First published on The Straits Times on 18 November 2019
The real estate company's fascinating history shows why it has become one of Hong Kong's leading and most enduring corporations
The story of how Hongkong Land came to be one of Asia’s most familiar and trusted property investment, management and development groups is almost the stuff of legend. It is a tale of early visionaries, of land rising out of the sea, and of prophetic pronouncements.
Yet, many people are not aware of the Company’s remarkable history, which began 130 years ago in 1889. Since then, Hongkong Land has survived two World Wars, the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the dotcom bubble of the early 2000s, the 2008 global financial crisis and everything in between. Its presence today therefore reflects an exceptional resilience.
Today, Hongkong Land’s property interests stretch across Asia. Its portfolio includes over 450,000 sq. m. of prime property in Hong Kong Central, a further 165,000 sq. m. of prestigious office space in Singapore held via joint ventures, a luxury retail centre in Wangfujing, Beijing and a 50% interest in a leading office complex in Central Jakarta.
So it is entirely fitting that the Company’s tale of tenacity and business acumen — in some ways echoing the rugged Scottish landscape and the rough-and-tumble of Calcutta in British India, from which its co-founders hail — is told and celebrated more widely.
A TALE OF TWO MEN
Catchick Paul Chater, a Calcutta-born British-Indian businessman of Armenian descent, may have been orphaned at just seven years of age, but that early setback did not stop him in life.
As a teenager, he moved to Hong Kong, building a broking and bullion trading business. While still a young man, he famously surveyed Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour by dropping a maritime plumb line into its waters to measure its depth. On the back of this survey, he successfully convinced Hong Kong’s colonial government to reclaim the land at the waterfront in Central Hong Kong’s Victoria District.
To take advantage of the opportunity this presented, Sir Paul formed a real estate company, The Hongkong Land Investment and Agency Company Limited, together with Jardine Matheson & Company’s Scottish taipan, James Johnstone Keswick.
The Company, which was to become today’s Hongkong Land, purchased plots of reclaimed land and helped to build what is now Hong Kong’s thriving Central District. For his contribution to the city, Chater was given a knighthood in 1902 and became Sir Paul Chater.
According to Hongkong Land at 125 — published to mark the Company’s 125th year anniversary in 2014 — just three years after the founding of Hongkong Land, Mr Keswick was already envisaging its regional expansion, telling the Company’s directors that opportunities are “likely to present themselves both in Shanghai and Singapore”.
A LASTING LEGACY
Since its founding, Hongkong Land has developed iconic buildings in its “heartland” — Hong Kong’s Central District. Today, its 12 interconnected prime commercial buildings form the core of Hong Kong’s financial district, providing an integrated mix of Grade A office and luxury retail, restaurant and hotel space, with names including Alexandra House, Chater House, Exchange Square,Jardine House, Landmark Atrium, Prince’s Building, The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, The Forum, York House, Gloucester Tower and Edinburgh Tower.
In Singapore, One Raffles Link was Hongkong Land’s first commercial development, with its CityLink Mall connecting it to the City Hall MRT Station. The Company also has a one-third interest in the glittering Marina Bay Financial Centre (MBFC), which comprises three distinguished office towers, two luxury residential towers and luxury retail space at the heart of the city’s new downtown. MBFC was jointly developed with Cheung Kong (Holdings) and Keppel Land, with whom Hongkong Land also partnered to develop the nearby One Raffles Quay commercial development. Through its subsidiary MCL Land, Hongkong Land has also been active as a developer of premium residential projects in Singapore since 1963.
In mainland China, the Company owns prime retail space in the WF CENTRAL development in Beijing, while in Indonesia, it owns Grade A office space through its 50%-owned joint venture, Jakarta Land. It also owns the office and retail EXCHANGE SQUARE complex in the centre of Phnom Penh in Cambodia.
In addition to these office investment properties, Hongkong Land owns a number of high quality residential, commercial and mixed-use development projects across mainland China, Singapore, Macau, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand.
Incorporated in Bermuda, Hongkong Land has a standard listing on the London Stock Exchange, with secondary listings in Bermuda and Singapore.
Throughout its long history, Hongkong Land has built its business on excellence, integrity and partnership. As a result, the Company enjoys enduring relationships and an exceptional reputation with organisations ranging from government authorities to the world’s foremost companies and luxury brands.
Hongkong Land benefits from the market knowledge and networks of its local partners across Asia, adopts best practices from around the world and leverages the strategic advantage afforded by its parent, the Jardine Matheson Group — one of Asia’s leading conglomerates with roots in the region and the United Kingdom.
OF DATES AND NUMBERS
1889 — The year Hongkong Land was founded, making it a 130-year-old institution
1963 — The year MCL Land was formed before it became a subsidiary of Hongkong Land in 2006
1996 — The year Hongkong Land made its first investment in Singapore
850,000 square metres — The volume of prime office and luxury retail property Hongkong Land
owns and manages in key Asian cities, mainly Hong Kong, Singapore, Beijing and Jakarta
US$1.04 billion — Hongkong Land’s full-year 2018 earnings, which rose 9% from the previous year