An interview with Dr. Lau Ming-Wai, chairman of Chinese estates holdings limited
Dr. Lau Ming-Wai is a multitalented philanthropist and entrepreneur whose contribution to Hong Kong and the society speaks for itself. In addition to frequently travelling between Hong Kong and Northern Europe for work, he holds a pilot license and used to work as a flight instructor himself. His diverse background and wonderful character make him a fascinating man to interview.
Stan (Finnair): As a Hongkonger who studied abroad, when was your first contact with Northern European culture? What do you think are the differences between the UK and Northern Europe?
Dr. Lau (Chinese Estates): In the nine years when I was in Britain pursuing my studies, I mainly stayed in downtown London. However, I still got a taste of the Danish “Hygge” and the Swedish “Lagom” philosophies to life back in the 1990s when I visited Stockholm for the first time. Stockholm, the largest city in Northern Europe, was already very different from Hong Kong back in 1998, in terms of population density, the rhythm of life and attitude to life. What people would envy a lot about Northern Europe was indeed their downshifting style and attitude to life. In terms of culture and history, Britain was a role model to the Anglo-American free market and capitalism, while the Northern European countries had believed in social welfare since World War II. This had diverged Britain and Northern Europe in very different systems when it comes to infrastructures, medical services, employment issues or welfare systems. For example, if you were unfortunately laid off in a Northern European country, you would be better protected by their better-developed welfare systems, which takes away one worry for the people.
Stan (Finnair): The working holiday scheme in Sweden started already in 2018. How do you think our local youths could benefit from such a program?
Dr. Lau (Chinese Estates): If the working holiday scheme had existed when I was 18 or 20, it would have been a must-join for me! I would have chosen smaller towns or farms, as the purpose of going on a working holiday is to spend a year away from the urban environment while working and enjoying life. I believe such an experience will bring massive changes to the personal development of teenagers from Hong Kong who, most likely, have never lived outside the city. The whole potential of the program is much better utilized when one stays in a place one is not familiar with. That’s my take.
Stan (Finnair): Could you please suggest some great spots for trekking or camping in Northern Europe?
Dr. Lau (Chinese Estates): I would suggest Oulanka National Park in Finland, which is a favourable destination for all seasons. Starting off your journey from Hong Kong with Finnair, you will have a layover at Helsinki Airport before reaching Kuusamo Airport in Northern Finland. From Kuusamo Airport, the national park is within a one-hour drive. There are different treks that take between half-a-day and seven days to complete. I went there in the springtime when the park was still covered with snow. Oulanka national park offers many wonderful activities that the whole family can enjoy. And one of the special things about trekking and camping is that you can enjoy Mother Nature’s gifts at a very low cost.
Stan (Finnair): As someone who loves flying, what do you think is special about Finnair’s A350 aircraft and Helsinki Airport?
Dr. Lau (Chinese Estates): As a passenger, the very first impression I have about the A350 is that it’s so quiet compared to the other types of planes I have flown with. In the pre-COVID-19 era, I had about 10 flights a year to Northern Europe which were immediately followed by an 8-hour conference. So, to me, travelling in an A350 can greatly reduce any side effects from altitude, air pressure and noise on the plane. This gives me real good sleep whenever I must depart late at night, which, thus, is my go-to-choice for departure. I would also like to pay a tribute to the personalized features of Finnair from the lighting arrangements which help evade jetlag to the windows in toilets which are very thoughtful for passengers suffering from claustrophobia. These small, yet hearty touches are living proof of how caring Finnair is! I always encourage my colleagues to transit at Helsinki Airport whenever they need to go to London – the prices are good and the services, in terms of ease and comfort, are one of the best when transiting in European cities! My personal view of flying is that it goes way beyond the time spent in the cabin – it also includes the functionality of the security checks and the transit area. Finnair is doing very well in all of those, so I rate Finnair high.
Stan (Finnair): Prime Minister of Finland, CEO of Finnair and you are all excellent young leaders. What’s your take on having younger leaders in the management?
Dr. Lau (Chinese Estates): In recent decades we have been seeing younger leaders in many fields including business and politics. I find this good because as a responsible corporate, it is almost a must to consider a balance between age and experience. I think people across the globe are nowadays already very mature in their youth, as they get exposed to so much more and much earlier in life than those born 20 years before them. I’m also happy to see more young leaders emerging in Western countries and implementing their creative and brave views and ideas to companies.
Stan (Finnair): In UN’s World Happiness Report in 2020, the 4 Northern European countries, Finland, Denmark, Iceland and Norway, are all in the top 5. Do you feel the same based on the trips you have taken to these countries?
Dr. Lau (Chinese Estates): I view happiness as a personal quest. I think Northern Europe is the place of happiness because their governments have created favourable conditions for people to have enough time and resources to go on their own quest. Like I said earlier, people have one less thing to worry about thanks to the social welfare there. Another thing that has, in my opinion, contributed to their happiness is the low population density and the closeness to nature. Helsinki, as an example, doesn’t have too many people besides in the tourist attractions. There are also unlimited opportunities to stay in touch with Mother Earth – the many national parks being close by. Suffice to say, people in Northern countries are given a long summer break every year, which helps them to unleash their creativity and think without any limits. They also tend to travel around with their families and leave the pressure behind them. This is the type of happiness they have experienced since they were kids, and that’s perhaps why their happiness level is sky-high. Whenever they come back from their holidays, they are well-loaded with creative ideas. I would say this is the reason why Northern Europe is known for its creativity. Compared to most other developed countries and corporates, long careless holidays and creative ideas are just faint dreams.
Stan (Finnair): Seeing this interview as an opportunity, may I ask for some ideas and words of encouragement from you to our team at Finnair after the 18 years of challenges and opportunities in Hong Kong?
Dr. Lau (Chinese Estates): In the 18 years of development in Hong Kong, Finnair has been taking strides in carrying out its motto “Connecting Europe to Asia.” This has been very visible, which has encouraged contacts and communication between individuals. We can clearly see that Finnair didn’t simply position itself as a means of transport between Finland and Hong Kong, but also as a channel of culture, arts, business and education. These have always been among the most important things in people’s life. I would suggest that Finnair continues working on this – keep on giving back to society and promote communication between two places and cultures!
Stan's testimonial after Dr. Lau’s interview: “I was so impressed by his focus on work as well as his low-profile lifestyle, which allows him to stay devoted to his business. In this day and age, it is extremely important that one can be brave enough to chase after and keep up with revolution and creativity. It was my pleasure to get to chat with Dr. Lau about the joys of travelling and honour together the 18th anniversary of Finnair Hong Kong.
Sincere and special thanks go to Chinese Estates Holdings Limited Chairman Dr. Lau Ming-Wai, Finnair Region Head Mr Stan Kwong (host), Finnair Senior Client Manager Ms Joey Tse (editor) and Sales Manager Ms. Yvonne Law (editor).