Our popular light-hearted Good Life interview series turns 50! This time HFC boss Stefan Nilsson caught up with Stefan Kosciuszko in Hong Kong. Kosciuszko is perhaps best known as the former Vice Chairman, Asia Pacific of hedge fund manager CQS. The two Stefans had a wonderful chat about Lynyrd Skynyrd, Japanese pottery, Candace Owens, Nepalese coffee, Yorkshire Dales people, Polish can-do spirit, Le Caprice, the Gainsborough House Museum, Liverpool FC, a 45kg musclewoman and much more.
From where and how do you get your daily general news updates?
By email from the SCMP, the overnight news from the FT in London, the Nikkei in Tokyo, London Evening Standard and then, to round off, Bloomberg TV news for the most up to date market movements.
What do you do to unwind on a weekend?
Any international rugby is de rigeur, or Match of the Day is a special favourite for me and my wife, and, hopefully, that is before I go to sleep watching her interminable medical/police/fire dramas. Having friends round for a BBQ does not happen enough as my wife runs with my daughter two galleries in HK (one in PMQ and one in Cheung Chau – www.wakaartisans.com) selling beautiful Japanese pottery. So, the weekends are important for them and also exhausting, with a never-ending stream of new exhibitions, also supporting up and coming HK ceramicists, to counteract the 98% decline in tourists this year and the protests the year before. They survive in spite of…..with some wonderfully supportive clients who are now building some serious pottery collections, including artists selected by the British Museum and with Christmas gifts in mind they are about to become very busy again.
Can you name a great book you have recently read?
“Blackout” by Candace Owens which has a sub-heading of “How Black America Can Make Its Second Escape from the Democrat Plantation”. An inspiring and uplifting story with some great facts at her disposal and she is a leading candidate for the Presidency in 2024 when we get over the old and tired men of the 2020 race.
Your soundtrack of choice?
That would have to be “Freebird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd which has hugely powerful lyrics and guitar riffs, all about moving on, and is one of the greatest rock anthems of all time. Not overly produced, just some good ol’ boys from Florida with guitars and a piano, tragically taken away from us at their very peak in a plane crash in ’77. Always raises the spirits when I put it on.
What drink do you start the day with and what drink finishes it?
Coffee sourced from small farms in the foothills of the Annapurna mountain range in Nepal, grown organically and roasted in the country. The smooth flavour is only exceeded in terms of pleasure, knowing that one is directly helping single crop subsistence farmers in the best possible way.
What’s the worst money mistake you’ve made?
Always buying houses that we wanted to live in, rather than seeing the bricks and mortar as purely an investment. I will pass on from this world as poor, but happy, as we have lived in and renovated a Grade I listed house built in 1290, as well as a 15C house in a Yorkshire Dales valley with no mains water, drawing directly from the mountain beck, but with the most lovely neighbours one could ever imagine, that will, without asking, light the fires and bring fresh scones when they know we are coming back. A good life is not just about money and the Dales and its people are special.
Have you ever had a great mentor and what did you learn?
That would be my former boss, Paul Sauvary, at Schroders of many years of association as a client and boss, whose razor-sharp intellect only deferred to me when he needed an attack dog to get things done, or arguments won, in complicated government privatisation advisory assignments where we worked together. We were a great team and I learnt from him that a carefully chosen word at the right time, was a perfect foil to my Polish “can do” spirit and bravado. Teamwork is everything.
What gives you energy?
Taking pride in the numerous achievements of my two daughters, not least of which attending Westminster School and Charterhouse School and then Cambridge University and getting a First from Durham University, and when they were younger knowing that they needed my support and the best education I could deliver always managed to spur me on when energy levels wavered or I was frequently away on the road. Fortunately, they both decided to come and join us in Hong Kong and with one who ran for some years the events and sponsorship team at the British Chamber of Commerce, and one an entrepreneur and businesswoman par excellence they never cease to delight.
How do you stay grounded and focused as a person in these turbulent and fast-changing times?
Surrounded by women at home to keep me on the straight and narrow. My Japanese wife, two daughters, two female dogs and a steady supply of wine that I have collected over many years – since I first started working – that I drink and enjoy whenever rather than gloating over the price. A moment of reflection is always helped by a good bottle of red and remembering when and why one bought it causes a veritable flood of endorphins.
Can you name a terrific restaurant that you love?
Sadly closed this year, Le Caprice restaurant in London fronted by Jesus Adorno was my local café in St. James’s serving top food for an affordable price from a sparkling team of people dedicated to making sure you and your guests always had a wonderful experience. It was incomparable cuisine, and regulars could always get a table no matter how busy and in spite of the three-month reservation waiting list at its peak. Truly a great institution and I would fly to London especially for its reopening party…..maybe soon. Now in Hong Kong, my special favourite is MOTT 32 and their excellent roast duck and in Tokyo, Zakuro, which has the best shabu-shabu sesame dipping sauce which is an old secret, and never disclosed recipe, so really the secret sauce!
What’s your favourite museum in the world?
This would have to be Gainsborough House Museum in Sudbury, Suffolk where I was honoured to be asked to act as a Governor for some years. The museum is located in the birthplace of this leading artist, before he went to London to make his fortune as a portrait artist, although his brilliance is best shown in his landscapes in my view. He was also a contemporary of Constable and one of England’s best-kept secrets is the Stour River valley linking Gainsborough in Sudbury and Constable in Dedham. This museum is a wonderful example of a small local community taking pride in one of their sons and creating, with not inconsiderable effort and fundraising, a centre of excellence for the study and appreciation of Gainsborough paintings by people who come from all around the world.
Are you active on social media and what do you actually use it for?
Reasonably active on Facebook and Instagram as a time-efficient way to keep up to date with what is happening with friends old and new. Under no circumstances Twitter.
Do you have any secret guilty pleasure that you are prepared to reveal here?
Every Liverpool FC victory, with their very best performances coming almost always against all odds. They have a real football club atmosphere and spirit and every player lucky enough to put on THAT red shirt will always comment on how much that meant to them for the rest of their career. Standing and singing in The Kop is an unbeatable experience and Klopp has worked wonder and as a German is loved deeply in a very English city.
What kind of battle dress do you normally put on for work?
Functional suits, and elegant Hermes ties, pre-Covid, which have lasted a long time, eight of which just went to the recycle bank and now with regular working from home, t-shirts and shorts feel good in a humid Hong Kong summer, and if Zoom calls, then a blue or white work shirt of the best cotton I can afford from Jermyn Street.
Do you celebrate your wins? If so, how?
Champagne with those who also contributed to the win is the only way.
What makes you happy?
What makes me truly happy is making and seeing other people, family, or animals (my dogs), happy and that warms the heart in a way that nothing else can. Since I came to HK six years ago, we have kept the same helper with us who has moved us from Repulse Bay to Lantau Island, to Cheung Chau Island, and soon to move back to Lantau Island. During that time, she has been loyal and worked very hard, sending money back to her family and importantly saving enough money to build her own home in the Philippines. The look of sheer pride and happiness on her face when we talk about it is so very special, and the feeling that you have made an important difference in someone else’s life is absolutely priceless. On the same happy theme, I took on a two-year-old rescue rottweiler who had moved many times between foster homes and the rescue shelter looking for her forever home. She had serious heartworm, cherry eyes and other markers of neglect. But when I saw her picture, I saw a heart of gold crying out for help and love. This dog breed, created by the Romans 2,000 years ago to guard livestock from wolves and bears, is fiercely loyal in their DNA and to keep changing her circumstances would have been breaking her heart. My Australian vet who looked after Rotties in Oz before coming to HK, on the first meeting simply said: “You are brave to take her on”. After six months of expensive and dangerous treatment to solve all her problems, he always gushes now that she is the kindest and most gentle family dog that he works with, which is good because she is now a 45kg musclewoman looking after her own super happy family.