terms of staff numbers, 200 of the total 1,247 come from the EU.

Amos is among a group of worried university leaders who have found themselves making a guarantee publicly to allay the fear of a substantial increase in tuition fees in the coming three to four years.

Earlier this year, Simon Gaskell, president of Queen Mary University of London, told current undergraduate students from EU nations that their tuition would remain at £9,000 (HK$86,684) regardless of the decision of the June 23 vote on Britain’s membership in the bloc.

With their promises, international students view cheaper tuition due to a weaker pound as an attractive short-term benefit. However, in the longer run, many are troubled by issues amplified by the referendum, such as xenophobia and tighter immigration controls.

They also cited poorer post-study work options as a legitimate concern. Richard Portes, economics professor at London Business School, said a fall in investment and the exchange rate are both highly likely once Article 50 is triggered. “The result will be a massive negative shock to the British economy,” he added.

A pre-Brexit poll by Hobsons, a student recruitment and retention solutions company, found that 34 percent of 875 students who were not already registered at a British university said they were less likely to do so in the future because of Brexit. Of those who would find a British education least attractive in the event of Brexit, 82 percent of the respondents were from the EU.

According to the quasi-government body Higher Education Statistics Agency, of the 2.3 million students who attended universities in Britain across all levels in the 2014-15 school year, 107,875, or about 4.7 percent, came from non-EU countries. In that year, the numbers of mainland and Hong Kong students studying in Britain were 89,540 and 16,215 respectively.

Another survey done by research firm International Graduate Insight Group in 2015 found that of the 80,000 Chinese students currently studying in Britain, some 91 percent said they would choose to study in America, if not Britain.

Hobsons estimated 20,178 Chinese students, 4,811 Indian students and 4,592 American students could be averse to coming to study in the UK.

“These figures merely present the extrapolation of attitudinal survey data to indicative changes in total international student numbers,” Hobsons said in a report. “Nevertheless, the results of this survey demonstrate what scale the impact of the EU referendum could be felt on.”

While Amos dismissed a brewing xenophobic public sentiment as “a wrong representation of a nation and its people in this very narrow and insular way,” she said British universities are aware of the competition for student recruitment in the higher education market.

“We have made our concerns clear to government in relation to the advantages of having students who have done research being able to stay on and make a contribution to the United Kingdom. So these are concerns that we have raised, and will continue to raise.”

The article first appeared in the Standard on October 11, 2016.