Steaming Ahead

Miele division managing director shares how he hawks luxury to the masses

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When Kenny Lam Cho-kan asked a friend whether he should accept a sales job at Miele, the answer was a resounding no. His friend had a point. The German white-goods maker, whose local office was established two decades ago, was a big fish in a small pond.

Lam, managing director of Miele Hong Kong and Macau, joined in 1999, a year after the local unit was set up. The aftermath of the Asian financial crisis could then still be felt. With everyone tightening their purse strings, selling high-ticket home appliances that few could afford was a struggle.

In those days, a washing machine from Miele could easily fetch five-digits. It may sound reasonable, given a notebook computer costs around the same, but it was rare for people to pay so much for electrical goods.

“People could not make sense of our prices. Remember, it was the time when iPhones didn’t exist. The It phone was a Nokia 8800,” Lam joked.

“And what’s called a kitchen was a counter top with a gas stove. It made no big difference whether you lived in Tregunter Towers at Mid-Levels or in public housing.”

Lam was tasked with selling dishwashers, washing machines and vacuum cleaners to retail shops. Vacuum cleaners sold best as they were a lot cheaper.

“A retailer told me that his shops would not carry our brand even if we supplied products for free,” Lam recalled. “Now it’s not uncommon to see households spending tens of thousands of dollars to install nice built-in branded cabinets and appliances in the kitchen.”

In two decades, Miele has added more than 100 retail locations in Hong Kong and Macau, and grown annual sales by nearly 50-fold.

The local unit is marking its anniversary by unveiling a two-story flagship store and experience center in Causeway Bay next week.

“The store will be our only flagship in Hong Kong and Macau. It is our biggest investment of the year,” Lam said. “We have also worked with two non-profit organizations to release a book about preserving Cantonese cuisine to deepen community connection.”

These days, property agents share a private joke: new housing projects equipped with Miele appliances can command a higher premium.

And when property developers organize show flat tours, as evidenced by the four recent residential sites in Ho Man Tin and Kai Tak, they do not shy away from highlighting the German label in their sales pitch.

“The wholesale market has grown quite substantially over the past 10 years. Residence Bel-air in Cyberport was the first large-scale, top-end project — not at The Peak, or in Clearwater Bay and Kowloon Tong — to equip their kitchens with our appliances,” Lam said.

“The Austin in Jordan set a record for installing the most Miele appliances. The developer ordered around 13,000 items for two blocks, using our full range.”

“That record will be broken by a new residential project in Macau. I cannot tell you which one as it hasn’t gone on sale. The demand in Macau is growing at an even faster pace. Developers believe that branded appliances add value to their properties.”

Despite their higher price tag, built-in home appliances are not a luxury any more. More families choose to replace the wok and microwave with a steam oven. The item is a source of pride for Lam as he helped modernize and popularize the concept in Asia.

The first generation of steam ovens, the DG160, had a steel tray on which one could put only a morsel of food. It could not meet the needs of Cantonese families for cooking a whole fish or a plate of meat patty.

Lam pressured Miele headquarters to develop one with a larger cavity. The steam ovens sold today can cook rice and several dishes simultaneously, saving time and making sure the food is still hot when served.

Lam was also the first person to introduce free-standing steam ovens to local customers whose kitchens often are not big enough to hold a built-in one. Miele now offers the most varied range of steam ovens on the market.

Lam has now two goals: to find the perfect steamed fish recipe and to grow a team to look after an expanding market.

“The team started off with eight employees. A repairman, a marketing officer who has moved to a regional managing director role, and I are still with the company. We used to do everything ourselves. But as managers, we have to know when to delegate,” he said.

“We now have 120 office staff and 50 or so front-line sales representatives. The real challenge is how to make people in a large team feel they are progressing professionally.”

The article first appeared in the Standard on June 30, 2017.

Great Gamble

Macanese casino heiress explains why the smart money is on arts and culture

何超瓊專訪。名人

Pansy Ho Chiu-king might have inherited the mantle of her gambling tycoon father Stanley Ho Hung-sun, but don’t expect her to be content with running the baccarat tables. She has set her sights on greater things.

The junior Ho, 54, is turning the world’s most lucrative gambling mecca into an arts, culture and entertainment center. In recent years, she has spent much time ensuring that her plan will come to fruition.

“I asked my secretaries yesterday if they have spotted something missing on my itinerary,” she said about her daily schedule filled with back-to- back appointments. “They didn’t have a clue. It turned out no one has noticed my itinerary left no time for lunch.”

The introduction of art exhibitions at MGM Macau, a five-star hotel resort which Ho co-owns with American MGM Resorts International under MGM China Holdings, was a start. In December, she sponsored the first international film festival held in Macau.

Born into a family with 17 children, Ho is the most prominent heiress to her 95-year-old father’s business empire that stretches from gambling to aviation, banking, entertainment, real estate, shipping, and tourism.

While she is not involved in SJM Holdings, through which Stanley Ho operates more than half of Macau’s casinos, she sits on a number of political, economic and tourism committees in China and Macau.

And apart from being co-chair and executive director of MGM China Holdings, she is managing director of Shun Tak Holdings. She is also an independent non-executive director of Sing Tao News Corporation, which owns The Standard.

In a sense, promoting arts and cultural programs sits well with the Ho family’s business interests in Macau. But Hong Kong’s second richest woman, whose estimated net worth stands at US$4.3 billion (HK$33.54 billion), said her connection with the silver screen runs deeper than that.

“Actually, the MGM label has always been a supporter of the creative industry. It went back to [its hotels and casinos in] Las Vegas, and the legendary Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film studio in California, where many films were produced,” she said.

“MGM China has inherited this tradition and supported the shooting of Look For A Star, Finding Mr Right 2, and Skiptrace at the resort.”

Ho added that films are a good way to introduce the different faces of Macau to an international audience. And local production crews can gain valuable experience by working with overseas practitioners.

Before Macau’s first international film festival, MGM China has helped host a public seminar with award- winning female film director Xue Xiaolu. Ho believes the Macanese are not the only ones who stand to benefit from the road to economic diversification.

“We sponsored Macau’s first international film festival. It was a mega arts and entertainment event. It brought the world to Macau, and at the same time, Macau became more integrated with the world,” she said.

“MGM China will continue to support activities that will help develop Macau into a world-class tourism destination. We will also spare no effort in promoting the sustainable development of the local creative industry.”

Ho’s interest in the entertainment industry is partly personal.

Before becoming the career woman that she is today, she had a brief acting career, appearing in a music video of deceased Cantopop singer Danny Chan Pak-keung.

And she enjoys going to the cinema. “I find the experience relaxing,” she said. “Through films, you get to know the landscapes and cultures of different countries.

“The Asian cinema is more varied than it was in terms of subject matter and genre. A number of Asian films have successfully entered the international market. Some have even won awards.

“Many big-budget international productions have chosen to shoot or be set in Asia. It proves that Asian cinema is playing an important role worldwide.”

MGM China will host arts events again during Le French May. It will also open a second integrated resort, MGM Cotai, in the second half of the year.

The HK$24 billion resort, designed like a jewelry box, will provide approximately 1,400 hotel rooms and suites. An ultra-luxurious accommodation concept, conceived by MGM Resorts International in Las Vegas, will be introduced for the first time.

Another highlight is a theater equipped with the most advanced digital technologies, such as a 180-degree backdrop and LED walls capable of reproducing 4K content.

The article first appeared in the Standard on February 3, 2017.