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Justin Ma

Justin Ma

Entrepreneur and hotelier

Tell us about yourself.
I attended Millfield School in the United Kingdom and the University of San Francisco, where I studied business administration, majoring in hospitality management.

What’s one thing not a lot of people know about you?
I might not look the part, but I also have an artistic side. I love art and design.

Did you always want to be a hotelier?
I grew up wanting to be an architect or interior designer. So I’m having lots of fun upgrading and adding value and finding out the best uses for some of our older properties with our hospitality brand, the Yulan Group.

What was your first big break?
I grew up in a very entrepreneurial environment in San Francisco for a few years, then worked from a co-working space when I returned to Hong Kong, so it became natural for me to look for new projects and meet new people. A friend and I made trips to China to find new ideas, when we came across shared power-bank start-ups that have been a huge hit in the mainland due to its massive mobile phone usage. We wanted to work with these brands from China, but found it difficult to form partnerships.

Coincidentally, I met a team that had just started bringing the concept to Hong Kong, and with them we brought ChargeSpot to market in 2017 in Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, China. I’ve been very lucky with ChargeSpot, meeting a team of great entrepreneurs and having modest success (I wouldn’t say we’ve had the big break yet!). But the company is steadily growing and I’ve moved on to focus more on my family’s business. In 2019 I formed a new hospitality brand, Yulan Group, part of Tai Sang Land Development. We just launched our newest hotel concept, the Figo. Yulan group’s vision is to create unique destinations that are not only restricted to hotels, so anything hospitality- related is on our radar, such as serviced apartments, F&B and work spaces, among others. Senior living is definitely on the list of what we want to do next.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
Great businesses come down to one thing: people. So I’d say the toughest challenge for me is people management, as I’ve always been a quiet guy. Learning how to lead talented people around me is what I’m still learning today.

Whom do you look up to and why?
Even though this might be a cheesy answer, my dad is the first person that comes to mind. Just about anyone can start a business, but sustaining it is the hard part. He’s been able to do that while always upholding strong family values, both for our company and as a father. Now I realise that’s not easy to do at all!

What does it take to succeed in hospitality?
Hospitality also means empathy and caring, no matter if I’m wearing my hotelier hat and caring for our hotel guests, my entrepreneur/investor’s hat on helping a businesses grow, or internally with my staff, helping them achieve what needs to be done to push the company forward. That’s what I’ve always been looking to achieve.

What advice would you offer aspiring hoteliers/entrepreneurs?
Know what you don’t know.

How has it been for you during in the last months?
It’s been tough for everyone in the last few months. Unfortunately the pandemic isn’t something we have control over. I think that this is going to be cyclical until an effective vaccine is found. So until then, we can only adapt and try to make things work with our current business.

What can we look forward to from you in the next 12 months?
Yulan Group’s flagship hotel, the Arca in Wong Chuk Hang, will be launched in 2021 and I’m also working on an exciting project with Norman Ung and Peter Lampard at DEFT that will be coming to market soon.