Portrait of a master planner
Besides having his own business, which advises property owners and investors around the region, Nicholas Brooke is also chairman of the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTPC or Science Park). The brief there is to promote research and help start-ups convert ideas and innovations into well-run, financially successful ventures.
What led you to accept this position?
I’m heavily involved in various community initiatives, and in the case of the Science Park, that goes right back to the beginning, when we first built the technology centre in Kowloon Tong. The aim was to establish a platform for innovation and technology. Hong Kong has survived by being adaptive and able to respond to change. Innovation is part of our DNA, but it is also essential to offer the right support if we want to drive growth in the economy and remain relevant as a leading international city.
Where did you gain experience of large-scale projects?
After studying land economy at London University, I qualified as a chartered surveyor and looked after Crown and church properties, such as farms and forests.
I then spent 10 years in the Middle East and, in the late ’70s, came to Hong Kong to help Swire Properties on a master plan for the redevelopment of idle premises, including the dry dock and sugar refinery at what is now Taikoo Shing, before moving on to develop Pacific Place [in Admiralty].
What is your basic management philosophy?
In this role, firstly, you have to believe very strongly in the importance and relevance of technology. You must show commitment, lead by example, and deliver an outcome. Working with a board put together from different parts of society, my job is to collect opinions and, after debate, come up with a common way forward. That is quite challenging when there are 18 people each with their own points of view.
How have you helped new technology in Hong Kong?
From a slow start, I think we have gained quite a momentum now. Obviously, in the early days of the park, we didn’t have critical mass. There were a lot of sceptics – there still are – but our role is to provide the framework and the infrastructure. We planned the route forward very carefully and are seeing the results. We now have over 400 companies and about 9,500 scientists, engineers and technicians in the park. It is a major community, held in high regard not just in Hong Kong but also internationally, because we are achieving our objectives.
What is on the drawing board?
Phase Three is on the way and will focus on sustainability and green technologies. Part of our vision is to lead the way on climate-change issues, showing what can be done in terms of design and management. Our target is to become carbon neutral which is again cutting edge, and to develop smart solutions for cities in Asia to manage energy, waste, and other environmental problems.
Which city is a good role model?
We usually monitor and follow what is happening in Scandinavia – Copenhagen and Malmo in particular. Hong Kong now has a sustainability charter with Malmo. The idea is that we will exchange information and learn from them. For example, over 50 per cent of Hong Kong’s waste currently goes to landfills. In Malmo, they have managed to reduce that to 4 per cent. They incinerate the rest and turn it into energy.
We can do it too if there is a will, but one issue we have in Hong Kong is the “not in my backyard” syndrome. It requires quite brave decisions about where to site incinerators. You can’t wait for a consensus because there will always be a minority who don’t agree.
What is essential to your daily routine?
I normally exercise early in the morning, so you might see me out in Tai Tam Park at 5.30am. A run is good for clearing the mind and preparing for the challenges of the day ahead. I’m in the office early and especially value the first hour when it is quiet enough to do some thinking and original work.
What outlook has guided your career?
I feel that life is all about taking opportunities and I believe strongly that you shouldn’t ask people to do things you can’t do yourself.