Ann Cooley

Entrepreneur Interview – Ann Marlowe Cooley

Founder and Chairman, Pacific Hawk (HK) Limited

Hong Kong

Tell us about your business and what you do?

Pacific Hawk is a multi-family office providing investment advisory services for families and professionals. We act as a one-stop shop offering financial and legal solutions, and mediation for the family. We specialize in managing sensitive and often complex family financial issues such as generation planning. Financial solutions include financial planning, portfolio management, investment strategies, and retirement plan. Legal solutions include estate planning, Wills, trusts and family business mediation.

I knew I wanted an office in Hong Kong when I first arrived in 1994. I had never felt so energized and I couldn’t sleep for a week. I loved the sights, smell, sounds and the friendly business environment of Hong Kong. I believed that Hong Kong would become one of the most important international financial capitals of the world, and that China would help Hong Kong prosper while Hong Kong would help China to become a great world power.

I was confident that a Hong Kong-based investment advisory service providing financial and legal solutions for local families and expatriate professionals would be a success. Many of the top international companies, advisers, and banks were preparing to relocate their business out of Hong Kong because of the 1997 handover. I thought that was a great opportunity to start and I set up Pacific Hawk that very year. I believed clients in Hong Kong would benefit from my 20 years financial services experience in New York City and London.

Was there a specific point when you realize your business was moving to the next level?

The turning point was in 2009 when I realized I could integrate financial with legal skills to provide a one-stop shop solution for families. This gives us a competitive advantage. Most professionals e.g. lawyers, accountants and bankers, tend to be experts in specific areas. Thus families need to take advice from numerous individuals when they are arranging their family financial affairs. With us, it is a one-stop shop solution.

For many years I found it difficult to understand and work with the trustees who controlled much of the assets of our clients’ family assets. I decided that rather than being bullied by trustees and relying on solicitors to interpret, I should learn the rules myself and become a lawyer. So I became a part-time student in the JD programme at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

My father was a lawyer in Chicago and it was always his wish that I would join his law firm. However, I took the banking route instead. When I enrolled in the JD programme, I felt like I had started a second childhood; I felt so energized that my dream come true.

What process or procedures have you implemented that have helped grow your company?

In order to provide an effective one-stop shop for the family, I developed and trained teams of experts in financial planning, investment strategies, compliance, and administration. Locating experienced professionals who share the same passion to help families achieve their goals was important to me.

We believe happy clients help our business grow because they introduce us to their friends, colleagues and other families. The vision is long term because client relationships are long-term and we share in their passion to see the next generation secure and fulfilling the dreams of their parents.

What are some of the marketing strategies that have worked for your business?

My first marketing strategy in Hong Kong was to invite ladies to cooking classes. This was followed by dinner and informal discussions about investment planning.

My business is driven by referrals from clients and introductions from professionals. Today, our marketing activities still include cooking lessons and dinners, Drop Dead Diva Parties, golf, wine and cigar events. The marketing activities are used to encourage clients to have fun and to make introductions to Pacific Hawk.

How have you leveraged the Internet to grow your business?

The Internet has been instrumental in running the business in terms of time, efficiency, and working with international parties. We have used it primarily for research and correspondence. Our business is very selective, and I did not see the need for promoting the business through advertising, Facebook, or other media. We are building our first website primarily to make relevant information, such as articles or interviews, to our clients and professional collaborators.

What is most rewarding about running your business?

I enjoy seeing the results of our efforts, and watching my company grow. I feel blessed that I love what I do. I feel I have been guided to use my financial strengths and now, legal skills, to help families achieve harmony for the future. I feel lucky that I have listened to my instincts, transferred to London from New York City and then set up in Hong Kong. I believe my work is a win-win for both my clients and me. Having happy clients who refer us more business is how I have grown the business. I am proud of my team and how they have grown with the business. We are all on a never-ending learning curve.

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

I get very excited about ideas I get when I’m sleeping or in meditation. I’m an entrepreneur who wants to have everything happen now. I like being successful; I like creating blueprints and putting plans into action. We have had to change our business model several times and sometimes I have not projected sufficient time to achieve the goals that I set. I have closed doors before I was ready to open the next one. I am learning how to make these transitions smoother and less stressful.

If you were starting over today, what would you do differently?

I would have moved to Hong Kong in the 1980s when many people were leaving because of the uncertainties over its future, and I would have been offering legal solutions much earlier for my clients.

Although I became a British citizen and learned much about the financial and legal structures of Great Britain that are very helpful to me today, there would have been more entrepreneurial opportunities available in Hong Kong in the 1980s. Buildings were being sold at fire sale prices, the stock market had plummeted, professionals and families were leaving Hong Kong to set up citizenship in other countries, and there was a void of professionals with international experience.

I believe my business would have been similar to what I have today but we would have had a few more satellite businesses, and we would have been able to help more families with their financial and estate strategies.

What advice do you have for other older entrepreneurs?

Other than wealth, the greatest gift an entrepreneur can leave the family is the relational estate. This includes the history and heritage that connect the family across several generations. It affects children, friendships, post-divorce events such as graduation, marriage, birth and funerals. I believe it’s important to leave a legacy that can inspire the family and strangers.

I also believe knowledge is the fountain of youth. The more I learn, the more I realize how little I know and how much more I would like to learn. Every morning, I study my Chinese, which is a long-term challenge to learn to write the 5000 characters in classical and simplified characters.

Please list any favorite books, tools or resources (software, website etc) you could recommend to other older entrepreneurs?

I have four favourite books.

1. “Psycho Cybernetics” by Maxwell Maltz has been a great motivator when I was about to make a shift in my business strategy.

2. “You Can Heal Your Life” by Louise Hay is my book of physical and emotional healing. She has created a glossary of physical ailments which she associates with an emotional issues and helps you to create the change in energy to heal the physical problem. This book has been my bible of healing for more than 30 years.

3. “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand is about capitalism, business, money, romance and is one of my all-time favourites.

4. “Myself a Mandarin” by Austin Coates is about a magistrate from the UK who came to Hong Kong in the late 1940s and his challenges with the language, culture, customs and the legal systems.

Now tell us about your lifestyle

You are over 60, how do you keep a “sound body”, i.e. healthy and fit, while running your business?

I keep a fairly disciplined schedule with my diet, health and physical and mental exercise. I have been doing meditation twice a day for 30 years. I don’t drink coffee or alcohol. I avoid carbohydrates and sugar. I exercise every day at least 20 to 30 minutes by swimming, stretching, kickboxing, or playing golf.

How do you keep a “sound mind” (e.g. manage stress) while running your business?

I work every day but I don’t feel like it is work because I love my business. I feel I can contribute to helping families, the community and building my team. My twice-a-day meditation is important to me because it allows me to relax, and get in tune with my instincts and breathing.

How do you stay engaged with your family, friends and community?

I make lots of telephone calls and use Skype to keep in contact with friends. Fortunately, the friendships are very strong and time delay disappears once we are back in communication.

What are your favorite leisure activities?

I am with people everyday and I enjoy time on my own -smoking a cigar, reading a book or watching a movie. I also really enjoy kickboxing and golf. Both of these sports help me to keep focused on the moment, preparing my next strategy and filling my day with joy.

What is something that people might be surprised to learn about you?

I enjoy smoking a cigar on the golf course because it relaxes me. But I also enjoy the reaction I get from the other players.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I was born and educated in America. I went to business school in Colorado and began to learn Mandarin when I was in London. When I moved to Hong Kong, I learned to speak Cantonese, which I find very helpful in understanding the culture and customs of families in Hong Kong. I can also read and write classical and simplified Chinese characters and plan to become expert in the next 10 years. I am already pretty good at ordering from the dim sum menu.

Recent Posts