Pansy Ho (何超瓊), Hong Kong’s richest woman and the daughter of Macau gambling godfather Stanley Ho (何鴻燊), is lining up her chips for a new era in the world’s casino capital that promises much more than gambling.
Born into a family that developed a flourishing gambling culture in Macau more than 50 years ago, Pansy Ho is now a key player spearheading a move to diversify the territory into an arts, culture and entertainment hub, and away from the gaudy casino halls which raked in US$38 billion last year.
Co-chair of US casino MGM China and managing director of property to transport conglomerate Shun Tak, Pansy Ho is positioning her sprawling business empire to capitalize on Macau’s new generation of growth, boosted by the influx of affluent Chinese holidaymakers.
“Macau has become an entirely different destination,” the petite 50-year-old said in an interview at one of her several offices in Hong Kong’s financial district, adamant that the world’s casino capital cannot rely on gaming to fuel growth.
About a third the size of Manhattan, Macau is the only place in China where casinos are allowed and casino taxes account for more than 80 percent of its revenue. Beijing, which can control visitor numbers entering the former Portuguese colony, has made Macau’s transformation into a global tourism destination part of its current five-year plan.
“This is exactly where my job leads me in the future,” said Pansy Ho, with neatly cropped black hair and dressed in a maroon collared blouse.
Apart from her business interests, Pansy Ho sits on several political committees in China and the Macau government’s tourism development committee.
Art galleries, music festivals, cultural shows and theater are some of the initiatives Pansy Ho plans to bring to Macau. She is also positioning Shun Tak in hotel management, aviation and property, further expanding the family business’ extensive footprint in the Pearl River Delta.
One of 17 children of Stanley Ho’s four wives, Pansy Ho has emerged as the most prominent heir to her 91-year-old father’s empire. As the sole license holder in Macau for more than four decades, Stanley Ho’s influence has reigned strong through the casino company SJM Holdings, which operates more than half of Macau’s casinos, and privately held STDM, which has investments in gaming, aviation, retail and property.
While Pansy Ho is not involved in SJM, she has a strategic role at MGM and is in charge at Shun Tak, which her father established as a small ferry operator in the 1970s. Since joining Shun Tak more than 15 years ago, she has helped grow it into a sprawling conglomerate worth HK$11 billion (US$1.41 billion).
Forbes estimates Pansy Ho’s net worth at US$4.4 billion.
Educated at a Catholic girls’ school in Hong Kong, Pansy Ho said she never intended to work in the family business. Passionate about the arts from a young age, particularly the stage and musicals, she was keen to study literature and drama at Vassar College in the US, but her father disapproved.
“He said in this age and time, why would you want to take up something so passive?” she said, smiling.
She instead opted to study marketing and international business management at the University of Santa Clara in California before returning to Hong Kong where she ran her mother’s jewelry company, did charity work and set up her own public relations company, Occasions, which still operates today.