City & Country: Cover Story: The pursuit of happiness

IT is not every day that one gets to speak to a billionaire and ask him about his personal life and what he likes to have with his coffee in the morning (answer: Häagen-Dazs ice cream). But then again, not everyone is Cecil Chao.

The 77-year-old Hong Kong-based property tycoon and chairman of Cheuk Nang (Holdings) Ltd, a noted investment, development and property trading company, is well known for his love of women and for putting up a HK$500 million prize for a man to marry his lesbian daughter, Gigi. He hints that this sum could be doubled if someone could capture her heart.

While the personal life of his daughter and his dating schedule get him a lot of attention, Chao takes it all in his stride. In fact, his goal in life is simple.

Gigi (right) with her partner Sean Eav entered into a civil partnership in Paris in 2012

“I’m very scientific. I don’t believe in feng shui, I don’t believe in the next life,” he says. “I believe in this life, and you live it to the fullest; you have this life for one purpose: happiness.

“In life, there are always ups and downs. I would say 85% of my life is very happy. You can’t say you are happy every minute, but you can try to make yourself happy as much as you can.”

A hedonistic lifestyle may seem outdated, but it has brought Chao great wealth.

“My philosophy of life is to be fruitful, successful, have a good business and make money. And happiness means you have to be successful. If you see other people buying something but you can’t, you won’t be happy. But if you can buy anything you want, it makes you happy.”

Happiness is paramount to him and it dictates how he goes about his day.

“When I wake up, I think of two things. One, what I am going to instruct my managers at the office; and two, how I can make myself happy today,” he says with a laugh. If something in his schedule doesn’t make him happy, he gets his secretary to change it.

Marriage and children

Besides his daughter’s relationship and his billionaire status, Chao is renowned for his singleness. He says he has never married because of Hong Kong’s divorce laws. He is afraid that should he go through a divorce, he would lose part of his wealth and it would also affect his business and the people closely related to him such as his children and loyal investors.

“It is very easy to get married and divorce in the US, but not so in Hong Kong with the British laws. And it doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman,” he says.

While marriage is not on the cards for him, he is a devoted father who sees his children regularly. Gigi, 33, and Howard, 29, are executive directors at Cheuk Nang, where he sees them daily, while his youngest son, Roman, 20, is studying at a Hong Kong college. All are half-siblings.

Of the three, Gigi is the most well known, thanks to Chao’s public prize declaration. However, he reveals that there are no hard feelings between them.

“I am very proud of Gigi,” he says. “I don’t interfere in her private life. Obviously, my wish is that she marries and have children who can inherit the hard work of my life.”

Gigi’s partner is Sean Eav. It was reported that they married in a civil ceremony in France in April 2012. While Chao is aware of Sean, he keeps his distance. “We don’t associate with each other.”

However, he is optimistic about Gigi’s future. “Gigi has always told me she has not found the right male companion to spend her life with. I’m too busy to look for the right person for her. But she is only 33 and has a long way to go. What she thinks today may be different in the future. It all depends.”

As for Howard, Chao says he is “still learning” in the company. Recently, Howard became a father, but is not married to his baby’s mother. Chao reveals that she is a Hong Kong girl and works in UBS.

As for Roman, Chao hopes he will be a creative, useful and successful person in the future.

He confides that he is still friends with all his children’s mothers, and has some words of advice about marriage for his sons.

“I would advise my two sons not to get married too early,” he says. “It is very easy to fall in love when you are young. Gradually, you become more mature and think deeper about your life, and your feelings change. I’m the most romantic man. I have fallen in love many times. Every time I think this is the one. But eventually, it isn’t.”

Chao’s love life has got him much attention, especially when it was reported that he had bedded 10,000 women. However, Chao laid that allegation to rest, stating he has “dated 10,000 women”, not slept with all of them.

Interestingly, Chao believes in keeping a good relationship with most of the women he has gone out with.

“Most of my female companions are still my friends,” he reveals. “We are always trying to keep good relationships. Of course, it is hard, but I try my best, and most of the people, including the three mothers of my children, are still my friends.”

He says currently, he is not dating anyone in particular but he has girlfriends whom he dates on a regular and casual basis. As a result, he is seldom lonely.

Besides his children and his relationships, Chao also believes in living a healthy life to be happy.

“Being healthy is very important. I exercise a lot. During summer, I spend time on my yacht on Saturdays and Sundays. Two days a week, I play basketball. Your health is how you accumulate your wealth. You can’t be healthy in one day; you have to plan it while you’re young. It is like putting money in a bank or investing; health is like an investment.

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on January 6, 2014.

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