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At 34, Adrian Cheng is one of the but to make sure we remain a market leader we need to world’s youngest billionaires and the third-generation heir to one of Asia’s most influential family-owned conglomerates.The dynasty owns a portfolio of companies including the Hong Kong-listed New World Development, one of the Far East’s biggest retail shopping mall and real estate businesses. In 2014 it was announced that the family’s jewellery business, Chow Tai Fook, had acquired the US diamond brand, Hearts On Fire.

Chow Tai Fook dominates China’s jewellery scene but you’re not exactly resting on your laurels. What’s next for the business?

We’re taking an aggressive approach and plan to open 200 new Chow Tai Fook stores in 2015, predominantly in Mainland China, but also in Korea and the Middle East. We know we have great brand awareness in Greater China be recognised internationally too. Part of the reason for acquiring Hearts On Fire last year was to help us capitalise on the expected growth in the gem-set and diamond market in China.

Tell us more about your acquisition of Hearts On Fire.

Hearts On Fire jewellery is extremely popular in the US, not only because the brand produces beautiful and unique diamond pieces but also because it has gained a loyal following among Hollywood celebrities. Every diamond
has been carefully selected from less than one-tenth of one percent of the world’s rough diamonds before being handcrafted into a perfectly symmetrical cut that reveals a blazing heart and arrow pattern.We have already opened our flagship Hearts On Fire store in Shanghai and we will role these out across China’s tier one and tier two cities in 2015, as well as in Hong Kong and Macau.

What prompted the acquisition?

We saw it as a medium to long-term strategy for Chow Tai Fook that would help us align ourselves quickly with likely changes in market tastes.The popularity of gem-set jewellery in China has increased significantly, growing from 25% to 30% of our business last year. Previously we had focused on gold. In China our aim is to appeal to the female professional between the ages of 25 and 45 who have sophisticated tastes and can make the decision to buy their own jewellery. China has a very high female working population and, now more than ever, they can afford their own luxury items. Obviously we will also be appealing to Asia’s huge bridal market.

How is Chow Tai Fook meeting the ever-evolving demands of its consumers?
We segment the market so we can provide a tailored service to each level of customer. For our ultra-VIP clients, who have spent more than one million RMB per piece, we often fly them to Paris to view collections or introduce them directly to our top artisans.They are looking for unique pieces that they won’t find anyone else wearing so we are constantly searching for new materials and pushing the boundaries of jewellery design. Our high-end consumers are increasingly interested in gem-set so we are delivering on this with the acquisition of Hearts On Fire.

How is Chow Tai Fook driving online sales?

This year we will focus on the e-commerce site and our strategy will involve centralising the inventory and creating exclusive online products in a bid not to cannibalise sales in-store. HNWI are notoriously hard to market to so we will be working to create a more effective platform for ourVIPs to purchase even medium or high value items online. For the mass market, which is getting younger and younger, we will continue to use sales platforms such as Alibaba.com and engage them through WeChat and online gaming.

Which of your family businesses are you most hands on with?

I am very hands on with most of the companies. I feel a sense of affinity with Chow Tai Fook, given the history between the business and my family, so I make sure I am as involved as humanly possible, particularly on a strategic level. However, now a lot of my time is taken up with our property arm, New World Development, and as the K11 art malls are my concept I am very involved in their day-to-day running and evolution. Let’s just say I don’t get much sleep!

If you had to give one piece of business advice for people looking to be successful in China, what would it be?
Have a very clear vision and strategy. It’s a time where entrepreneurs have a real opportunity to revolutionise industries in China and even Asia. But it’s not easy. You need to be persistent by using trial and error to gain an understanding of what the customer wants so you can react quickly to their demands.Too many people come to China thinking that the opportunity is so great and that they’re bound to make it work, but in reality they don’t know the market well enough or the cultural challenges.They also don’t realise that a good idea in the west is not automatically going to work in the same way in China.To really make it as an entrepreneur in China you need to live here, speak the language and get in tune with the needs of the consumer.

You are prolific on the Hong Kong arts scene. Where does this personal passion come from?
It began at a very young age when I liked to sing, particularly opera.Then, when I was studying humanities at Harvard and in Kyoto I took my interest in arts and culture further and became involved in drama and contemporary art. Now with K-11 and my other art projects, I am able to make art available to all.

Tell us about your philanthropic projects.

Most of my charity work is focused on supporting children in Hong Kong and China. Our Springboard Foundation selects underprivileged children and helps build their confidence through sport.We are also working with the Children’s Cancer Fund giving palliative care to children who are terminally ill. In the past we have run trips to Disneyland and Ocean Park so that the children can have fun and forget that they are ill,even just for one day.As part of this we are also renovating some the children’s wards in Hong Kong to create as nice an environment as possible. This project is particularly close to my heart as you can really see the difference doing something so simple makes to the lives of the children and their families.Another initiative I am involved with is to alleviate the problem of long waiting lists for children’s heart surgeries in Hong Kong. Instead of simply donating money, I fly in top cardiologists from Australia and the US to do numerous surgeries over a few days to help shorten the waiting list.

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