| HONG KONG
HONG KONG Aug 23 Pansy Ho, Hong Kong's richest
woman and the daughter of Macau gambling godfather Stanley Ho,
is lining up her chips for a new era in the world's casino
capital that promises much more than gambling.
Born into a family that developed a flourishing gambling
culture in the southern Chinese territory more than 50 years
ago, Ho is now a key player spearheading a move to diversify
Macau into an arts, culture and entertainment hub, and away from
the gaudy casino halls which raked in $38 billion last year.
Co-chair of U.S. casino MGM China and managing
director of property to transport conglomerate Shun Tak
, Ho is positioning her sprawling business empire to
capitalize on Macau's new generation of growth, boosted by the
influx of affluent Chinese holiday makers.
"Macau has become an entirely different destination," the
petite 50-year-old said in an interview at one of her several
offices in Hong Kong's financial district, adamant that the
world's casino capital can't rely just on gaming to fuel growth.
About a third the size of Manhattan, Macau is the only place
in China where casinos are allowed, and it relies on casino
taxes for more than 80 percent of its revenue. Beijing, which
can control visitor numbers entering the former Portuguese
colony, has made Macau's transformation into a global tourism
destination part of its current 5-year plan.
"This is exactly where my job leads me in the future," said
Ho, with neatly cropped black hair and dressed in a maroon
collared blouse. Apart from her business interests, Ho sits on
several political committees in China and the Macau government's
tourism development committee.
Art galleries, music festivals, cultural shows and theatre
are some of the initiatives Ho plans to bring to Macau. She is
also positioning Shun Tak in hotel management, aviation and
property, further expanding the family business's extensive
footprint in the Pearl River Delta.
One of 17 children of Stanley Ho's four wives, Pansy Ho has
emerged as the most prominent heir to her 91-year-old father's
empire. As the sole license holder in Macau for more than four
decades, Stanley Ho's influence has reigned strong through
casino company SJM Holdings, which operates more than
half of Macau's casinos, and privately-held STDM, which has
investments in gaming, aviation, retail and property.
While Pansy is not involved in SJM, she has a strategic role
at MGM and is in charge at Shun Tak, which her father
established as a small ferry operator in the 1970s. Since
joining Shun Tak over 15 years ago, she has helped grow it into
a sprawling conglomerate worth HK$11 billion ($1.42 billion).
Forbes estimates Ho's net worth at $4.4 billion.
Educated at a Catholic girls' school in Hong Kong, Ho says
she never intended to work in the family business. Passionate
about the arts from a young age, particularly the stage and
musicals, she was keen to study literature and drama at Vassar
College in the United States, but her father disapproved.
"He said in this age and time, why would you want to take up
something so passive?" she recalls, smiling.
Ho instead opted to study marketing and international
business management at the University of Santa Clara in
California before returning to Hong Kong where she ran her
mother's jewellery company, did charity work and set up her own
PR company, Occasions, which still operates today.
Ho was appointed managing director of Shun Tak during
Macau's handover to China in 1999 and prior to the
liberalisation of the gaming industry, so she has seen
first-hand how the market has been radically transformed.
"It was very much the local, traditional style, which is
really just a lot of gaming parlors ... Now, throughout the past
decade, because of the opening up of the market and the
introduction of new operators, we all vie to get our own
positioning and our own edge," she said.
Prior to the build-up of opulent multi-billion dollar
resorts by the likes of Wynn Resorts and MGM Resorts
, Macau's casinos tended to be dark and dingy with few
shopping or fine dining options.
The difference today is stark, says Pansy, noting that 10
years ago Macau had only one short street of high-end stores
compared to hundreds of luxury outlets today. One Central, an
up-market shopping arcade adjacent to MGM Macau, is testament to
the change, with stores such as Louis Vuitton among
the brand's largest in the world.
Alongside the growth of retail, Ho is betting on a long-term
vision of integrated transport infrastructure in southern China.
In June, Shun Tak paid $66 million for a one-third stake in
budget carrier Jetstar. And last month, Shun
Tak, which has one of the largest land banks in Macau and the
biggest fleet of high-speed ferries in Asia, launched Artyzen
Hospitality Group, a company focused on developing luxury hotel
brands in China and internationally.
"We should be able to hit 12-15 ... properties under our
management in three years," Ho said.
IN THE BLOOD
Ho, whose siblings include Lawrence Ho, co-chairman of Melco
Crown Entertainment, a joint casino venture with
Australian billionaire James Packer, has a reputation as a
shrewd business executive, not unlike her father, who dabbled in
trading, kerosene and construction, befriending the Portuguese
and Hong Kong governments, prior to making his casino fortune.
Ho says she is tough and pragmatic.
"I almost always have a strong passion about the things I
do. I wouldn't say aggressive, but I am always trying very hard
to make sure that things will succeed," she said.
Ho says she still discusses business with her father, who
has withdrawn from the day-to-day running of the family
business, and benefits from his experience, "especially on the
relationship side of things".
"We all respect Dr Ho's vision and this is still very much a
core driving initiative for all of us. We really strongly
believe in the future development of Macau and how it rests on
ingenuity. This is what he brought to Macau 50 years ago and we
need to continue to push the envelope."