Danish Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong: A different community after 20 years

It’s only when actually talking to those active in a Chamber that one can fully understand how any particular such organisation is operated. All chambers vary, based on local circumstances, resources and their respective approach taken about where to best fulfil a purpose.

In Hong Kong the Danish Chamber of Commerce (DCC) has just celebrated 20 years. Its Chairman, Thomas Halfdan Andersen, and Vice Chairman, Anita Vogel, reflect on the years gone by for this Chamber and share insights about their focus and approach.

In introducing Thomas Andersen the Vice Chairman says that that he is one of the really long-lasting Danes in Hong Kong.

“The residents in Hong Kong changes very rapidly. So I think Kirsten Hansen, Hans Schlaikier, Hans Michael Jebsen and Thomas are the only ones that have been really been consistent pillars of the Danish community.”

Thomas is a member since 15 years back.

In introducing the Anita Vogel the Chairman jokes: “She is now basically with this Fossil Group – it doesn’t make any sense!”

“Anita became famous because she represented the well-known Danish watch brand Skagen,” he continues more earnestly.

“Today I work with a big American company where I am overseeing fifteen brands all over Asia Pacific, with Skagen being among them.”

Fossil Group Inc. specializes in the innovation, design, and marketing of fashion lifestyle and accessory products including watches, jewellery, and leather goods.

Thomas, who started his career in Hong Kong in 1992 by joining a Danish trading company, and moved on to positions both as Vice Consul and Deputy to the Consul General at the Royal Danish Consulate in Hong Kong, has recently embarked on a new challenge with a Danish company called Power Stow (provider of a ground service innovation that enables faster and more efficient loading and unloading of baggage and cargo on planes).

DCC Hong Kong Chairman, Thomas Halfdan Andersen at the 20 years gala event

Both Thomas and Anita travel frequently and work long hours and are thus typical representatives for executives in Hong Kong – which in essence also explains how DCC operates. Most businesses choose to set up there as an ideal hub for the region and therefore Hong Kong is used as people’s base between all the travelling to the various markets.

“Most people have very tight business schedules and are sitting in corporate jobs. Hong Kong is very much a corporate place,” says Anita. She believes there may be less people to network with at each event compared to in other countries, though there is an abundance of business activities.

“There’s always something going on. And this brings me to one of the things that people ask: ‘What can the chamber give to me?’ We can give the network opportunities and so on, but it’s really based on your self as well. DCC is based on volunteer work so one has to bring something to the table as well. If you have a problem, idea, event or something going on then we expect people to bring it up; we don’t service everything on a plate,” says Thomas and really encourages people to actively participate.

“The idea of our Danish chamber is basically a networking organisation. We don’t undertake, like the Swedish chamber does, any full-on research and consultancy jobs per request. We provide the platform for you to come and join our activities and events, to mingle and exchange ideas and views with other members. And maybe also sometimes promote your company – that’s our main purpose.”

“In the network there are opportunities where someone knows someone but, also, the Danish companies and people are quite different; they rarely come to us with a request for consultancy services.”

“20 years of being able to keep this group of people together with so many people coming and going out of Hong Kong is a very big milestone for DCC and hopefully we’ll have another 20 years,” Thomas also reflects.

Danish annual Christmas dinner in Hong Kong. Anita Vogel to the left. Photo: Dennis Boelt

Anita agrees that Danes are self-sustaining in terms of getting things done.

“We don’t have any full time employees so it’s a base for networking that people when they come to Hong Kong can easily find. Then they get supported in the right direction and use their own network to create the opportunities needed for their businesses,” she adds. “Other chambers work with a lot of more resources but we actually manage to keep the Danish community sticking together with very few resources.”

The vice president explains that everyone in the board have 60-70 hours working weeks, including a lot travel, so DCC board meetings take place quarterly, while a networking is held monthly, including company visits.

A positive change is the way DCC operates these days, described by the chairman as more modern.

“We have everything sub-divided into committees, with an overall committee. Then we have sub-committees that are responsible for whatever goes on within social, business, sustainability or memberships, and all these things. Our meeting structure has changed over the years, from an open forum where everything was discussed to being much more focused, so I feel we work very efficiently compared to what was done before.”

The number of membership in DCC has been stable while there is a slight change in the demographics.

“Before, Hong Kong used to be the regional headquarter for many big companies, and there’s been a diversification into China and other places. We still have many of the well-known Danish companies as our members, but we’ve also got a lot of more SMEs coming out and doing their work out here,” says Thomas.

He remembers from twenty years ago when there used to be the traditional expats; big corporate bosses, while he today is seeing a different, younger SME enterprise category of persons working here.

“I think the old definition of the expat is very different from what it is today,” Anita fills in.

“Now people actually want to move out and get the experience outside their home country and are willing to do so at their own account and not the company paying for everything. So it’s a more liberalised expat market and I won’t even use that word anymore! I work myself in a company where it does not exist although it’s an international company with people moving around but you get your salary and then you make with it what you want. So it’s a very different business community.”

Of all the entrepreneurs coming in from the Nordics many are related to design and crafts brands, which is in general a big trend in the market, according to Anita.

“Young people start up and try to establish their business, but it’s mostly in the online category, were some of them are sourcing products out of Hong Kong, and the reason for seeing them here. It’s on the global business platform where the younger generation find their business.”

“We do see multiple brands under the same umbrella for retail. I think that’s a trend we’re going to see more of,” she comments in relation to Square Street, where there are now small stores with Nordic products.

Another change is the fact that Denmark’s General Consulate closed down in 2012, something DCC fought hard against. The effect is however that DCC as such gets more attention.

“After the consulate closed down we’ve been able to keep our presence here and we in the Danish chamber get a lot of official approaches from the government and are acting as the intermediate body between the local government and the community here asking for comments or questions on whatever goes on in Hong Kong,” says the president.

They also support the Denmark–Hong Kong Trade Association, an official organisation in Denmark coming here every year invited by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council.

“We meet up with them and exchange whatever goes on. We are so privileged that Hong Kong has a very active trade council officially. They are very good at arranging bigger events, so we tag along with that.”

DCC also tags along with the Swedish Chamber of Commerce, says Thomas.

“We’re very fortunate that the Swedish chamber in Hong Kong and Eva Karlberg are very strong. We tag along with her and try to support her as well as she’s doing a really good job!”

Entertainer Jonatan Spang at the Danish Chamber of Commerce Hong Kong 20 years gala

In combination with the annual event arranged by the Danish Seamen’s Church – the welcome home party – Hong Kong DCC Hong Kong held its 20 years gala event in September 2016.

“Since everyone was already invited the Danish Chamber joined the celebrations and then brought in some entertainment in the form of the Danish comedian Jonatan Spang,” says Anita.

The Danish chamber also plays host to the famous annual Christmas dinner – clearly a highlight not to be missed for any Dane and Danish friends in Hong Kong.

In terms of ease of investing and doing business with and from Hong Kong there are really no issues, conclude the Danish representatives. And combined with its location it is really well suited as a regional hub.

“I always tell people: ‘If you are small to medium-sized then try Hong Kong first.’ It’s very easy to set up a company, with very straightforward taxation rules, so in terms of administration you have a simple setup here. But you just have to be prepared that the business – unless you are in finance or some retail or so – means that you have to travel around the region. So I promote Hong Kong to anyone who wants to listen to me, not only because I’m in love with Kong Kong, but because I see great benefits for it as a hub, including not just China but the rest of Asia.

Anita agrees: “I definitely always speak very highly of Hong Kong. It sometimes feels like the rest of Asia evolves around it; that all the trends come into here from Japan, Korea and China etc. You really feel the buzz of the region here in the Hong Kong, and there are so many people that are reaching out to learn from that. There are a lot of things on the plate all the time.”

Danish annual Christmas dinner in Hong Kong. Photo: Dennis Boelt

Cost of living, the Danes confirm, is indeed high – people often spend up to 50 per cent of their income just on rent. But this is somewhat compensated by the fact that salaries are high, and taxes are low.

“One of the things that make this a great place to live in is the big diversity within short distance. We have a very efficient transportation system, and you can be in the middle of the city among crazy many people, and with shops everywhere – including any brand you can think of – and around the corner, there’s a hill, a mountain you can hike, beaches for swimming etc.” concludes Thomas.

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