Dr. Harilela with colleagues at The Hari in London
Dr. Aron Harilela, BBS, JP
- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Harilela Group
- Court Member of HKBU (2017 -2023)
- Sponsoring Member of the HKBU Foundation
- Chairman, Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce (2018-2020)
- Member of the General Committee, Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce (2020 – present)
- Investment Promotion Ambassador for InvestHK
- Member of Operations Review Committee of the Independent Commission Against Corruption
- Voting Member of Hong Kong Jockey Club
- Honorary Fellowship of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (2018)
- Honorary University Fellowship of The University of Hong Kong (2015)
- Honorary University Fellowship of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (2012)
- Honorary Fellowship of the King’s College London
- Awarded Bronze Bauhinia Star by the HKSAR Government (2019)
Awarded Justice of the Peace (2014)
The words “diversity” and “diverse” mentioned by Dr. Aron Harilela, BBS, JP, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Harilela Group, stand out prominently throughout the interview with him. These are the words he likes to use most to describe the future of education in Hong Kong and the advantages of the city. He also shares with us the philosophy of his family and the keys to his success in business.
The Harilela family launched its business in Hong Kong in the 1930s. Subsequently the family established the Harilela Group in 1959 and the Group currently owns and operates 15 properties across Hong Kong, Mainland China, elsewhere in Asia, Europe and the United States. The Harilela family, after putting down its roots in Hong Kong, has become one of the city’s wealthiest Indian families, and Dr. Harilela is understandably devoted to his Hong Kong “hometown”. Besides, he is a tireless supporter of the many different features that have contributed to the city’s high reputation.
Dedicated to nurturing art talent for Hong Kong
Dr. Harilela is passionate about art and hence is keen to contribute to the development of the arts in Hong Kong. The décor of Hari Hotel Hong Kong, the second hotel with the Hari brand and opening in December 2020, features a rotating display of art works created by talented young artists from around the world. In order to further nurture artistic talent, the Hari Hotel in London launched its first Hari Art Prize in 2022. Selecting winners came as a result of a long procedure, necessitated by the large number of applications. Following the resounding success of this first Prize, the Hari Hotel in Hong Kong launched its own Hari Art Prize in 2023. He would like to make the Hari Art Prize an annual event so as to build a community of artists and art-loving enthusiasts.
Because Dr. Harilela initially found it difficult to find sufficient high-calibre Hong Kong artists, he reached out to the art institutions in the city. The art scene in London is more active than here because it has many art schools and educational institutions supporting the art industry. He thinks that as well as nurturing local artists, it is vital to cultivate art-loving people in the community. He further elaborated, “Art is so important in life; it gives people a little bit of colour, a little bit of fun.”“ Hong Kong is not just a business city, its people need other things in their lives. Art and art appreciation have been at the fringes of society for a long time. I think it is necessary to bring local art and art talent into the mainstream.” He added that Hong Kong art has yet to have an international reach. Hong Kong has first-class art facilities and he wants to see local artists shine in the world arena.
Importance of diversity in education
Since 2017, Dr. Harilela has been a Court Member of HKBU and has developed a close relationship with the University by giving his wise counsel for many years. “I am very pleased with HKBU’s good direction in the latest development of art and technology, to which HKBU is giving its whole-hearted support.”
The world is ever changing, so of course is Hong Kong. The West Kowloon and Cultural District has become a prominent location in Hong Kong, with the whole area dedicated to art and culture. To cultivate this new landmark, Dr. Harilela thinks Hong Kong needs more educational institutions offering art-related programmes that can train professionals for the industry, strengthening the city’s unique position as an East-meets-West centre for international cultural exchange.
Technology is another sector that is rapidly growing in importance in Hong Kong, and Dr. Harilela affirmed that HKBU is a pioneer for this advance. Society is changing, and in order to address its diverse interests, educational institutions need to respond promptly to the demands arising for sustaining this advance. He praised HKBU for backing disciplines that other universities do not support. For instance, HKBU is the only local university that features both art and technology in its curricula.
Nurturing diverse talent
The diverse nature of Hong Kong is one of its key attractions to global tourists and investors. The city’s tourism industry was hit badly by the pandemic. Dr. Harilela said that the terms, “revenge travel” and “revenge spending”, used to describe the tourism comeback, are now occurring throughout the world. He suggests that Hong Kong should develop promotional campaigns that emphasise the diversity of this vibrant city. Other than shopping, Hong Kong has many other attractions, such as its amazing mountain scenery. One solution to attracting tourists may be to highlight what the locals like to do.
Hong Kong values highly its multi-cultural diversity. As an Indian family in Hong Kong, the Harilelas have been able to develop a highly successful hospitality company here. The Harilela family business is an excellent example of a family office in Hong Kong. Dr. Harilela notes that Hong Kong has a well-developed tax system and provides access to a variety of platforms and financial products that are attractive to family offices, especially those in Mainland China. He thinks that HKBU should look across the border to Mainland China to attract more talent. This would definitely bring advantages to the city. This would definitely bring advantages to the region.
Giving to community
The Harilela family has long been a staunch supporter of local tertiary institutions. Dr. Harilela is affiliated with other universities in Hong Kong, but it is the foundation that HKBU has built that has created the specially strong ties that connect the Harilela family to HKBU.
Giving to the community is the Harilela family motto. Dr. Harilela’s beloved late father, Dr. Hari Harilela, donated more than HK$10 million in support of the University’s development and offered scholarships to outstanding HKBU students. Dr. Harilela serves at several public organisations, including the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce and the Independent Commission Against Corruption. He thinks this is a way of giving back to a community that has given his family so much. Other members of the Harilela family also make their contributions to society by serving in various community organisations.
Dr. Harilela acclaims the culture of giving in Hong Kong, in particular that from prominent Chinese families. However, he thinks that the city’s ethnic minorities need more help from local philanthropists. He says many ethnic minority families do not have the ability to send their children to good schools that teach them Cantonese and Mandarin. As the children grow, they might fall behind in their education because of the language barriers and become excluded from the Hong Konger community.
Value mutual respect
The Harilela Group is a truly family-oriented company. “If somebody wants to call me, they can call me directly. They do not have to go through different processes.” Dr. Harilela explained that there are few layers or complex procedures within the Group. “The hotel industry is like a family,” he said. His philosophy in managing the Group is to respect and treat his employees like his own family members. He quoted examples from the first hotel in his Group, including one person who worked as a bellman and another who was a financial controller. Both have worked at the hotel since day one and retired from it. Although the Hari Hotel Hong Kong is a rather new addition to the Group, he can quote a couple of its frontline staff who have worked there since it opened. He further noted that during the pandemic the turnover rate in the hotel industry was very high, with many restaurants and hotels encountering difficulties and young people leaving, as they worried about where their next salary would come from. However, Dr. Harilela was able to retain his employees during the pandemic. This might be one of the advantages of being a totally family-oriented company.
Keys to success
What are the keys to his success? “Respect the people you work with”, is the first thing Dr. Harilela can think of. Other key factors, “Know my weakness and hire strong people,” and “Enjoy what you do, create an environment you would enjoy at work.”
His advice to fresh graduates is, “Figure out what your passion is, try to figure out whether you can do that for your rest of your life, do not go for a job that simply pays the bills.” He also thinks that what you study in university does not necessarily determine what you have to do for a lifetime. Dr. Harilela himself is a good example of what he advocates. He studied law and politics for his undergraduate degree, and political philosophy for his Doctor of Philosophy. So his education was not related to the hotel industry or business. Instead he spent time separately learning about and understand the hospitality business, thereby eventually reaching his current highly respected role in this sector.