It was a Thursday afternoon in April at Mission Hills Dongguan and the star attraction was golfing legend Annika Sorenstam — in town to host a junior clinic as well as to tee off the Annika Invitational.
Sorenstam spent time with 70 girls, imparting insights into the game with Chinese youth.
This a vision that she shares with Ken and Tenniel Chu, who are running Mission Hills Group. The brothers are continuing their late father's mission to promote golf in the mainland, and as part of that, to nurture the next generation of sports superstars in the country.
Famous names like Sorenstam are just some of the professional golfers that Mission Hills has brought to its greens, and the credit for that goes to Tenniel, who is vice chairman.
Ken, who is Chairman & CEO, said: "My brother's blood is green. He is really into sports and golf… and he's excelling in all (of) the sports development for Mission Hills."
Their father, the late David Chu, broke ground on a former wasteland between Shenzhen and Dongguan in 1992, and built the world's largest golf complex — Mission Hills Shenzhen. He wanted to promote the sport to the population of over one billion.
The Hong Kong entrepreneur had made his fortune in paper and packaging, but when the Chinese government opened up the South to development in the 1990s, he decided to change course.
Daughter Catherine, the company's executive director, who is one of Chu's six children, described the sentiment when he made that bold move.
"Investing in golf, in China when it's non-existent… But he was so visionary, he saw it as a way of life, a way of bringing business communities together," she said.
The move, however, surprised eldest son Ken, who had no inclination towards the sport.
"I thought golf was a retirement sport, but it's not until I came back to assist my father, then I realized that golf is a business language, it is a social networking tool," he said.
Ken and Tenniel have expanded on his late father's mission with their "golf and more" strategy. From a focus on golf, integrated leisure tourism and real estate, the group now has eight core businesses including health and wellness, theme parks as well as cultural, entertainment and commercial ventures. And if they've learned anything from their father, it's to go big or go home.
"It's either: you're on the top of your game, or be the pioneer. Otherwise you would definitely not be able to really succeed and move to the next level. And a daily routine for us, we are basically a 24/7, 365-day resort to the world," said Tenniel.
While there are similarities in how the first and second generations think about the business, there are also key differences: The elder Chu would have preferred to keep the company 100 percent private, but Ken is considering a listing in the years to come. In addition, he's also running Mission Hills with a different perspective on partnerships
"I've been in many… new ventures… and… partnerships with brands of the world… that's why we're able to grow so rapidly from three core industries to eight in the past few years," he said.
When it comes to the future of the Mission Hills Group, the three Chu siblings working for the company don't position or consider it a family business.
"When you have to look after family members who (are) less capable in leading people that are more capable (than) them, then that is family business," Ken said. "That's why I mean we have six siblings and only three of us are in the business. Others have their own belief, their own mindset, and others maybe it's just not the right time for them to join."
"That's how we position Mission Hills," he added. "We respect the professionals and let them take charge."
That's also behind their practical approach about bringing professionals into the group.
"We are a family owned business but we are also a very professional firm," Catherine said. "We have hired many professionals and we have great loyalty among our staffs and will develop them through time… For succession planning… should our immediate children be interested. Well yes, we'll be very encouraging, but at this point in time. It's not the pressure — they need to come here and want to do it for themselves."
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