Young Post sat down with Hong Kong Jockey Club’s CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges to talk about life, and how it doesn’t always turn out as expected. The HKJC sponsors the Student of the Year Awards, which are organised by Young Post and the South China Morning Post. The awards are now in their 37th year.
Can you share with us how you developed your passion for horses and then turned it into your career?
[My] plan was to follow a business career. But I’ve always loved sport. I played football for the German youth team and I loved to go to horse races. Then I managed one of the biggest racehorse and breeding operations in Germany. That led me to become Executive Vice-Chairman and CEO of the German Jockey Club.
The opportunity to come to Hong Kong was one of the biggest moments in my career. Although I had to adapt to the local culture, I was very impressed by the city’s strong “can-do” community spirit. I found that the Jockey Club perfectly balanced these two things. On the one hand, it is a large business. On the other, it works hard to make our society better. That’s what makes the Club truly unique.
What do you think are the highlights of your time as CEO during the past 10 years?
Firstly, the changes in Hong Kong’s sport of horse racing – our horses and races are among the world’s best. That’s earned Hong Kong a lot of respect around the world. It’s also one reason we were trusted to play a big part in organising the horse events of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games in Hong Kong.
Secondly, the big increase in giving back to the community. When I became CEO around 2007, the Club donated around HK$1 billion to charity. By last year our regular charity donations quadrupled to more than HK$4 billion. Today the Club is one of the top 10 charity donors in the world.
These two achievements are connected. Without developing our world-class racing, we would not be able to generate more value and increase our charity donations.
Why is the Jockey Club so passionate about youth development? What has it done recently to support youth development?
Young people are the future of our city, so it’s very important to support their development. In particular, we need to help grow their creative thinking and support their all-round development so they can handle the challenges of tomorrow.
This is why the Club is so keen to support the Student of the Year Awards, which recognise the all-round achievements of young people. It’s also why we’ve supported youth development over the years.
For example, since 1998, Jockey Club scholarships have supported around 400 students through their studies. We choose students not only on how well they do at school, but on their all-round ability, and their support for their community.
Our CLAP for Youth @ JC programme is helping students and non-engaged youth identify and follow their life and career goals. This includes an online support service, providing advice on how to map out their futures.
One of our newest programmes, CoolThink@JC, inspires the digital creativity of primary school students, while the Jockey Club Youth Football Development Programme uses football as a way to develop not just their physical fitness, but their mental and social skills.
What are you looking for at this year’s Student of the Year Awards?
I’m looking for students who are constantly striving for excellence, who are determined, and who are not put off by the challenges they face. In fact, they enjoy a challenge and have a real spark of originality.
While I really appreciate the excellent school achievements of students, I always admire those who do well in other areas. For example, last year I was very impressed by the finalists for the Best Improvement Award; students who had overcome physical handicaps or emotional problems to really shine as members of their school and community. It’s students like these who make it such a pleasure to be part of these awards.
What sets this competition apart from all the others you have attended during the year?
This competition recognises the talents of young people across a wide range of spectrums. Not only academically, but in sport, and the visual and performing arts.
Importantly, it also honours students for their contribution to school and their work in the community. In this way, I think the Student of the Year Awards send an important message: that young people need to develop not only their thinking and problem-solving skills, but also their social skills.
Here, an important new initiative is the SOTY School Tour, which brings professionals to schools to talk about their life and work.
Do you have any words of advice for young people growing up in today’s Hong Kong?
In my experience the most successful people are those who are the most positive.
Negativity never solves any problems. That’s true in business and in personal life. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be self-critical. But you should believe in yourself, work hard to achieve your goals, and never give up.
The power of positive thinking will carry you a long way.