Inside the B: Q&A with KK Tse
The Inside the B Q&A series follows employees from all across the B Global Network as they share more about their roles and what brought them to B Lab, the challenges they see for our network, and give us a peek into their personal lives. This interview was originally distributed internally to employees and board members of the B Global Network on September 30, 2021, and has been edited for length and to put the interview in the context of our present day. KK Tse discusses how his own doubts about his success in the corporate world brought him to early retirement, his breadth of experience in social impact before joining the B Global Network, and why he held his own funeral last year at the age of 73.
Beelan Yonas, Global Communications Manager, B Lab Global: What organization in the B Global Network are you a part of, and what is your role there?
KK Tse, Co-Founder and Co-Chair, B Lab Hong Kong & Macau: I’m involved with quite a number of organizations, but the most important one is B Lab Hong Kong & Macau where I’m the Co-Founder and Co-Chair. B Lab Hong Kong & Macau was set up in January 2020. We were originally scheduled to have a launch event in March of that year, but unfortunately it had to be canceled due to the pandemic. Last October however, we were finally able to host our launch party in Hong Kong’s Central Market. It was the first time B Lab Hong Kong & Macau was able to have an official meeting.
B: What led you to the social impact space, and to eventually working with B Lab and the B Corp movement?
K: I started my career in the corporate world. I worked only for two companies, both local Chinese companies: Lam Soon Group for two years and Shui On Group for 10 years. I contributed to making Shui On Group one of the best-managed companies in Hong Kong. At that time, the company had been working with world-class management consultants to advise on its strategy, but none of these consultants produced any results. They were big names globally but they were not effective at all in Hong Kong, and I didn’t know why for sure, but I thought that one of the most important factors must be that they didn’t have insight into local management. So I thought to myself, why don’t I become a management consultant. I thought I could be even more effective than they were. So I quit my job and set up my own management consulting firm, KK Tse & Associates. I had not worked for any management consulting firm before and I couldn’t recruit any other consultants to work for me. I had to train everyone I hired up.
My business ended up being successful. Companies engaged with me for various types of work, but ultimately I didn't find any meaning in my work. It seemed to me that my talent was being able to assist companies to make more money. And that’s it. Was that the purpose of my coming into this world? To make companies even more profitable? I asked my friends and business associates — they laughed at me. They couldn’t even understand the question. I couldn't find any answers myself, but I stopped working anyway. I started my so-called early retirement at the age of 52. I deregistered my company, asked my employees to form their own companies or to join our clients. And I spent my time traveling, learning to play golf, reading — practically doing nothing.
My wife and I traveled to New Zealand a lot during that time. On one holiday there we happened to come across the country’s most respected and influential social entrepreneur, Vivian Hutchinson. I contacted him, he agreed to meet me, and I learned a lot about social entrepreneurship from him. I began to view, and to appreciate, the meaning of an old Chinese saying that I learned in primary school: “Looking at the sky from the bottom of a well.” When you’re looking at the sky from the bottom of a well, you see the sky, but only a piece of it. I have been around. I have four degrees. I worked with large companies. I traveled all over the world. But before I met Vivian, I did not know there was such a thing as social entrepreneurs. So it was like looking at the sky from the bottom of a well.
I wanted to learn more. I began to read books, and when I traveled, I tried to look up social entrepreneurs to see if they would be interested in talking to me. I became involved with Ashoka, a US organization, which at the time was by far the biggest organization promoting social entrepreneurs worldwide. In fact, the term “social entrepreneur” is attributed to the founder of Ashoka, Bill Drayton. I became the first Ashoka Support Network member in Hong Kong, helping them find social entrepreneurs in China on an unofficial basis.
Since then, I founded the HK Social Entrepreneurship Forum, which supports the development of social entrepreneurship in Hong Kong, and started the Hong Kong chapter of Dialogue in the Dark, which supports visually and aurally impaired persons in pursuit of their ambitions. Dialogue in the Dark became the second Certified B Corporation in Hong Kong. After about ten years of promoting social entrepreneurship through the Forum, we became aware that although social entrepreneurship is good, it’s not enough; we have to transform mainstream enterprises at the same time. So we made the explicit decision to focus our attention on mainstream businesses. Naturally, we came across the work of B Lab as well as other organizations in this space. From our research, the B Corp ideas are more tangible, easier to understand, more actionable, and have a special appeal to small and medium-sized companies. We decided to explore working with B Lab in the US and established contact with Jay Coen Gilbert [B Lab Co-Founder] initially. We then sent our people to attend Champions Retreats in different parts of the world; I attended the U.S. one in Philadelphia as well as the UK one, and some of our people went to Canada, Australia, and so on to attend Champions Retreat events. After discussions with B Lab, we became a B Market Builder for two years before we became B Lab Hong Kong & Macau.
B: Are there specific individuals who you’ve enjoyed working with in the B Global Network and have supported you in your journey here?
K: The three co-founders have been an inspiration to me. Katie Hill on B Lab Europe and James Perry and Charmian Love on B Lab UK have been very helpful. I was grateful to attend Champions Retreat in the UK, and their team even assisted us in conducting the B Leaders course in Hong Kong where they sent out a member of their staff who has been running the program in the UK to assist us.
I am expressly indebted to Corey Lien and the B Lab Taiwan team because we won a B Corp three-day study tour to Taiwan, which was fantastic. We were so impressed that we decided to run it on a regular basis, but then had to pause because of the pandemic. On B Corps China, we like Jaff Shen and Min Ko very much. Min Ko has really been an inspiration to us in terms of activating younger generations to power this movement.
B: I understand that in May of last year you held your “Future Funeral.” Can you share more about what a Future Funeral is and why you decided to do one?
K: Future Funeral was an idea I thought of to change how we think of the end of life. A Future Funeral is held before a person’s death and is designed by the person concerned where they can tell their own life story and share that with the friends and relatives they hold dear.
I tested this out myself when I held my own Future Funeral at the age of 73 last year. [Note to reader: Check out KK’s Future Funeral speech here.] I found the event very meaningful in a number of ways. I learned so much about myself. I really did try to imagine that I may be gone, tomorrow or in a couple months time, and then I asked myself if I leave this world in a couple years, would the initiatives I have started be carried on? Who would succeed me? Who would take them up? At the funeral someone asked me if I have any regrets if I leave this world now. I said yes, my regret would be that I fear that many of the movements that I have started may not maintain any momentum. That will be my greatest regret.
And so, after the funeral I started a new approach. I still continue to lead these movements, but I make an explicit effort to make myself as removed as possible as soon as possible, which means I need to identify and nurture core teams to carry on the work. This was already very obvious to me even before the funeral but after the funeral it became even clearer to me. I’m very happy with how the funeral went.
B: What’s your favorite dish to cook?
K: I like to cook a lot, and the best dish I know of is deep-fried blue cod. When my wife and I visit New Zealand, we fish a lot and catch a lot of blue cod—big ones are preferred, smaller ones you have to put back into the sea. But when we’re lucky enough to catch the big blue cod, we cook it by deep frying it with lots of oil. It’s not very healthy, but it’s a very delicious dish.