Dr. Gordon WU Ying-sheung
Doctor of Business Administration, honoris causa

A citation translated by Dr. KUNG Chi-keung

It is a great honor for me to present to you Dr. Gordon WU Ying-sheung for the award of the degree of Doctor of Business Administration, honoris causa. Dr. WU is an internationally recognized entrepreneur, engineer and philanthropist, who has made enormous contributions to the development of Hong Kong SAR and Mainland China, as well as other Southeast Asian countries, and actively supported education and charity work.

Dr. Gordon WU, whose ancestral home is in Huadu County, Guangdong Province, was born in Hong Kong in 1935. He is the founder and Chairman of the Board of Hopewell Holdings Limited and a renowned leader in the business sector. Early in life, he went to Canada to study and later graduated from Princeton University in the United States with a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering. He started his career as an engineer after returning to Hong Kong in 1958. He founded Hopewell Holdings in 1972. The Company was listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in August of the same year, and together with Cheung Kong (Holdings) Limited, Sun Hung Kai Properties, New World Development, and Henderson Land Development, became known as one of the “Five Chinese Real Estate Tigers”.

In 1978, Dr. Gordon WU visited Mainland China and attended the National Day celebrations in Beijing. With an engineering background, Dr. WU thought deeply about the country’s potential and need for development during his tour. Back in Hong Kong, he determined to put his expertise and resources at the service of the motherland.

Dr. Gordon WU’s first Mainland project was the two-billion-dollar China Hotel funded collectively by Hong Kong’s business tycoons. China in the early 1980s had begun to emerge from the shadow of the Cultural Revolution, and was focused on mapping out a path for economic development. Observing the success of the Canton Fair due to the great promotional efforts of the Guangzhou authorities, Dr. WU determined to build a hotel next to the Canton Fair site, aiming to turn it into a hub for East-West interactions during the early phase of China’s reform and opening up. He pioneered the “Build – Operate – Transfer” (BOT) concept, through which Hong Kong’s capital and experience could be channeled into the Mainland, setting up an investment and operating model for foreign companies doing business there. The construction of the hotel was completed when China was still practicing a planned economy, and Dr. WU was faced with the Labor Bureau’s demand to have hotel staff hired and appointed by the government. Eventually, thanks to the invaluable advice of the Governor of Guangdong Province, LIU Tianfu, Dr. WU was able to circumvent the official job allocation system by putting the central government’s guiding principle for Guangdong Province, “special policy, flexible measures”, into practice, and to hire the most suitable professional staff for the hotel. As a trailblazer “crossing the river by feeling his way over the stones”, Dr. WU had found a reform approach compatible with China’s needs and circumstances, and helped to pave the way for both Chinese and foreign private enterprises to make effective use of their knowledge, experience and resources for China’s further development.

Dr. Gordon WU learned from his China Hotel project that, with the massive construction of factories already well underway, the lack of a sufficient power supply had become the most serious obstruction to the development of Guangdong Province. He made the decision to collaborate with the Shenzhen government to build the Shajiao B Power Station, which set a world record by taking only 22 months from construction to occupancy to resale. The project not only won the British Construction Industry Award in 1988, but also significantly alleviated the pressure on power supply in Guangdong Province. At one point the station supplied 25% of electrical power for the whole of Guangdong, making a vast contribution to the economic development and achievements of the province.

Besides the internationally renowned China Hotel and Shajiao B Power Station, both of which served to support China’s economic growth, Dr. Gordon WU’s best-known infrastructure projects include the Guangzhou-Shenzhen Superhighway and the Boca Tigris Bridge in 1997, both of which have opened an economic lifeline for the Pearl River Delta.

As far back as the early 1980s, Dr. Gordon WU already recognized the growing economic interconnectedness of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau region. When he went to Beijing in 1981, he brought along a blueprint for the construction of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Zhuhai Highway, and proposed his plan to build this project to connect major urban centers in Guangdong Province to the central government. At the start of the venture, the Chinese economy was in a state of flux with myriad problems to be addressed. Many casts doubt on the need for this massive six-lane superhighway. One engineer even stated: “The Chinese people cannot afford even a bike, who would be using the highway? Is it going to serve only the rich?” In the face of such criticism, Dr. WU remained steadfast in his commitment to bringing the scheme to fruition. For Dr. WU, the most important goal in building the transportation infrastructure was the positive impact it could have on the well-being of society. He believed that, like the construction of canals and railroad tracks the world over in the past, the highway network he planned to build could facilitate the smooth and efficient flow of both people and cargo, and so long as it was able to leverage the full potential of the people on the Mainland and complement the country’s reform and opening-up, would enable the Chinese economy to reach a higher level of development and expansion.

After 10 long years, the 122.8km-long highway was completed and officially opened to the public in July 1997, cutting the travel distance between Guangzhou and Shenzhen in half. Before long it became one of the busiest highways not only in Guangdong but also in the whole of China. The highway network helped connect industrial and commercial facilities of different urban centers within the Greater Bay Area, and as a result helped to release the economic potential of the whole Pearl River Delta, and significantly improve the production efficiency and competitiveness of Chinese enterprises. The new transportation link was invaluable in transforming the region into a world-class industrial and commercial hub. In 2019, the number of vehicle trips on this particular highway reached 600,000 a day, truly living up to its reputation as the “Golden Thoroughfare of the Pearl River Delta”.

Spanning the Humen and Puzhou waterways at the mouth of the Pearl River, the Boca Tigris Bridge constitutes a major transportation link in the highway network of the region. Before the completion of the bridge, vehicles travelling between the eastern shore and the western shore of the Pearl River Estuary had to detour around the city of Guangzhou, which not only prolonged the journey but also put heavy pressure on the city’s road network. Dr. Gordon WU undertook the joint venture to build the Boca Tigris Bridge with the Guangdong provincial government. It began operation on June 9th 1997, and became the first major bridge straddling the two sides of the Pearl River Estuary. At the time it was also the largest suspension bridge in the country. In 2002, the bridge won the “ZHAN Tianyou Award”, regarded as China’s highest honor in civil engineering.

All the infrastructure projects initiated by Dr. WU have played a vital role in the process of China’s reform and opening up to the outside world, laying an important foundation for the country’s economic and commercial modernization.

The numerous awards and accolades Dr. Gordon WU has garnered over the years are a vivid testimony to the immense contribution he has made in China and the rest of the world through his construction projects. As early as 1991, the South China Morning Post and DHL bestowed upon him the honour of “Business Man of the Year” in recognition of his business achievements. He was voted one of the “Best Entrepreneurs” by Business Week in 1994, and honoured as “International CEO of the Year” by George Washington University, USA in 1996. Moreover, in 2010 he was presented with “The Lifetime Achievement Award of the 9th Asia Business Leaders Award” by CNBC, USA. He also received “The HKIE Gold Medal 2015” from the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers for the colossal contribution he has made to the engineering sector and society as a whole.

Dr. Gordon WU is convinced of the importance of infrastructure in the growth of a healthy society; he also cautions against neglecting the need to upgrade its software – education. Dr. WU’s ceaseless efforts to spur social development are not confined to his infrastructure projects alone; he has been enthusiastic about education as the key to nurturing talents for the good of society. In an age of rapid change, it is of utmost importance that young people should do their best to equip themselves to meet the changing circumstances and needs of the times. They should not only build a solid language foundation in order to enhance their communication techniques, but also train their analytical and critical thinking skills, so as to avoid simply parroting others’ views. As Chinese, it is equally imperative for them to understand Chinese literature and history as well as to learn from Chinese culture in order to cultivate a good moral character. Only by so doing, will they have better career prospects in Hong Kong and on the Mainland.

The generosity of Dr. Gordon WU through his donations to his alma mater, Princeton University, as well as to Hong Kong tertiary institutions is applauded in the education sector. Over the years, he has also received Honorary Degrees from nine renowned universities around the world, including those in the United Kingdom, Canada, Macau and Hong Kong. For his remarkable contributions internationally, a number of countries have bestowed honorary citizenship, and knighthoods upon him. In recognition of his outstanding role in the development of Hong Kong and Mainland China, Dr. WU was also awarded the Gold Bauhinia Star by the HKSAR in 2004.

Dr. Gordon WU has always been at the forefront of the times. Hopewell Holdings has been a participant in, as well as a driver of China’s development. He may not be the nation’s wealthiest businessman, but he has created one of its greatest legacies, for the enterprise he has built has a far-reaching significance that transcends time. In the Yong ye chapter of the Analects of Confucius, it is stated: “Now the man of virtue, wishing himself to be established, sees that others are established, and, wishing himself to be successful, sees that others are successful”. Dr. WU’s lifelong pursuit of building infrastructure projects to benefit the economy and people’s livelihood truly exemplifies the high moral integrity of the Confucian gentleman who does not merely look after his own interests, but also highly regards the value, livelihood and development of the people.

Dr. HU, Dr. Gordon WU Ying-sheung is not only an entrepreneur par excellence, but is also held in high esteem as a generous philanthropist. I am honoured to hold him up as a role model for our students and a paragon of a modern Confucian businessman, and present him to you for the conferment of the degree of Doctor of Business Administration, honoris causa.

Source: Nov and Dec 2021 Combined Issue