When the Hong Kong government announced people returning from medium-risk countries who were fully vaccinated and had a positive antibody test only needed to do seven days hotel quarantine, Frederik Gollob, Chair of the European Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, was thrilled. The European Chamber had been lobbying for the concession for months, pointing out to the government the huge impact Hong Kong’s stringent quarantine requirements were having on businesses.
Although the reduced quarantine period was short-lived, another move the chamber had been calling for has remained in place – allowing children under 12 to complete their quarantine at home if their fully vaccinated parents qualified for a shorter period of hotel quarantine. “It is a small step, but it is a step we helped to achieve,” he says.
The European Chamber of Commerce is the chamber for 13 national chambers of commerce for European countries in Hong Kong and one in Macau. Gollob sees one of its main roles as being to present a united voice on the issues and challenges that impact European businesses operating out of Hong Kong. “I really believe that formulating a joint opinion, from the different nations and the different business communities of our members, is more powerful than if everyone ran for themselves,” he says. “Really bringing a strong voice forward to our stakeholders is an area where my colleagues and I see tremendous value for the business community.”
As chair of the board of directors, which is made up of appointed representatives from each of the national chambers, Gollob coordinates with his colleagues to establish the areas in which the chamber will be active in voicing an opinion, as well as what it hopes to achieve. He also leads discussions with various stakeholders, such as the media, senior government officials and Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam. “We are an important voice in the Hong Kong community – and that makes the job exciting,” he says.
Gollob became Chair of the European Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong in January 2020, after being a member of the board of the German Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong since 2018. He spent the first 18 months working with the other board members to reformulate the chamber’s vision.
He explains that they wanted to achieve two things. Firstly, they wanted to make it more attractive for European companies, of which there are more than 2,300 in Hong Kong, to join the European Chamber’s activities and its business councils, which represent different sectors.
By having members more actively involved, the chamber hoped to increase the manpower it had access to, enabling existing business councils to be more active and new business councils to be formed for sectors that were not represented.
The second aim was to ensure the chamber was strongly connected to its members and involved in dialogue with them. “We try to create a platform where companies that are members of our member chambers can come together in their specific sector and exchange opinions about regulations, industry trends and so forth,” he says. “We pay a lot of attention to lobbying work, for which we organize ourselves in specific sectors, such as the automotive industry, the beverage industry, and we are also forming a business council around the financial services industry, with an emphasis on green finance.”
He adds that it also looks at cross-sector topics, such as the protection of intellectual property rights and environmental sustainability. “Members can use the chamber, with our voice and contacts, to bring forward their respective positions in an impactful way, either in position papers, or in direct communication with the relevant stakeholders and the government.”
Gollob has also overseen changes to the chamber’s governance framework since he has been in office. “We have rewritten our articles of association to be more agile and more visible in Hong Kong. It has worked really well.”
One change involves encouraging the member chambers to change their representative on the chamber’s board frequently to create transparency and opportunities for new people to join. “We want to hear more opinions and have fresh blood once in a while. We balance that with continuity, so we say the representative should be in office for at least one year, but for a maximum of two or three years,” he says.
Navigating the pandemic
One of the biggest challenges businesses in Hong Kong currently face is the anti-pandemic measures the city currently has in place, according to Gollob. “The pandemic has kept us very busy for nearly two years. We are constantly on the phone with our communities, the media and the diplomatic core, voicing strongly that we need to see a strategy change or at least a relaxation to be able to somewhat reopen Hong Kong to the outside world.”
He explains that there are three main reasons why European companies are based in Hong Kong, namely that it is an international finance hub, that it is an international and Asian trading hub, and that it is a gateway to Mainland China, but some of these areas are not functioning as well as they could, due to the quarantine requirements for people who travel.
Gollob adds that the quarantine requirements, which involve up to 21 days of hotel quarantine for people coming from high-risk countries, are also making it difficult for companies in the city to recruit overseas talent, particularly if those talents have families. “It is harmful to businesses that want to grow. The pressure on families is immense, especially as we see Europe and the United States opening up, not gradually, but fast.”
The chamber is also lobbying the government to make it easier for non-residents to visit Hong Kong on business trips, and for senior staff at regional hubs based in Hong Kong to do business travel within the region.
“We are constantly on the phone with our communities, the media and the diplomatic core, voicing strongly that we need to see a strategy change or at least a relaxation to be able to somewhat reopen Hong Kong to the outside world.”
As Chair of the European Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, Frederik Gollob leads discussions with various stakeholders, such as the media and the Hong Kong government, on the issues and challenges that impact European businesses in Hong Kong.
New laws have also kept the chamber busy. “We have had a lot of dialogue with our communities and the government on how to interpret them, how businesses should position themselves and what risks they are facing,” Gollob says.
It is not only local laws that occupy the chamber, with European ones also having the potential to impact members. One such law is the European Commission’s proposed Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, which would effectively act as an import tax on goods manufactured in a carbon-intensive way.
The proposed rules, which could be introduced in phases between 2023 and 2026, aim to protect European manufacturers from goods that can be produced more cheaply abroad because competitors from overseas have not taken the same steps to reduce their carbon output. “My worry is that the law will cause a counter law for imports out of Europe to Hong Kong and China,” Gollob says. He adds that while it might help to drive the uptake of carbon neutral technology in the long term, it is likely to impact companies’ supply chains in the short-term. “That could go pro-Europe, or it could go pro-China. We can’t do a final assessment right now, but there are certainly risks we see, and it is a topic we have on our agenda.”
Promoting Hong Kong
Alongside advocating for European businesses operating in Hong Kong, Gollob says the European Chamber also promotes the city in Europe to encourage companies there to invest and do business in Hong Kong by joining relevant events and being present during tradeshows.
He adds that while Hong Kong is an attractive place for European companies to have a regional hub, businesses are discussing whether it still makes sense to maintain headquarters here due to some of the challenges the city faces. “The effect we are seeing right now is that companies are not entirely closing down, but they are shifting certain parts of their business away from Hong Kong.”
As a result, the chamber works to emphasize the city’s strong points. “Hong Kong is a strong financial centre. It is strategically located and we still have a fantastic airport and ports; it is still a good place to run your regional headquarters or have a logistics hub. The advantages still outweigh the disadvantages.”
Gollob points out that the ongoing Greater Bay Area (GBA) initiative is also a very positive development for businesses based in Hong Kong. “We have on our agenda lots of events, discussions, opinion forming and ways to help companies navigate the GBA. Measures, such as the free flow of goods and people back and forth, will enable Hong Kong to have a very active role in the GBA, and encourage companies to invest in Hong Kong to be able to benefit from the GBA.”
He says Southeast Asian countries represent another area of significant opportunity for Hong Kong-based businesses as supply chains are further diversifying into the region and with Hong Kong potentially joining Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a free trade agreement between Asia-Pacific countries.
After working as president and chief executive officer of Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong, Gollob joined Zhongsheng Group Holdings, one of the world’s largest car dealership group, as Head of the New Energy Vehicle Division
“Hong Kong is a strong financial centre. It is strategically located and we still have a fantastic airport and ports; it is still a good place to run your regional headquarters or have a logistics hub. The advantages still outweigh the disadvantages.”
An international career
Gollob started his career with Daimler/Mercedes-Benz in Stuttgart in Germany, working in the sales and marketing department. After doing an internship in Vietnam as a student, he knew he wanted to work in Asia, so in 2006 he jumped at the chance to take up a sales role with Mercedes-Benz in Beijing.
“It was always my particular wish to be in Asia and experience China at an early point. I very much enjoyed the experience of living abroad and gaining a deeper understanding of Chinese culture, which I find very important when we have critical discussions with Chinese stakeholders. My experience in China really helped me to be a better leader and a more educated person, and it helps me in my chamber work, my day job and also privately,” he says.
Gollob stayed in Beijing for three years, before returning to Stuttgart to further grow his career. With a strong desire to go back to China, he returned in 2014 and accepted a role in the capital with the task of doubling the network of Mercedes-Benz dealers in the Mainland.
In 2018, having achieved this task, he was promoted to president and chief executive officer of Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong, a position he describes as being his dream job ever since he first started working for the company. “I have always found Hong Kong fascinating as a city. I love the vibes. My wife and I extended our family here, and we will always be connected to this part of the world.”
He held the post until the end of 2020, when he decided to start a new career path. “In a sense, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the general thinking of me and my family on careers, and my wife and I wanted to do new things.”
He joined Zhongsheng Group Holdings, one of the largest car dealership groups worldwide listed in Hong Kong, as Head of the New Energy Vehicle Division, to help them set up their electric vehicle business. He also co-founded [hil-top] advisory HK Ltd., a boutique marketing solutions consultancy, with his wife.
Gollob thinks his career has been good preparation for his role as Chair of the European Chamber. “I have had plenty of leadership positions in my career. I am very experienced in managing projects and getting my opinion heard, as well as gathering people behind me and forming positions,” he says. “What you learn in a big company that is highly relevant to chamber work, is that you are dealing with people who come from different backgrounds and have different experiences. You have to find the nucleus of what you, as a chamber, want to say, and that involves a lot of negotiations and discussions. You need to create a platform where people are encouraged to speak freely, but you also have to agree on something, which is always the difficult part.”
He jokes that his work with the European Chamber is his hobby as it takes up a lot of time outside of his day job. When he is not occupied with that, he likes to spend time outdoors, exploring Hong Kong’s countryside with his wife and two young children. “I try to see good things in bad times, so not travelling as much means I can spend intensive time with my children while they are still young.”
Initiated in 1997, the European Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong is a “chamber of chambers” with its membership comprising of 13 European chambers based in Hong Kong and one in Macau. One of its key objectives is to provide a European forum to exchange information, discuss common challenges businesses are facing, and publish position papers to put forward recommendations.