Feature Stories

14.10.2019

The Secret of My Success

There’s not much Dr Allan ZEMAN doesn’t know about entrepreneurship and innovation. Drawing on a diverse array of experiences which include building an entertainment empire and resuscitating a failing theme park, Dr Zeman can truly talk in-depth about what it means to be an entrepreneur and innovator.

According to Dr Zeman, the Chairman of Lan Kwai Fong Group, the concepts of entrepreneurship and innovation have been around since the beginning of time. In today’s world, innovation has become even more important due to the speed that technology is changing and adapting.

“Technology is changing the world, and changing things so quickly,” says Dr Zeman. “Last year, the two buzzwords were AI (artificial intelligence) and VR (virtual reality), and everyone was on that track. Now everyone is talking about 5G networks. That really is a game changer. It’s so fast that it’s going to change the way we all do things.”

You need to be fast to be an entrepreneur, so it’s not suitable for everyone, he says, noting that only a small segment of the population will become successful entrepreneurs. So what does it take to make the cut?

Attributes to be entrepreneurs

“Usually, entrepreneurs are fearless,” Dr Zeman says. “They are self-confident, they are very positive, and they have a can-do spirit. Failure is not a word in their vocabulary.”

Secondly, Dr Zeman says successful entrepreneurs can usually look at things not for what they are but what they could be.  There are a lot of dreamers in the world, but the successful ones are those who can make their dream happen.  “About 15 per cent of the population want to be their own boss. They don’t want to work for someone else. They have great ideas, and they know how to make them happen,” Dr Zeman says.

Dr Zeman, who lost his father at the age of seven, knows what it takes to succeed. Growing up, the Canadian-born learned how to take a negative and turn it into a positive from an early age. “I always looked on the bright side. I realized that if I just stayed home and did nothing, nothing would happen,” he says. “So at the age of eight, I got a job delivering newspapers.”

It wasn’t long before Dr Zeman was earning more money than his teachers. At the age of 12, he lied about his age and started doing jobs like cleaning tables at weekends. “I learnt at a very young age about money. I bought my first car, which was a convertible, when I was in high school, so I was very popular with girls,” he jokes. Dr Zeman attributes his success to always being ahead of the game. By the time he was 19, he had started a business importing lady’s swimwear from Hong Kong, leading him to earn his very first million.

“I always had guts, I always felt confident in myself, and I knew whatever I would do, I would do it well,” he says. “I look around to see what the opportunities are. I’ll look at my competitors, see what products they are offering, and how mine could be different, could be better. I look at things through the eyes of the customer without thinking that I know better than they do,” he says.

Dr Zeman’s welcoming nature puts everyone around him at ease, though behind his calm and quiet disposition is a person who has big ideas. So, it’s no wonder he was invited to revitalize one of Hong Kong’s most iconic theme parks, Ocean Park, when the park was declining just as Hong Kong Disneyland was opening its doors.

Dr Zeman is perhaps best remembered for dressing up as a jellyfish for the park’s first press conference after its rejuvenation. It caused a global sensation.

“I thought, if I was the chairman of a bank, I would dress in a shirt and tie. But a theme park is about fantasy and fun, so I thought, why not be a jellyfish?” he says. “They gave me my jellyfish costume. I put it on, and I looked in the mirror, and I looked ridiculous. I thought there’s no way I can go out looking like this. But you know, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. So I went out there as a jellyfish, and the press went crazy.”

Without spending a dime on advertising, Ocean Park and its flamboyant chairman appeared on every page of the newspapers. Ocean Park received worldwide media attention, which set the stage for its success. Thirteen years later, Ocean Park continues to be profitable and one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city.

Don’t be shy, just do it

Entrepreneurs need vision and the ability to see things through fresh eyes. But Dr Zeman says they must also not fear failure, which can be a way to learn. What’s more, entrepreneurs, can’t be shy. “If you have the guts, the drive and you are smart enough, then just do it,” he says.

Dr Zeman likens it to someone who can’t swim but jumps off a diving board anyway. Successful entrepreneurs don’t think before they jump. They soon find a way to start paddling and to stay afloat. A less entrepreneurial person will walk to the end of the diving board, look into the water, think about it, shake his head, and fail to jump, he says.  

“That’s the same in life and in business. You will find a way that works, and a way that you’re comfortable with. Everyone thinks differently, and there’s no set rule on what to do and what not to do. You make your own rules,” he says. “Some people run problems, and some people are good at getting themselves out of problems, which is basically the most important attribute to have today,” Dr Zeman says.

 “Entrepreneurs are fearless, self-confident, very positive, and they have a can-do spirit.”
Dr Allan Zeman, Chairman of Lan Kwai Fong Group

About Lan Kwai Fong Group

  • In 1983, Dr Zeman opened a restaurant in Lan Kwai Fong in Central, Hong Kong, and began his career as an entertainment operator and property developer.
  • Over the years, Lan Kwai Fong Group has established itself as a household name in Asia with extensive brands, properties and investments in different fields including F&B, retail, leisure and entertainment. And Lan Kwai Fong has become one of Hong Kong’s most popular nightlife hot spots.