Serious business

Thought Leaders: Hong Kong rugby’s Pieter Schats

Pieter Schats, chairman of the Hong Kong Rugby Union, on growing the game, the synergy between sport and business, and the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens. Words by MARK TJUNG

Tell us about your role at the HKRU.

I’ve been involved with rugby in Hong Kong for almost 30 years and have been chairman for three years now. The role of the HKRU is to drive the game of rugby forward on both a performance and a participation level, and to keep the game sustainable in Hong Kong in the long term.

How has rugby in Hong Kong changed over those 30 years?

There was a sense that post-1997 rugby wouldn’t survive because of the loss of military, police and expat players. However, in the past 20 years the HKRU has invested heavily in local participation and now that’s driving a huge boost in player numbers. We now have lots of players coming from clubs, schools and tertiary education. In particular the women’s game is growing tremendously, so the rugby base is significantly stronger and more diverse than ever.

The Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens is your biggest event. How do you leverage the tournament to aid your broader goals?

The primary function of the tournament is to showcase the game of sevens. It also provides opportunities for Hong Kong to participate in the event. And it obviously generates money to invest in the game. One of the roles of the HKRU board is to prepare and implement a strategic plan. And the Sevens, outside of all the rugby fun, allows the HKRU to achieve this. It wouldn’t be possible without the event.

You’re also executive director of Fung Retailing. What have you learnt through sport that can be applied to business?

I’ve tried to translate what I’ve learned on the playing field to a business environment. Rugby is a team game and requires a lot of individuals of different sizes, backgrounds and skills to all gel together. I think business is exactly the same – you need people with specialist and general skills, and to work closely together to achieve common goals. Generally, great businesses and great teams both have good leaders who respect diversity and mould individuals’ skill sets.

What’s your favourite part of the Sevens each year?

Sunday afternoon from about five o’clock when we are getting to the final stages of the tournament and the whole crowd, after two and a half days, is focused on the rugby. Everything has built up to the final moments. That’s the time I really look forward to.

The Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens runs 7-9 April. hksevens.cathaypacific.com