ONE OF THE MOST positive moments in Sunny Chai Ngai-chiu’s life was, in a way, also one of the most negative. And that proved a turning point for him.
He was in his 30s when he stood before a panel of experts. He was a finalist for the prestigious title of Young Industrialist Award of Hong Kong in 2004.
It was clear to many people that he deserved the prize. It could be said that he was the ultimate Hong Kong success story. The determined young man had taken his family company, Fook Tin, a small manufacturer of lighting and general appliances, into the international big league – and reached the top.
The Hong Kong firm had become the biggest manufacturer of weighing scales on the planet, fighting off competition from big companies in places 100 times the size of this tiny community.
Sunny Chai was the global “King of scales”. Whether you were a European department store stocking consumer products or a US manufacturer wanting a device that could weigh large machines, the answer around the planet was always the same: “Call Sunny in Hong Kong.”
But at the finalists panel hearing on that day in 2004, one of the judges frowned. “The section that says ‘public service’ is empty,” he said.
Sunny realized with a shock that this was true. He had been so committed to taking the company to the top that he didn’t actually do any public service. He hadn’t had time.
But he was totally committed to his beloved hometown, and realized that his next target was to move in that direction. He told the judges that moving into public service was his next focus.
To cut a long story short, the judges gave him the award, and Sunny Chai fulfilled his pledge a hundred-fold. He volunteered to serve on so many public bodies that just to list them would take up the rest of the space in this article.
He told the story to Nick Chan Hiu-fung in the latest episode of Friday Beyond Spotlights, a business-themed TV show in Hong Kong.
TOP TECH PORTFOLIOS
Sunny Chai’s energy and commitment took him to many key roles in public service, but there are two worth highlighting today: he chairs two of the most important business/ technology portfolios in Hong Kong.
He is the chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries, the secret engine-room that powers the Hong Kong miracle. This is not just a talkshop for a group of friends in business. It is a venerable (founded in 1960) federation of 32 different industry groups with a wide range of interests, from chemicals, to biotechnology, electronics, toys, automation, and even trading and professional services.
At the same time, he is the chairman of the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks, the government-sponsored vehicle to give a leg up to aspiring technology firms in the city.
The authorities have been very serious about this, with HK$130 billion invested in innovation and technology in recent years. “It really means something,” said Sunny, who knows full well the connection between investment and return.
But investment alone is not enough. “My key word is commitment. You have to commit to continue, no matter how many times you fail,” he said.
VISION OF THE FUTURE
Another memory: About 22 years ago Sunny Chai had a vision. He imagined a sci-fi version of his own most successful product. Instead of just a spring-loaded weighing scale, the new device would be more techy, and would be able to also measure things like bone mass and fat ratio and so on, and beam the information to a device in your hand. (This was seven years before the iPhone appeared, but there were items called PDAs, standing for personal digital assistants.)
Sunny succeeded in making the scale. He used a PDA “brain” as a processor and an infra-red transmitter to move data. And it worked.
Over the following 20 years, the digitization of household gadgets took place, with numerous items become connected through the “internet of things”. And of course, today, Sunny’s company makes ultra-hi-tech weighing scales that send a variety of data to your iPhone or Android phone. In 2022, people expect that. What surprises people is when he reveals that he has been doing the same thing for more than 20 years.
His own company, Fook Tin Group Holdings Ltd, is as lively as ever – and continues to expand.
“We are more than just consumer scales now, we are more into industrial weighing,” Chai said. Most people think of weighing scales as square white objects in their bathrooms. Today, Sunny Chai’s company is making scales that are powerful enough to weigh buses and trucks – there’s one at the Cross Harbor Tunnel in Hong Kong.
Now that’s a man who thinks big.
Sunny Chai was taking to Nick Chan Hiu-fung in Friday Beyond Spotlights.
Season One of Friday Beyond Spotlights is hosted by Patrick Tsang On-yip, Vice-Chairman and Executive Director of i-Cable Communications and CEO and Director of Chow Tai Fook Enterprises; and Nick Chan Hiu-fung, a lawyer and elected lawmaker serving on the National People’s Congress.
All images from Friday Beyond Spotlights