In August, the Australian Chamber of Commerce, Hong Kong and Macau, began a year-long celebration in recognition of its 25-year history. The chamber’s chairman, Andrew Steadson tells Australia China Connections why so many Australians call Hong Kong home and the role the organisation plays to enhance business opportunities for them.
From humble beginnings on Icehouse Street more than 25 years ago, the Australian Chamber of Commerce Hong Kong and Macau has grown to become one of the largest of Hong Kong’s 27 International Chambers of Commerce with a membership that consistently hovers just below 1200 individuals.
Andrew Steadson, the organisation’s current Chairman, joined the chamber in 2005 and was appointed to the board a year later. He believes the chamber’s success in Hong Kong has closely tracked the success of Australian business in Hong Kong and Macau.
“As the business and industry mix has changed the focus of the Australian business community, the chamber has also adapted to those changes to ensure we remain relevant and valuable to our members,” says Mr Steadson.
When the chamber was formed 25 years ago, the membership was then geared towards Australian multi-national companies operating in Hong Kong – based in Hong Kong principally to access the Mainland Chinese markets.
Nowadays, says Mr Steadson, over 60 percent of the chamber’s membership is made up of SMEs. The chamber continues to attract a significant number of large Australian companies but has also been successful in attracting Hong Kong-based companies investing in Australia as well as those senior Australian executives based in Hong Kong and Macau and working for non-Australian companies.
“So as Hong Kong and Macau’s role in the region has changed from “Gateway to China” to a true regional hub providing a gateway for Chinese outbound investment, so too, the chamber and the services the chamber delivers to its members has also changed to support this,” he says.
One of the key highlights for the chamber in its 25-year history has been its annual Australia China Business Awards, now running into its 20th year. Four years ago, AustCham Hong Kong and Macau made the decision to rotate the awards on an annual basis with the Australian chambers in Beijing and Shanghai.
“The Chambers in each of these three cities, and indeed across Asia, are seeing greater mobility in their memberships – businesses now range across the region,” he says.
“Accordingly we are always looking at ways to foster stronger Chamber links across greater China, Asia, and Australia,” says Mr Steadson.
Going into the future, Mr Steadson says the chamber is strategically re-positioning itself to develop a louder voice on Australian business issues, to grow the range of business services it offers to members, and to fundamentally increase the value of the brand and, ergo, membership of the Chamber.
“There is a solid foundation of Chamber events and networking functions which fulfills part of our mission. We are now looking to supplement that with more direct business support, like professional development opportunities and business matching, to ensure we deliver on our objectives of connecting, engaging and representing our members in Hong Kong and Macau.”
New programmes include the “Start Me Up” program for Australian’s kicking off new businesses in HK, the launch of a new Mining and Capital Markets committee, a Mentor Program, as well as a small business network.
“The how and when of delivering those services will continue to evolve as the business and industry mix in Hong Kong and Macau changes. We take our charter as a members’ association very seriously so the Secretariat and Board do work hard to understand and evolve with our member business and advocacy needs.”
“Representation of our member interests and values to governments in both Asia and Australia, and expression of the group’s collective interests on matters of strategic or tactical importance, is particularly important for international Chambers of Commerce while the economic parameters continue to shift on such massive scales.” ■