Stephen Greer arrived in Hong Kong in 1993 looking for investment opportunities or a business venture to challenge his entrepreneurial spirit. Discovering a demand for recycled stainless steel in the Chinese mainland, he established a recycling company which last year turned over HK$233 million (US$30 million). The 33-year-old recipient of the 2001 DHL/SCMP Hong Kong Young Entrepreneur Award explains how Hong Kong was the ideal location to launch Hartwell Pacific, a “green business” that has grown into an international success story.

“Hong Kong is an excellent place to set up a fledgling enterprise and make it grow. The business environment suits new or incubator companies and certainly accommodates my entrepreneurial nature. Even as I was growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, and later as a college student I was always involved in some sort of business activity such as importing copper handicrafts from Africa, which I sold on campus.

Before I arrived in Hong Kong I knew very little about doing business in Asia. In the early 1990s I was working in a US chemical company based in Germany at a time when Eastern Europe was going through some rapid changes and seemed like the place to search for new business opportunities. Before I took the plunge and invested in the new European economies, a friend and senior colleague who had previously worked in the Far East suggested I try my luck in Asia.

The first thing that struck me about Hong Kong was just how easy it is to set up a business. I incorporated Hartwell Pacific within one day. Hong Kong is still a place where you can arrive on a Monday and have your company set up on Tuesday. Some of the great attractions that draws business to Hong Kong is the services it provides to the multinational community through a straightforward and clear low tax environment, simple import/export procedures, easy banking systems and free flow of information. These easy-to-understand systems allow you to concentrate on running your business and contributed significantly to Hartwell quickly and profitably establishing itself as a regional steel-recycling player.

In the early days I mainly acted on leads from the American Chamber of Commerce, but soon discovered a niche market for recycled scrap metal in the Chinese mainland, and in particular for stainless steel. Hartwell Pacific now employs 125 people worldwide, with 25 in Hong Kong. The business has expanded to include brokering and trading in non-ferrous metals both regionally and internationally.

In our Hong Kong headquarters we are able to conveniently and efficiently manage our international operations in the mainland, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Mexico. You couldn’t do that from Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Manila or even Tokyo as each of these places focuses on their own domestic markets. Hong Kong’s outlook is global and a preferred location to establish regional headquarters.

In terms of operating green businesses there is a lot of interest emerging in the SAR but land shortage remains an issue, with a considerable amount of space necessary to set up recycling plants or green operations. The Government has recognized this and is looking for ways to make smaller plots of land available. The future of the “green industry” looks positive as environmental awareness accelerates.”