There’s no greater hell than being trapped in a conference room, unable to leave. Greg De’Eb was stuck.

De’Eb was the South African envoy to Hong Kong and, as an honoured guest, had a seat reserved just for him. In the front row. He was trapped.

It was June 2000, and De’Eb remembers the conference was called “Can Hong Kong Be the Wine Trading Centre of Asia”? The idea was Donald Tsang’s, then Hong Kong’s Financial Secretary. “He really believed in the idea. He was really the driving force.” 

There were initially 300 people in the room, but “as they started talking about the online future of wine, more people just left the hall and said this was absolutely ridiculous.”

Soon, there were only 100 people. Then, a “very grey, older gentleman who was about to retire, who worked for the Hong Kong Buildings Department,” got up to speak.

“He said: ‘I have been asked to come here and tell you’,” so you knew it wasn’t his idea,” says De’Eb.The grey gentleman launched into a tale of abandoned military facilities that could be used to store wines.

Another 70 to 80 people vanished. But De’Eb was riveted. He’d been wondering what to do after his diplomatic career ended. “My idea to stay in Hong Kong was to build a motorcar racing track, which I was very far down the road in achieving.” Still, he thought, a Plan B wouldn’t be a bad idea.

“I listened a bit more carefully than perhaps other people did, and I thought, ‘look, you’ve got 100% government support here. You’ve got zero competition, because everybody else obviously thought this was a hare-brained idea. Is there a business model?”

Indeed there was. What he’d been listening to was the sound of a world about to change.

This article first appeared at Areni Global. You can find the rest of the article here.

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