Reel Lessons

Reel Lessons: How to train your dragon

A movie about Vikings and dragons or a modern parable about corporate strategy?

How to train your dragon... is that a euphemism?
Nope. It means exactly what it says. This is a 3-D animated flick about the son of a dragon-slaying Viking leader who is trying to live up to his father’s expectations by becoming a dragon-slayer himself.

Ah, I get it. The father-son story.
Exactly. This is the timeless tale of a young man trying to grow out of his father’s shadow.

Sounds like Richard Li’s efforts to live up to his daddy’s expectations.
True, the similarities are striking. Daddy Li has slain some of the biggest dragons in town and Little Richard is now following dutifully.

But isn’t he supposed to grow out of his father’s shadow?
That’s exactly why Richard should watch the movie. For those of you who haven’t been following the latest Li-family business moves, Hong Kong’s richest man, Li Ka-shing, recently spun off part of Hutchison Whampoa’s container port assets as a business trust on Singapore’s SGX in the world’s largest IPO so far this year. And now Richard wants to do the same thing: he wants PCCW, in which he holds a 27.1% stake, to consider a similar listing in Hong Kong for its telecommunications arm.

This is good for Li, but whether or not it’s good for shareholders is debatable. So, if Richard would just watch this movie, he might learn that sometimes the solution is not to follow in your father’s footsteps.

Well, then, do tell the story...
It’s about Hiccup, the son of the chief Viking, Stoick.

The kid’s name is Hiccup? Already I’m getting the parallel to Richard.
Yah, an unfortunate name for the scrawny, brainy kid who doesn’t fit in with the rest of the dragon-slaying community.

Brainy? The comparison does have its limits...
True. Anyway, the boy tries to live up to dad by building a dragon trap, in which he eventually catches a reclusive Night Fury, the most dangerous of all dragons. But in capturing the dragon, Hiccup damaged its tail wing, so it can’t fly. Unable to actually kill the dragon, he eschews all Viking tradition and befriends the beast, and even gives it a name: Toothless. Along the way, he learns that dragons aren’t the enemies his people had long thought, but are in fact terrorised themselves by an even more fearsome and monstrous beast.

So the lesson is to make friends with your enemies?
Kind of. What the Vikings learned from Hiccup was that the dragons weren’t even enemies at all — they were, in fact, natural allies.

Like Richard Li and his shareholders?
Sure. And his employees, and his customers. You don’t always have to kill every dragon — a business can exist for the mutual benefit of all its stakeholders when ego and greed are put to one side.

You’re starting to sound like a communist. Greed is good!
Fair enough. But bear in mind that Hiccup and his people were all much better off after learning to live with the dragons (except for a missing foot).

A missing foot?
Yes, Hiccup lost his foot. It’s quid pro quo. He hurt the dragon’s tail, he lost his foot. There are consequences in life.

A bit communist, but not a bad lesson for the kids...
My four-year-old got it. Maybe it’s not too late for Hong Kong’s elite to learn too.


This story was first published in the April 2011 issue of FinanceAsia magazine

¬ Haymarket Media Limited. All rights reserved.
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