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Friday, May 10, 2024

Hong Kong’s Ben Cha Sees Art Boosting Returns for Asia’s Built Environment

Benjamin Cha, CEO and Founder, Serakai

After more than 20 years leading real estate investments for organisations including the UK’s Grosvenor Group, Swiss bank UBS and Hong Kong developer HKRI, industry veteran Ben Cha is launching his own property investment venture, and he’s arming it with art and culture.

Having served more than seven years as chief executive for the Asia business of Grosvenor Group, the UK investment firm known for London’s Mayfair and Belgrava neighbourhoods, Cha also spent the last two decades leading cultural institutions in Hong Kong, such as the Asia Art Archive. Now he has launched private investment firm Serakai to combine these experiences as a way to create profitable real estate ventures in the region.

The philosophy behind Serakai, which was established last year to invest in retail properties in Hong Kong and other Asian cities, including Tokyo and Bangkok, and how the company sees the arts as a way to enhance cities at the same time it boosts return, will be in the spotlight as Cha takes the stage on Tuesday 14 May for an interview at the Mingtiandi Hong Kong Forum ↗.

The interview is part of a full-day of discussions at the event, which is sponsored by Yardi and also includes a conversation with Link REIT CEO George Hongchoy on the trust’s Link REIT 3.0 strategy and an exploration with Warburg Pincus managing director Qiqi Zhang of how the company is helping to build Shanghai’s largest rental apartment operator.

Owner and Operator

Cha has established his new venture with two separate divisions: Serakai Capital, which invests in retail properties in Asian gateway cities including Hong Kong, Tokyo and Bangkok, and Serakai Salons & Projects, which promotes thought leadership, exhibitions, “urban interventions” and curated pop-ups to drive engagement.

Cha is on the board of M+ museum in Hong Kong

Inspired by the success of events like Art Base Hong Kong, which drew 242 exhibitors this year and recorded some seven-figure sales, Cha and Serakei see opportunities to overcome some of the challenges that face mass-market retail by relying on cultural content to create places that draw in visitors and enhance tenants of the project.

Operating with capital from its own balance sheet, the company targets both value-add and development strategies with an acquisition in Hong Kong potentially on the way later this year, while Tokyo is in the plans for the first half of 2025.

Cultural-Commercial Fusion

The drive to create culturally enhanced property can be seen as Cha fusing his vocation with his avocation, with the graduate of Vermont’s Middlebury College and Stanford University’s School of Business serving on the boards of a number cultural institutions in Hong Kong.

In addition to his current role as co-chair of the Asia Art Archive, Cha sits on the board of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, which oversees the Hong Kong government’s arts-driven development project, and the board of Tai Kwun Arts, a centre for heritage and arts in the city.

For the last six years he has been a member of the board of M+, a contemporary art museum in the West Kowloon Cultural District.

On the professional side, Cha started his career in 2002 with HKR International, the company founded by his grandfather Cha Chi-ming, which led development of Discovery Bay on Hong Kong’s Lantau Island.

During more than 11 years with HKRI, Cha became head of the company’s HKR Asia Pacific unit overseeing businesses outside of Hong Kong and mainland China and its regional hotel operations. Cha joined UBS as head of global real estate for Greater China in 2013 before moving to Grosvenor Group in 2014.

Kaylie Pferten
Kaylie Pferten
A pilot of submersible crafts in a former life, now married to my husband David and writing about investment advice.

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