Richard Li - Cyber star in the making

Richard Li is easily one of the most recognizable names in the Internet and telecommunications industry. The second son of Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-Shing, this 35-year old wunderkind is the chairman and chief executive of both Pacific Century Group (PCG).

Richard Li is easily one of the most recognizable names in the Internet and telecommunications industry. The second son of Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-Shing, this 35-year old wunderkind is the chairman and chief executive of both Pacific Century Group (PCG) and Pacific Century CyberWorks Limited (PCCW), as well as chairman of Pacific Century Regional Developments Limited.

The Stanford University computer engineering (never) graduate first came into public attention when he created Asia’s first satellite cable television network – Star TV – at the tender age of 26. The global subscriber base shot up to over 53 million homes and three years later, Star TV was valuable enough for Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. to pay a colossal US$525 million for it. That amount, industry experts say, was a tad higher than what it was actually worth.

The money gave Li a chance to set up PCG in October 1993. PCCW, its technology flagship, is now one of Asia’s largest Internet companies, and has more than 14,000 employees in 18 countries.

Li, dubbed ‘Little Superman’ by Hong Kong media, is known for his prowess in strategic deal-making. PCCW’s strategic partners include Telstra, Intel, Legend, China Unicom and China Mobile, among others.

In August last year, PCCW completed a US$38 billion merger with Cable & Wireless HKT. Li intends to use Cable and Wireless HKT as a beachhead in the development and provision of third-generation mobile technology in Southeast Asia.

According to an Asia Money report, the audacity of this takeover lies simply in the fact that a start-up with less than a year’s history as a public entity took over an established and well-managed 127-year-old cash cow telecoms business. Moreover, the acquisition was made possible on the back of a US$12 billion syndicated loan – which is remarkable for an Internet start-up with a property development mandate for the Cyberport.

Following this high-profile merger, Li restructured PCCW into four operating sectors: Telecommunications Services, Global Communications Services, Net Enterprises, and Infrastructure Services.

Li has declared that PCCW’s new growth engines are broadband connectivity in an Internet backbone company and broadband Internet content and applications. PCCW’s energy will be channeled into the development of a full gamut of broadband Internet solutions. Li is ambitious, and he wants PCCW to be no less than the very top provider of telecommunications, digital technology and new media services.

With his burning ambition to be a cyber star, Li is indeed the man to watch in 2001.

Li created Network of the World (NOW) in June last year. Billed as the first truly converged Internet and digital TV content service, NOW represents PCCW’s commitment to the provision of broadband content. Li’s interactive Web content vehicle allows television and Internet users to watch TV while surfing the Net for TV-program related video clips, graphics, animation, text and Web links. Li expects NOW to breakeven in four to five years’ time.

In January last year, Li established PCCW Japan. One of Li’s goal in 2001 is to set up NOW Japan by the middle of this year. NOW Japan content will be transmitted via CS 110, the next-generation satellite-based digital-broadcasting service.

With his burning ambition to be a cyber star, Li is indeed the man to watch in 2001. – Ariel Tam, ZDNet Asia