My Hong Kong Story: Benjamin Quinlan

By Benjamin Quinlan, CEO, Quinlan & Associatesfor HongKongEcho #100.

Photography by Peter Parks and Anthony Wallace (Agence France-Presse)


When people ask where I’m from, naturally I say: Hong Kong.

Admittedly, for both Westerners and locals alike, my response is met by a healthy dose of scepticism – especially if I’m on stage doing stand-up. At 189 centimetres tall, I’m what you might call ‘slightly taller than the average Hongkie’, but I can also bust out some ghetto Cantonese in taxis to the gratitude of my gwai lo friends on a night out. A quick tip: make sure to say ‘Waaan Tsai’, not ‘Wan Chai’.

As the son of an Australian father and Chinese mother, I am very much a third-culture kid. Like many expats growing up in the city, my childhood was nothing short of endless fun: my birthday parties looked like a mini United Nations congregation, I became an expert at watching the grass grow (and catching balls with my face) while playing cricket on Saturday mornings at the Hong Kong Cricket Club, and I was littered with red packets every Lunar New Year by the conga line of Tai Tai’s who were friends with my mum. Most of the time, I only saw them on weekends playing Mah-jong with her… as she worked tirelessly to win back the ‘lucky money’ she gave to their children the previous year!


Photography by Peter Parks and Anthony Wallace (Agence France-Presse)


My Object 

I brought in my trophy for winning the 2017 Hong Kong International Comedy Competition. There were 90 comedians from across the world competing for the title during three rounds of competition. I was humbled to have been nominated the winner by the judging panel on the night of the grand final.


In 1996, my bratty expat bubble suddenly burst. One year before the handover, my parents shipped me off to boarding school in Sydney, preparing for their relocation to Australia. Low and behold, it was the first time in my 12 years on earth that I had to learn some basic life skills, like how to use a microwave (a very useful cooking skill I have retained to present day) and how to make my own bed. Thankfully, I learnt to become a lot more self-sufficient, both physically and emotionally. And to boot, I picked up a ‘posh Australian’ accent along the way (note the oxymoron).

I loved my time in Australia. There was so much open space (read: I could stretch my arms out in my bedroom), the food was amazing, and I got to drive my own car! I also came face to face with a completely different sense of humour; one in which sarcasm reigned supreme, and crass Australian swear words became terms of endearment between good ‘mates’. I also had the chance to truly focus on my studies, given there was no equivalent of a Wan Chai 7-Eleven in Sydney.

Despite my love for the country, there was something missing with my life in Sydney. In short, there was no buzz. Shops closed at 6pm. My commute to work was 50 minutes each way by bus. Nightlife was limited to the weekend (followed by that 50-minute commute home). It took me an hour’s drive by car to visit my closest friends. And I was working half a year for free due to Australia’s far-from-subtle tax rates. In truth, I was homesick, and I wanted to get back to Hong Kong as soon as I could. So, within a few weeks, I packed my bags and was homeward bound.


“As the son of an Australian father and Chinese mother, I am very much a third-culture kid.”


Like so many working in the city, I was employed in the finance industry (a surprise, I know), hopping between various roles at UBS, Oliver Wyman, and Deutsche Bank. As a global financial centre, I relished the ability to cover so many different markets – and work closely with people from a mixed bag of cultures – out of Hong Kong. Beyond working crazy hours, my social life exploded, as did my bar tab at Lan Kwai Fong. But most exciting was the fact that I got to try my hand at stand-up comedy – it turned out that talking about my Chinese mother on stage was highly relatable and entertaining to anyone blessed with a Chinese mum!

Today, I run my own strategy consulting firm and wear several different hats in finance and FinTech, while decompressing on weekends telling jokes on stage. There is no question in my mind that this city has allowed my life to take a turn for the better, because at the end of the day, the opportunities here are what you make of them.

I am proud to call myself a Hongkie and to call this city home. After a five-minute walk up the road, I’m enjoying one of the city’s stunning hiking trails. After a 10-minute taxi ride, it’s lunch with a close friend or swimming at a secluded beach. And after two or three hours on a plane, I’m lost in the jungles of Southeast Asia. While I think we can all agree the apartments are short on elbow room, the opportunities here – be it with respect to business, networking, or friendships – are endless.

I hope to see you at a future comedy show to share the funny side of my life in Hong Kong, and hopefully bring a bit of laughter to a city that really needs it.