Jimmy Lai

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Jimmy Lai (黎智英)
Born 1948 (1948)
Guangzhou, Guangdong, China
Occupation Founder and Chairman, Next Media
Website
Next Media
Jimmy Lai
Traditional Chinese 黎智英

Lai Chee-Ying, better known by his western name Jimmy Lai, is an entrepreneur. He founded Giordano, an Asia clothing retailer, and Next Media, a Hong Kong-listed media company and a Chinese-language media group.

Early life and escape from China[edit]

Born 1948 in an impoverished family in Canton, Kwangtung, China with family roots in nearby Shunde, Lai was educated to fifth grade level.

Smuggled to Hong Kong aboard a small boat at the age of 12, Lai worked as a child-laborer in a garment factory for a wage of $8 per month.[1]

Founding of Giordano[edit]

Rising to the level of factory manager, Lai speculated his year-end bonus on Hong Kong stocks to raise enough cash to buy out the owners of a bankrupt garment factory, Comitex, in 1975 and began producing sweaters. Customers included J.C. Penney, Montgomery Ward, and other U.S. retailers.[2]

By rewarding sellers with financial incentives in Hong Kong, he built the chain into an Asia-wide retailer. Giordano was said to have more than 11,000 employees in 1,700 shops across 30 territories worldwide.

Transition to publishing[edit]

Owing to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, Lai became an advocate of democracy and critic of the People's Republic of China government. He distributed Giordano T-shirts with portraits of student leaders and began publishing Next Magazine, which combined tabloid sensationalism with hard-hitting political and business reporting. He went on to found other magazines, including Sudden Weekly(忽然一週), Eat & Travel Weekly(飲食男女), Trading Express/Auto Express (交易通/搵車快線) and the youth-oriented Easy Finder (壹本便利).

In 1995, as the Hong Kong handover approached, Lai founded Apple Daily, a newspaper start-up that he financed with $100 million of his own money owing to investor fear of association with a critic of the Mainland China government. The newspaper's circulation rose to 400,000 copies by 1997, which was the territory's second largest among 60 other newspapers.<citation required>

In 2006, Sudden Weekly and Next Magazine ranked first and second in circulation for Hong Kong’s magazine market while Apple Daily is the No. 2 newspaper in Hong Kong.[3]

Lai encourages a company culture of transparency and creativity without hierarchy. Employees are encouraged to tackle challenges through trial and error while assuming responsibility for their actions and sharing in profits from successful ventures.[4]

In a 1994 newspaper column, he told Premier of the PRC Li Peng to "drop dead," and called the Communist Party of China, "a monopoly that charges a premium for lousy service". As a result, most of his publications remain banned in mainland China. China's government retaliated against Lai by starting a shut-down of Giordano shops, prompting him to sell out of the company he founded in order to save it.

Ahead of the record-breaking pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong of July 2003 that brought half a million people onto the streets, the cover of Next Magazine featured a photo-montage of the territory's embattled chief executive, Tung Chee-Hwa taking a pie in the face. The magazine urged readers to take to the streets while Apple Daily distributed stickers calling for Tung to resign.[5]

In addition to promoting democracy, Lai's publication often ruffle feathers of fellow Hong Kong tycoons by exposing their personal foibles and relations with local government. Lai has frequently faced hostility from the many Beijing-backed tycoons, including attempts to force supplier boycotts of his companies and a lengthy battle to list on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange that he sidestepped through a reverse takeover. Lai managed to list the company in 1999 by acquiring Paramount Publishing Group in October of that year.

Neither Bank of China nor any state-owned enterprise from mainland places ads in Next Media publications, while major Hong Kong property developers and a range of other top-line companies advertise only in competing publications. The offices of his publications have been vandalised and his house was firebombed in 1993. It was at this time he converted to the Catholic faith, which has a long history in China.

Lai pioneered a reader-centric philosophy with paparazzi journalism in Hong Kong based on publications such as USA Today and The Sun. His best-selling Next Magazine and Apple Daily newspaper, feature a mix of racy tabloid material and news items oriented to the mass market with plenty of colour and graphics that attracts a wide range of readers, some of whom are also critics of Lai and his ideology.[who?]

Taiwan publications[edit]

Lai launched Taiwan editions of Next Magazine in 2001 and Apple Daily in 2003, taking on heavily established rivals who made considerable effort to thwart him. Rival publishers pressed advertisers to boycott and distributors not to undertake home delivery. His Taiwan offices were vandalised on numerous occasions,[6] but as the publications grew to have the largest readership in their category,[3] the advertising boycotts ended.

In October 2006, Lai launched Sharp Daily (Shuang Bao in mandarin), a free daily newspaper targeting Taipei commuters. The company also launched Me! Magazine in Taiwan.

In building Taiwan's most popular newspaper, Apple Daily, and magazine, Next Magazine, Lai's racy publications have had a great impact on the island's hitherto staid media culture.

Other companies[edit]

During the dot-com boom of the late 1990s, Lai started the Internet-based grocery retailer which offered home delivery service, adMart. It expanded its product scope beyond groceries to include electronics and office supplies, but was shut down after losing between $100 and $150 million. Lai attributed this business failure to overconfidence and the lack of a viable business strategy.[1] Admart.Asia (www.Admart.Asia), a popular free classifieds website covering Asia, is now no longer associated with Lai.

Quotes[edit]

"If you have fewer friends, you have more readers.[7] Among Lai's heroes are Friedrich Hayek, John James Cowperthwaite and Milton Friedman, bronze busts of each stand in the entrance hall to Next Media.

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Ng, Isabella (22 January 2001). "Taipei's Next". Time. Retrieved 6 May 2010. 
  2. ^ "Next Media Ltd. – Company Profile, Information, Business Description, History, Background Information on Next Media Ltd". Referenceforbusiness.com. Retrieved 26 March 2012. 
  3. ^ a b "Lai Chases Taipei Commuters". Forbes. 19 October 2006. 
  4. ^ [1][dead link]
  5. ^ "BW Online | 28 July 2003 | A Thorn in China's Side". Bloomberg BusinessWeek. 28 July 2003. Retrieved 26 March 2012. 
  6. ^ Attacks on the Press 2002: Taiwan (31 March 2003). "Attacks on the Press – 2002". Cpj.org. Retrieved 26 March 2012. 
  7. ^ "EastSouthWestNorth: Daily Brief Comments February 2007". Zonaeuropa.com. Retrieved 26 March 2012.