William Dollar Game: William Chan’s global swing to real-estate riches
William Chan, Chairman and CEO of Rykadan Capital Limited, has swung success from a local driving range into a property investment empire spanning Hong Kong, London, LA and Bhutan.
“I always dream Rykadan can move to the next level and especially go global. That is what we are doing right now,” says William Chan of his property development and investment business, Rykadan Capital.
A likeable family man in his late 40s, Chan has the DNA of a serial entrepreneur. He is Chairman and CEO of a burgeoning international property empire providing capital growth for investors – a venture built up over 20 years, as the group website neatly proclaims, from the ground floor to the penthouse.
Chan started quietly, spending the early phase of his career working for NGOs after returning to Hong Kong from the US with a master’s in business administration. He served as a board director of Yan Chai Hospital and the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals. He says these posts, along with Home Affairs Department roles, inspired him to create businesses that can improve people’s livelihood.
The managerial and soft skills he picked up during those years and his impeccable sense of timing were to prove key factors behind the success of his first business project: a golf driving range in Sai Wan Ho called Island Golf. Chan, an enthusiastic golfer, could not fail to notice that just after Sars in 2003, golf had become a popular sport in Hong Kong.
“At that time in Hong Kong there were only one or two driving ranges,” he recalls. “I saw there was so much demand I came up with the idea but where to get the land?”
Via data research of the Hong Kong Government Lands Department, he noted there was suitable land on Hong Kong Island for a driving range next to two buildings. He won the bid to lease the land but still needed to raise the capital to build the driving range. His persuasive abilities needed to be at their best to sell the concept to like-minded directors he met through NGO projects.
“Fortunately, they loved it,” says Chan. “It became very successful. It was the only one on Hong Kong Island. I remember the South China Morning Post even hired a helicopter to take a shot of the driving range!”
The success of this venture undoubtedly gave Chan the confidence to build up future businesses and experience he would draw upon in later years. “You need to find land and raise capital, this all helps with what I need to do now,” he says. “This first business venture really attracted me to the idea of lifestyle and leisure and how this fits into the lifestyle of different people.”
Later he saw another opportunity. Following deregulation in the early 2000s, many casinos and hotels were popping up all over Macau. Chan identified a company called Sundart with a good track record as a fitting-out contractor. He acquired Sundart and secured his first project – the Venetian Macao for the Sands group. “We rode the growth momentum in Macau for many years, enabling us to lead Sundart to IPO.”
It was at this point that Chan’s sense of timing once again proved a masterstroke. During 2008 and 2009 the global financial crisis was stifling investment decision making and many IPO (initial public offering) applications were being withdrawn, meaning to take Sundart public was a tough call.
But fate intervened. It turned out that as others were bailing out of IPOs, this created an unusually high demand for the one that went ahead.
“I still remember the day, August 21, 2009. Sundart is not a tech stock; we are a traditional fit-out construction business. But why did it become 700 times oversubscribed? Because there is only one IPO in August. I am the only stock… all the money was just subscribed on my stock,” says Chan.
Though Chan’s education and background can help him pick the right projects, he believes this sense of timing is essential in the investment field. He eventually transformed Sundart into Rykadan Capital and acquiring businesses at a reasonable price with attractive returns became the company’s mantra.
“Nowadays, we apply this idea to everything Rykadan does, including property development, investment and asset management,” says Chan.
Initially, the company started with property in Hong Kong. Since then, it has diversified into projects in California and the UK.
Chan’s passion for lifestyle-related businesses is what drove him to open a hotel in Bhutan, which he describes as a unique place that appeals to those seeking adventure and luxury. Bhutan is now changing fast and others are piling investments into the country, but in about 2012 when the resort complex was acquired, it was considered an alternative asset class and costs were far from going through the roof.
“Since our resort was a new one and pretty high class, we set our room rate high. So you can see the cost is pretty low, and the price high, so you have a very big margin on that,” says Chan.
As of 2023, Rykadan has invested US$1.6 billion in total assets and has completed more than 18 projects, exiting a number of these with good returns. Its thesis is to identify a good investment opportunity and exit within a five- to eight-year horizon.
Dismissing any suggestion he is a risk-taker, Chan has yet to make a decision he regrets. He has gained a lot of experience in the importance of risk management, especially given that he has negotiated three major financial upheavals: Sars in 2003, the global financial crisis of 2007-2009, and, more recently, the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The first thing we underwrite on any deal or project is how to mitigate the risk, then we think about how much we are going to make,” he says. “My own view is no matter if you invest in a new business or in a new country, you always have to pay the tuition.”
(Interview by: Neil Dolby, Photographer: Jack Law, Art Direction and Styling: Jhoshwa Ledesma, Videographer: Jack Fontanilla, Venue: Rykadan One, 23 Wong Chuk Hang Road, Hong Kong 98 igafencu.com)
Read the full interview in the April 2023 issue (pg: 92). Available on the Gafencu app on Android and Apple.