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My Second Career


After I took over from Mr T Y Chu the chairmanship of G R Coleman, Inc in Hong Kong and settled down at White Jade, I had to face the fact that the Textile Machinery business was totally foreign to me.  Since there was a capable team under Mr C T Yuk to take care of the day-to-day business, I decided to devote my time in expanding our business into business machines which I was familiar with.

Besides Taiwan, G R Coleman Co also had a one-man operation in Singapore.  Just at that time Roy Ash took over the Addressograph and Multigraph Company and changed the name to AM International, Inc.  My friend Y L Yang’s brother-in-law Tomi Wei once worked in its Singapore office, a subsidiary of the AM International Ltd of Australia.  A-M Australia planned to sell that subsidiary and appoint a distributor to continue the operation.  I immediately contacted Australia and we negotiated to take over A-M Singapore and change the name to Coleman Business Systems (S) Ltd.

We entered separate agreement with each divisions of AM.  Microfilm equipment under the Bruning Division, phototypesetting machines under Varitype Division and word processing machines under Jacquard Division.  In Hong Kong we only had Bruning Microfilm equipment.  Photosetting machines were handled by NCR. 

International Microfilm Congress

In 1978, the International Microfilm Congress was to have their annual meeting in Hong Kong.  The biggest user of microfilm in Hong Kong was the Immigration Department and two leading suppliers were 3M and Kodak.  Since the President of IMC was elected annually, 3M and Kodak of Hong Kong locked horns in who would take over the new Presidency, they approached me and asked me if I would be willing to take that post.  I agreed since AM was new in the market and the only one having a full line of camera and readers for Microfiche.  I thought this would give Coleman more exposures.  It did.  Head of Gilman Business Machine, which was the leading supplier of business equipment in Hong Kong at that time, paid an unannounced visit to my office one day to find out more about this new competitor.  They thought we were an overnight set-up wanted to cash in on the Gilman name.  I gave them a history of Coleman and they were astonished by our background.

The annual convention of IMC was quite successful.  I got the US Consul General Cross to be the keynote speaker since all suppliers are American companies.  Coleman was the first to introduce the latest Microfiche camera and readers to Hong Kong.

Remote Copier

Following the IMC, I notice from a newspaper ad one day that the Murata Machinery Company from Kyoto Japan, which was known for their textile machinery, was to put on exhibit facsimile machines and to look for a distributor in Hong Kong.  They had been the OEM supplier to Burroughs’s in US producing the first generation facsimile machines and just happened I already had some correspondences with Burroughs’s on the same subject, so when I visited their exhibit, I was more knowledgeable than others from Gilman, Jardine etc all wanting to be their distributor.  My conversation with Murata’s man, Mr Hiroshi Kutsuna, Head of Facsimile Machines went very well.  I believe what really got us the distributorship was when I asked him what was the MTBF (mean time between failures).

This made Coleman the pioneer company to introduce Facsimile Machines (FAX) to Hong Kong.  In our newspaper ad, I created a descriptive line calling it “Remote Copier” because FAX was such a foreign word at that time.  Because it has to be connected with the telephone line, the Hong Kong Telephone Company required us to apply for a license for each model and was difficult to break into the mass market where most of the companies relied upon Telex Machine as their main communication tool.

Encounter with Yakuza

I usually made my trip to visit Murata with Lucy around Cherry Blossom Time.  Mr Hiroshi Kutsuna always took us to the typical Japanese restaurant in the Gion area and than to see the Cherry tree in a local park at night.  It was always full of local people picnicking and drinking.  Naturally, Lucy and I brought our camera and had a few picture taken under and around the tree.  On one of such occasions, just when I was ready to put away my camera, a man came out of no where and smashed my camera away and pulled out a knife threatening us not to take any more pictures.  Our host, Mr Kutsuna knew right away why this happened.  Apparently, I had accidentally got this man into my picture and he was a local Yakuza big shot never to be photographed.  Mr Kutsuna being from Kyoto seemed to know what to do, he went over to this man and they exchanged a few words and he got my camera back without the film of course.  My feeling was Mr Kutsuna probably had local connection with the Yakazu and mentioned somebody higher up than this man or maybe settled the matter with money involved.

First Mutual Fund in Taiwan

On one of the trips to Taiwan, with the introduction from Bank of China Mr Wang Chi Tao, I went to call on the first mutual fund investment company in Taiwan.   The person heading the firm was Marks Mobius later became the guru of emerging market funds with Templeton.  I asked him about the First Investment Fund he just set up and he told me it was only available to institutions and not for retail.  His deputy at the meeting interrupted and said there was no restriction to sell shares to individual.  I thought this might be a great opportunity to get on the ground floor.  So I subscribed a certain number of shares.  After all the paper work was done, Mobius’s deputy asked me would I mind if they took my picture and did a press release as the first individual to purchase the investment fund in Taiwan.  Yes, I told them.  I did not want any publicity even I did set a record.  Mark Mobius apparently is a top professional in investing in emerging market.  That fund appreciated 400% in three years.

From Packaging System to Paxar

On one of the visit to the annual Bobbin Show in Atlanta, I noticed with great interest an exhibit of a hot stamping printing machine to produce multi-color color fast labels for garments.  The Company name was Packaging System.

So I made an appointment to visit the Company in New York with getting a distributorship in mind.  I met the owner of the Company Mr Leon Hershaft and learned that he was the one who invented the process of coating the label fabric to make the hot-stamped designs color fast.  Therefore, he names the system Fasco.  The machine was aiming at the in-house need of the garment manufacturers.  What surprised me was when I ask for a dealership or distributorship, the reply was negative.  I was told they had no plan of exporting the machine.  It was not until four years later, when Arthur Hershaft took over running the Company from his father they finally agreed to appoint Coleman as their distributor in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore.  The user of their machines had to buy the coated fabric as well as dry ink rolls from them to produce the color fast labels.  So the supply business was bigger than the machines sales.  In the Far East, the machine was sought after more by small printers who supplied the garment manufacturers rather than the later bought it for in house use.

Fasco Division used to hold annual meetings of all their dealers and distributors at various resort around the world.  Coleman was always honored as the top distributor.

 In 1985, China was to hold the first Textile and Garment Machinery Exhibition in Shanghai.  Coleman Engineering (HK) Ltd decided to be one of the participants from Hong Kong and took up one of the largest booth at the show.  Fasco – the predecessor of Paxar – was one of the companies we represented, so Arthur Hershaft himself came to join the opening.  At that time, hotels were far and few.  The old ones were Ching Chiang, Tsin Ann and Peace Hotel.  We stayed at the old Broadway Mansion which turned into a hotel.  Taxis were all Volkswagon Saturna which were locally assembled.  I guess the Chinese Communists were new at running any exhibition.  Each exhibitor was allotted a certain number of entrance passes.  They all have date and time stamped on it which meant one can only enter the exhibit hall at that particular hour. This is contrary to the concept of trade exhibitions which usually was aiming at getting the most attendance from the trade and only set aside the last one or two days for the general public if done.

Since this was the first trip I ever set foot on Communist China after leaving Chungking right after World War II.  I made an effort to search and locate our old home at Yu Yuen Road.  The only roadmark I remembered was a dry cleaning shop called Black and White at the entrance to lane 668.  I did find the lane but no dry cleaning shop of course.  I was not able to identify our house because all buildings were then surrounded by high walls.  I also contacted my old school mates from the short time I was at the Middle School of the University of Shanghai and we had a reunion lunch at the old Sing Ya Restaurant which not much changed from the pre-was days.

After Arthur Hershaft took over the Packaging System Corp from his father as CEO, he used a consultant and changed the name of the Company to Paxar which as he put it, just the reverse of the RAXAP which the consultant recommended.  Having been a consultant myself, I knew how the professionals worked sometimes.  After that he took it public trading on NASDAQ, and then switched its listing to the big Board.  His vision was to make it a 500 million dollars company in five years.  However, he is the type of executive who was very hard to retain any talented people. There were continues changes of key personnel and eventually he sold the Company to Avery Dennison and I never heard from him again


Life in Hong Kong

Hong Kong Beyond Shopping

To all the visitors, Hong Kong is known worldwide as a shopper’s paradise.  Less known is the fact that there are hundreds of islands around Victoria where the city is located.  Together with the Kowloon peninsula and the new territory, they offer miles of hiking trails, numerous country paths and beautiful beaches for all the water sports from skiing to scuba diving.

Charles and Mary Jane Eu, after the closure of Charles’ paper business in Singapore, had moved back to Hong Kong and stayed at EUSTON on Bonham Road, the Eu’s family home besides EUCLIFF in Repulse Bay.  Charles started a new business engaging in the sales and service of power boats.

To take advantage of all these, I decided to pick up boating as a weekend activity.  The boat we bought was an open top off shore racer with a deep V planning hull, powered by twin Mercury stern drive which could go up to 65 mph and get us to any island within Hong Kong territory in an hour’s time. We christened her “FIRST LAP” – LAP stands for Lucy and Peter.

Charles and Mary Jane were not only continue to be among our closest friends but also our regular weekend boating companions – when we went out on ocean going power boats, usually with two or three other boats for safety  reason.

The Marine Department in Hong Kong has very strict rules governing the running of any power or sailing boats around Hong Kong waters.  I had to get two licenses, one as a pilot and the other as an engineer, which would qualify one to operate any powerboat up to 46 feet in length.  The tests were tough, because to be a pilot, one has to know the waters around all the islands and the general marine running rules especially after dark.  To qualify as an engineer, one has to know how to fix the outboard/inboard power plants and how to use the fire extinguish and life saving equipment on board.

I enjoyed this sport for over ten years and then it became a little too adventurous for Lucy and me.  As the years went on, we much prefer to enjoy the luxury of riding in friends’ yachts rather than spending the time working on our own boats.

Since neither Lucy and I were into playing golf or mahjong and we never got into the karaoke group.  The other sport that I had kept up since returning from abroad was tennis.  I had weekly games with two groups, one at the American Country Club and the other at the World Trade Center in all weather bubble cover courts.  I still remembered the last game I played before my torn rotator cuff stopped me from doing anymore was with Hung Liang, Vicky Wong and her friend at the American Club.

Another very popular luxury sport in Hong Kong is horse racing.  Memberships in the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club, along with Royal Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling were considered status symbols in the upper social circles.  We joined the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club through the introduction of Y L Yang who was very active in owning and training of horses.  But gambling was never in our blood, so we left all the details to Y L without knowing that the by-laws of the Club prohibited person other than the owner of the horse to manage the training and running of the horse.  So we decided to withdraw from this pastime after a few years.


1997 Change Over

Distributorship in Review

In 1997, Hong Kong became a part of China and most of the textile and garment companies had moved there manufacturing to Mainland China.  This made a fundamental change in the concept of territory distributorship.  Most of our agreement with the companies we represent appointed us to sell their product in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan.  And the market now shifted to whole of China which on one company can handle.  So except Singapore and Taiwan, Hong Kong became an open territory.  This basic change was the reason behind my scaling down our operation in Hong Kong, selling the Taiwan Company to the management there and pulls out from Singapore completely.

Preparing for the Unknown

After we settled down in Hong Kong, Lucy bought a one-room apartment in New York in the same building as Rosie on Park Avenue at 37th Street.  We thought we can always make use of that when we visit the States.  Later, we decided we much preferred the West Coast than the cold weather of the East, so we sold that one and in its place we bought a one-room unit at 2200 Pacific in Pacific Heights of San Francisco.  We were using that as an incoming producing property but like the building so much decided to purchase a two-bedroom unit in addition to that.  We stayed there several times when we visited San Francisco.  Then the Sino-British agreement was signed for Hong Kong to return to China in 1997.  To most of us, it is a great unknown what would happen after that so we decided to prepare to move back to the US anytime and make San Francisco our second home.

So we stated to look for a three-bedroom apartment in the city.  On one of the trips there we found there was one available in the cooperative apartment at 1200 California.  It is one of the few last high rising building permitted in the Nob Hill area and we knew quite a few people living there.  Martin and Ann Tang, son of Jack and Maddie, Edith and Nelson Chang, and Lee Chun, uncle of Philip Cheng and an AL brother all have units there.  The designed was done by an architect who originally was going to use it for an apartment in Chicago.  The layout of all the units are very good, there are four units on each floor, one one-room unit, two-two room units and one three-room unit which is the one we wanted.

In San Francisco, there are not too many cooperative apartments and 1200 California is one of them.  It means one buys the shares of the Company who owns the building and leased the unit as a tenant-shareholder.  The board has strict rules governing the sales of the unit and it prohibits the use of the unit by anybody but the shareholder and its immediate relative.  Renting out is not permitted. To be approving for purchase is subject to personal interview by the Board.  We were only if not one of the few who were interview by phone before accepted.

We decided to engage a professional designer to plan for renovation of the unit the way we wish to have.  Because we were comminuting between Hong Kong and San Francisco, it took almost one whole year to finish the project. Our unit is on 18th floor and the view of city downtown was very impressive.  It’s a pity we don’t have too much time to enjoy it as it has never become our primary home since the Change Over did not have drastic changes of live in Hong Kong.

In the following year, we sold the two units at 2200 Pacific.  



               next CHAPTER 9