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Sir Tom gears up for Chinese investment

SIR Tom Hunter expects to deploy capital to invest in China after learning more about the nation through an advisory role at the elite business school founded by the Hong Kong billionaire reputed to be Asia's richest man.

PROSPECT: Sir Tom said he would 'fish where the fishes are' with regards to potential investment in China. Picture: PA
PROSPECT: Sir Tom said he would 'fish where the fishes are' with regards to potential investment in China. Picture: PA

The Scottish entrepreneur , who embarked on a fact-finding mission a few years ago, believes China is a land of opportunity.

While at pains to say he was no expert on the country Sir Tom is keen for younger entrepreneurs to be given exposure to the fast-growing economy.

Part of that involves him providing funding for a 14-month long MBA programme to allow two European entrepreneurs to study in Beijing and learn Mandarin at Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business (CKGSB).

The investment to support those scholarships, which can be applied for until February 17, was put by Sir Tom at around $100,000 each.

He said: "Money is not going to be a barrier to do this. If someone has their own funds then we expect them to put something up but if it is someone who is worthy and can't put a penny up then we will take care of it.

"It is open to the whole European market but obviously I am a bit biased and want Scots to take advantage of it."

It is the second year Sir Tom has backed the scholarship with Rory Bate-Williams and Jeremy Solomons having secured the first places and started their studying in September last year.

Sir Tom accepted the role on the European advisory board of the non-profit CKGSB partly because the institution is backed by Li Ka Shing, who is often called Asia's richest man. He was described as "a bit of a hero of mine" by Sir Tom, who added that another reason for accepting the role was to learn more about China.

While Sir Tom has a small amount of capital tied up in a real estate fund with interests in China he has yet to make any of his own investments in the county.

However he believes that will change over the next few years.

He said: "Something I tell all the entrepreneurs that come to see me is 'let's go fish where the fish are'.

"I think at some point we will definitely deploy some capital [in China] but I am just in the learning phase."

Sir Tom said the CGKSB professors he has met are the "most impressive" he has come into contact with.

He said: "Something that really struck me was that the Chinese entrepreneurs held the faculty in very high esteem, which is perhaps not the case in Britain.

"They saw them as equals if not even sitting above the entrepreneur. CKGSB was a place where people wanted to do business, not just talk about it."

One statistic Sir Tom highlighted was if the turnover of businesses run by alumni of CKGSB, which has been running for 10 years, were put together it would be equivalent to the size of the 14th largest economy in the world.

He said: "Things like that just blow my mind and make me think we are just playing at [entrepreneurship] here [in Scotland]."

Sir Tom, who works closely with Strathclyde University Business School, said there was "nothing on the horizon" in funding any Scottish specific exchange programmes with China but indicated he would not rule it out in the future.

He said: "When you go to China, and people like Jim McColl have been going there for years and doing very well, and say you are from Scotland then straight away there is a positive feel about it and people are open to you because of the background."

Closer to home Sir Tom said his West Coast Capital investment vehicle is debt free, has cash on the balance sheet and is investing in key areas.

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