Joseph Fung knows full well that he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. The 41-year-old is a grandson of legendary share trader Fung King Hey, one of the “Three Musketeers,” along with Lee Shau Kee and Kwok Tak Seng, who cofounded Sun Hung Kai Properties in Hong Kong, one of the world’s biggest property developers by market capitalization.
It was this awareness that gave Joseph the courage to chart his own path. While the scions of Lee Shau Kee and Kwok Tak Seng stayed in real estate, Joseph is trying to make his own name as an investor focused on a completely unrelated industry: Life sciences.
“There’s a high level of humility that needs to be integrated,” Joseph says in an interview. “Just because you’re knowledgeable in one sector does not mean you can easily survive or even push your way around with just pure capital in another sector.”
He adds: “I think that is very important because sometimes when you grow up with a silver spoon, you think that you can utilize that capital to ensure that you have the hegemony of the continuation of being the largest market player in that sector.”
Founded in 1963, Sun Hung Kai Properties codeveloped Hong Kong’s two tallest skyscrapers—International Commerce Centre and International Finance Centre—and its other properties include the city’s Four Seasons and the Ritz-Carlton hotels.
In 1972, Sun Hung Kai Properties listed in Hong Kong with a market cap of HK$400 million. Its market cap is now over HK$300 billion (around $40 billion), making it the second-largest Hong Kong company on the city’s stock exchange after its listed operator, Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing.
A year after Sun Hung Kai Properties’ IPO, Lee Shau Kee started another property developer, Henderson Land; in 2019, he stepped down from running the company and handed the reins to his two sons, Peter and Martin, making them joint chairmen.
Meanwhile, several children and grandchildren of the late Kwok Tak Seng (who passed away in 1990 at the age of 79) are directors of Sun Hung Kai Properties, including chairman Raymond (Kwok Tak Seng’s youngest son) and his sons Edward and Christopher.
As for Fung King Hey, he left Hong Kong for Canada in 1967 when deadly pro-Communist riots shook Hong Kong, which was then a British colony. Fung King Hey returned to Hong Kong the following year and in 1969 set up his own brokerage firm, Sun Hung Kai Securities, which grew to become the largest Chinese-owned broker in the city.
Fung King Hey passed away in 1985 and his younger son, Tony, took over the firm. In 1996, the Fung family sold a 33.18% stake in the venerable retail brokerage house to Malaysian property magnate Lee Ming Tee’s Allied Group for $96 million.
Meanwhile, Fung King Hey’s elder son, Thomas, was building his own business empire in Canada.
Thomas, his wife, and his son, Joseph, moved back to Canada in 1984 and settled down in Vancouver. In the early 1990s, he helped pioneer Asian-style shopping centers (megamalls like those in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay shopping district) in Vancouver as Hong Kong residents began emigrating in droves over worries about the then British colony’s handover to Chinese rule.
Now, Thomas is one of Vancouver’s most prominent entrepreneurs, with his Fairchild Group owning real estate, restaurants and TV stations in Chinese across Canada.
“I was able to build up my own reputation, my own ways of learning and to build up that sense of confidence to my own failures and my own achievements without trying to be benchmarked against my family members.”
Having seen the success of laissez-faire parenting, Thomas gave the same freedom to his only child.
“From my father’s side, he never really was given the stress that he must take over the business and to run it exactly the way he wants. He was allowed to explore and to understand his own capabilities and validate that,” says Joseph. “Likewise, for myself in a very similar vein, I never had the pressure and never actually even considered fully that I needed to take over the family business at any time in my life.”
After earning an economics degree from Cornell University, Joseph worked in finance at Citigroup and Morgan Stanley before joining Hong Kong billionaire Richard Li’s PCCW, where he helped with the communications and media group’s content acquisitions. After more than a decade of working for someone else, Joseph launched his own venture capital firm, Saltagen Ventures, in 2017.
“I was able to build up my own reputation, my own ways of learning and to build up that sense of confidence to my own failures and my own achievements without trying to be benchmarked against my family members,” says Joseph. “So we’re given a lot more free rein to fail, and I think that’s very important.”
Based in Hong Kong and Vancouver, Saltagen is focused on early-stage investments in science and technology. Over the past five years, Saltagen has invested more than $18 million across 20 startups globally, including in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Hong Kong and the U.S.
Joseph Fung is especially interested in life sciences companies that turn science into commercial applications.
Its portfolio companies in Hong Kong include Fano Labs, an AI startup spun off from the University of Hong Kong and funded by Li Ka-shing’s Horizons Ventures, and Cathay Photonics, a maker of sapphire-based screen protection films for displays that’s backed by Hong Kong billionaire Tang Yiu’s ParticleX. Fano Labs is one of the 16 Hong Kong startups that made last year’s Forbes Asia 100 to Watch, a list of notable small companies and startups on the rise in the Asia-Pacific region.
Joseph says Saltagen has more than $50 million in assets under management and its limited partners include C-level management of large multinational companies in Hong Kong and a billionaire founder of a semiconductor company, as well as the Fung family members.
“Number one is that I distance myself from having conflicts of interest so that if anything, our family is only a very small LP, but you know that we have skin in the game,” says Joseph. “They won’t be the drivers for the decision-making process.”
Saltagen invests in a broad range of industries, including cultivated meat and edtech, but Joseph is especially interested in biotechnology, pharmaceutical and other life sciences companies that turn science into commercial applications. “Life sciences is one of the fastest growing sectors globally,” says Joseph.
He isn’t the only one optimistic about the future of the life sciences sector, which has seen increased interest since the pandemic began. Singapore billionaire Eduardo Saverin’s B Capital Group and Midas Lister Nisa Leung’s Qiming Venture Partners, for example, took part in a $60 million series D round in Hong Kong-based biotech startup Insilico Medicine in June last year.
But Joseph has long been interested in the life sciences, especially the science part.
Like his father, Joseph enjoys cooking, particularly the food chemistry aspect of it. “That was the thing that hooked me in,” he says. “It’s not about just making a nice dish, plating it or even understanding how the flavors go well together, but understanding chemistry—the science process behind it.”
He adds: “Once you put in a lot of work and effort into understanding the whys and rationale, you can build up to your target goal.”