Lei Jun of handset maker Xiaomi turned 46 yesterday. Here are 10 fun facts

Chinese sometimes refer to Lei Jun as the “Steve Jobs of China,” because of his dynamic personal leadership style and, perhaps oddly, his fashion sense. But like Apple, Xiaomi has a cult fan following and intense brand loyalty in China.
Lei Jun, founder and Chief Executive Officer of China's mobile company Xiaomi, shows Mi Notes at its launch in Beijing January 15, 2015. China's Xiaomi Inc staked its claim to Apple Inc's crown on Thursday as the world's third-biggest smartphone maker and most valuable tech start-up unveiled the flagship Mi Note, its challenger to Apple's iPhone 6 Plus. REUTERS/Jason Lee (CHINA - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY BUSINESS TELECOMS) - RTR4LHWQ
Lei Jun, founder and Chief Executive Officer of China’s mobile company Xiaomi, shows Mi Notes at its launch in Beijing January 15, 2015. China’s Xiaomi Inc staked its claim to Apple Inc’s crown on Thursday as the world’s third-biggest smartphone maker and most valuable tech start-up unveiled the flagship Mi Note, its challenger to Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus.

Lei Jun celebrated his birthday on Dec. 16. He turned 46.

Lei Jun and De Liu created Xiaomi in April 2010, but in just five years their little startup has transformed into a $46 billion smartphone and electronics appliance juggernaut.

Xiaomi is vying for supremacy in its home turf with compatriots Huawei and Lenovo, not to mention global super players Samsung Electronics and Apple. In China it is the second largest smartphone maker after Huawei and, on the world stage, it is ranked No. 5 after Samsung and Apple, and then Huawei and Lenovo, depending on how you parse market share.

Chinese sometimes refer to Lei Jun as the “Steve Jobs of China,” because of his dynamic personal leadership style and, perhaps oddly, his fashion sense. But like Apple, Xiaomi has a cult fan following and intense brand loyalty in China. Here are 9 fun facts about one of China’s tech super-heroes:

  1. Jun founded his first business in 2000, Joyo.com, an online bookstore, which he sold to Amazon.com for over $75 million in 2004. He’s got the Midas touch!
  2. Jun graduated with a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Wuhan University in 1987. But Steve Jobs never graduated from college.
  3. Before Xiaomi, he was CEO of King Soft, now China’s largest office suite developer, for 10 years. He is still chair of King Soft. Busy bee!
  4. While China is not well known for customer service, it is said that Jun took it so seriously that he studied Chinese hotpot chain Haidilao and famed US retailer Wal-mart.
  5. Since Xiaomi is reknown for its savvy marketing, it is no wonder that Jun is said to believe social networking, mobile and e-commerse are the future. That sounds like Steve Jobs, too!
  6. Jun famously accepted investor Yuri Milner’s ALS ice bucket challenge. But Jun then one upped Milner by calling out Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau, Foxconn Chairman Terry Gau and Baidu founder Robin Li. What a nice guy!
  7. Jun could very well be one of the most prolific angel investors in China. He has invested in over 20 startups, including Yu Jin Hui’s cosmetic venture group. Cunning business smarts.
  8. Big shot Jun is ranked at No. 4 on China’s Rich People’s list and No. 16 on a list of the richest people in tech, according to a Forbes ranking of Chinese business notables.
  9. Jun has been valued at a personal net worth of over $13 billion. That’s a lot.
  10. Brainy Lei Jun’s childhood hobby was building home radios. What a nerd!

 

 

 

 

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Samsung underscores austerity in promotions, taps 1st female VP in battery division

Reporters check out Samsung TVs at a trade show.
South Korean tech giant Samsung Electronics does annual corporate reshuffles of its high-level executives in December.
Samsung Group highlighted the promotions of women executives and foreign nationals on Friday as it round off its annual reshuffle but, most of all, underscored austerity with just 294 executive promotions total the fewest in seven years.

The lower number of the promotions ― down from 353 in last year’s reshuffle and the lowest since 2009 ― signals the drive of Lee Jae-yong, vice chairman and scion of the Samsung founding Lee family, to streamline the conglomerate’s myriad businesses and cull its top-heavy corporate structure in order to refocus on troubled electronics businesses.

Samsung’s has faced trouble over the last two years in its mobile division. Even though the Galaxy S6 and Note 5 were well received by critics, the handsets failed to beat back a resurgent Apple and increasing competition from rising Chinese makers of low-end smartphones such as Huawei and Xiaomi.

Samsung Group highlighted the role of women and foreign nationals in this year’s annual executive promotions, according to a press release. “Many women executives at several divisions distinguished their outstanding capabilities and strengths. They will be role models for younger women.”

 

Kim You-mee, executive vice-president of Samsung SDI
Kim You-mee, executive vice-president of Samsung SDI

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nine women were promoted to senior executive positions, including one to vice-president. The global tech giant has made it policy for the past several years to diversifying its top brass to include foreign nationals and women. That’s down from 14 in 20125 and 15 in 2014.

“Samsung promoted executives who had achieved great performance, and tried to keep the growth momentum by promoting executives in a wider range of fields to include women and foreign nationals,” the conglomerate said in the press release.

The promotion of Kim You-mee as executive vice-president injects fresh blood into the Samsung’s battery affiliate. The 57-year-old Kim is one of just five executive VPs and the first female to join the exclusive top echelon of the Samsung affiliate. She joined Samsung SDI in 1996.

She previously headed development of small-sized and EV batteries, and will serve as one of CEO Cho Nam-seong’s key lieutenants in growing the affiliate as a global battery supplier.

Of the 294, a total of 29 executives were made executive vice presidents, 68 became senior vice presidents, and 197 vice presidents. The number of promotions has been steadily declining since a high of 501 in 2011.

South Korea office suite developer Hancom deepens ties with China’s King Soft

 

Lee Hong-koo, right, CEO of Hancom poses with China's King Soft CEO Lei Jun, who is also CEO of handset maker Xiaomi.
Lee Hong-koo, right, CEO of Hancom poses with China’s King Soft CEO Lei Jun, who is also CEO of handset maker Xiaomi.
South Korean office suite developer of Korean language programs Hancom inked another MOU with Chiense software behemoth Kingsoft to futher develop cloud computing based office software for the CHinese market on Dec. 17.

The two companies agreed to do more software exchanges and cooperation for advanced work processing programs for PC, tablets and smartphones.

This came on top of an MOU in August in Beijing to cooperate on building a web-based office solution and to explore other overseas markets, markets besides Korea and China (perhaps Japan and Southeast Asia??).

It signifies business cooperation between the two leading office software companies, which will certainly affect the global markets. Hancom is Korea’s largest office suite developer and KingSoft is China’s.

Xiaomi CEO and chairman Lei Jun doubles as chairman of KingSoft, and the company reportedly plans various joint projects with Hancom and to launch joint software solutions, as well as R&D, strategic overseas investment and M&As.

 

Hancom also recently bought a Belgium-based software company that specializes in enterprise PDF word programs. iText Group NV’s software allow companies to change their data on servers and web browsers into PDF files. It has been distributing open-source PDF technology and earning a profit by licensing these. It has supplied its solution to HP and GE Healthcare, who are among 3,000 of its enterprise clients.

Hancom says it wants to use iText’s brand value and clientele to expand globally. It will create new products using the PDF solution while approaching iText’s clients with its own.

Naver to challenge YouTube dominance in South Korea

 

naver 2
Founded in 1999, Naver Corp has grown rapidly over the past 16 years. Today, the internet company has a market cap of more than $19 billion.

The internet company laid out its future global strategy at Connect 2015 in Seoul last Tuesday — its second annual conference organised to discuss its vision and strategy for the mobile industry.

In tech savvy South Korea, YouTube currently reigns supreme, but Naver Corporation, the sprawling conglomerate behind the country’s largest search portal and chat app Line in Japan, vowed to challenge YouTube’s video streaming dominance in 2016.

Naver executives took the stage at the Naver Connect 2015 conference last Tuesday to deliver a message best summed up by two keywords: “live” and “mobile”. They said their strategy will make it possible to challenge video content giants Netflix, Facebook and YouTube owner Google — at least in South Korea.

“The keywords ‘live’ and ‘mobile’ encapsulate our corporate strategy for next year,” said Naver CEO Kim Sang-hun in a keynote speech. “We will focus our attention on providing for our partners mobile-based, live-streaming content, which we believe will be the key to survival in the fast-changing global IT environment against competitors such as Google, Facebook, and even Twitter.”

Kim emphasised keeping an “organic connection” between services and content consumers in order to detect what they want and give them it when they want it.

“In order to protect the domestic movie market, we must shake things up, and provide differentiated technology and content,” said Jang Joon-ki, director of video strategy, adding that Naver will have a two pronged video strategy — one in differentiated services, and another in content.

“Since YouTube entered the domestic market, it started a ‘warring states period’ in the domestic South Korean market. Naver TV Cast can compete fiercely with Facebook and YouTube in video content and in services,” Jang said.

Naver TV produced 290,000 video clips of content a month in the first 10 months of this year — more than double the 140,000 video clips a month the company created during the 12 months of 2014.

This was the result of Naver TV Cast having inked a deal with Smart Media Rep (SMR) for a revenue share of 90 percent for the broadcasters and 10 percent for Naver TV Cast. SMR originally looked for a similar deal with YouTube, but Google insisted on a 45 percent slice of advertising revenue.

SMR consists of seven big media outlets in South Korea — MBC, SBS, CJ E&M, JTBC, TV Chosun, Channel A, and MBN — and launched in the second half of 2014.

SMR, an ad agency for streaming services, provides smart Over-the-Top (OTT) service providers with video advertising proceeds generated from mobile, PC, and smart TV viewership. The seven TV companies of Smart Media Reps make up more than half of all terrestrial and cable TV viewership in South Korea. OTT refers to a telecommunications operator delivering services across IP networks, usually the internet.

In addition to video streaming content, Naver has Line Corp, founded in Tokyo in 2000. Over the past 15 years, it has amassed over 200 million monthly active users in Asia, including Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia and, recently, Pakistan.

Naver said it will also gear up other mobile-based services, such as Naver Webtoon, group chat app Naver Band, and V app, a social video streaming service initially focused on marketing Korean pop music in East Asia to ratchet up market share, which has proved a late-blooming success. Naver reported that more than 50 percent of V app viewers come from outside South Korea.

North Korea and Thailand are warming diplomatic ties

Warming diplomatic ties between Thailand and North Korea could mean a lot more investment into the country by one of Southeast Asia’s wealthiest nations.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong, left, shakes hands with his Thai counterpart Thanasak Patimaprakorn in Bangkok, Thailand.
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong, left, shakes hands with his Thai counterpart Thanasak Patimaprakorn in Bangkok, Thailand.

North Korea is always looking for ways to break out from international sanctions and US-led diplomatic isolation.

But now a Thai military leader, a man who also leads the country’s foreign ministry, is encouraging his country to invest in North Korea.

Thai Foreign Minister Tanasak Patimapragorn in August 2015 (about two weeks ago) said he wants Thai businesses and individuals to invest in North Korea, and suggested Thailand could be a bridge between the hermit country and the international community.

(FYI, Thailand military overthrew the democratically elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of Thaksin Shinawatra. She was elected in August 2011 and was overthrown by a military junta in May 2014.)

Thailand is working to upgrade diplomatic relations with North Korea, and has already said it will soon open an embassy in Pyongyang “soon.”

“To open an embassy in any country is a good sign, but all related processes must be carefully considered, including staff and budgets,” General Tanasak said.

Gen. Tanasak discussed a number of bilateral issues with his North Korean counterpart, Ri Su-yong, including a “trade cooperation deal.”

If a deal does get worked out, it would facilitate Thai investment in North Korea’s special economic zone, among other things. But actually, Thailand has a history of investing in North Korea.

Thai-based corporation Loxley Pacific invested massively in North Korea’s IT infrastructure and, in particular, the country’s internet, namely in the Star Joint Venture Company.

The Star JV is a joint venture between Loxley, which is one of the country’s most powerful family-owned conglomerates, which is one of the country’s most powerful family-owned conglomerates, and North Korea’s Post and Telecommunications Corporation, and Star JV took control of North Korea’s Internet address allocation system on Dec. 21, 2009, the country’s single Internet Service Provider.

Loxley company

Loxley Pacific Thailand

Gen. Tanasak said the two ministers talk a lot about IT, as well as other issues like health, education and regional issues.

The general also said that Thailand “offered to facilitate talks between North Korea and any country it had conflict with,” according to reports coming from Thai media outlets.

Thai kidnap victim

Mr Ri reportedly told General Tanasak that authorities would follow up the case of Anocha Panjoy, a Thai national who was abducted from Macau by North Korean agents back in 1978.

Former US serviceman Charles Jenkins and his wife told the media they said they saw Ms Anocha alive and well in North Korea.

Before the meeting of the foreign ministers, Phil Robertson, Human Right Watch’s deputy director for the Asia division, pressured Gen. Tanasak to press North Korea for the return of Anocha. There are other human rights issues  stunting diplomatic ties from warming up.

Thailand is one of the countries used by North Korean defectors as a transit point to resettle in South Korea. The number of North Koreans who traveling into Thailand has decreased from around 2,000 in 2011 to under 500 in 2015, according to a Thai media report.

The powwow between the two foreign ministers was filled with many niceties, however. North Korea’s Ri Su-yong passed on good wishes from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to Her Majesty Queen Sirikit on her 83rd birthday.

He invited Gen Tanasak to visit North Korea as part of the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two East Asian countries.

An exchange of diplomatic visits began in May 2015 when deputy foreign minister Don Pramudwinai visited Pyongyang. Ri Su-yong is the first high-level North Korean diplomat to visit Thailand in a decade, when its then foreign minister Paek Nam-sun visited in 2005.

During his trip in Thailand, Ri Su-yong visited Thai royal family’s pet projects and agricultural pilot programs. Two weeks ago, the North Korean official was on an Southeast Asian diplomatic mission that included trips to Brunei  and meetings with ASEAN officials.

The Basmati Rice Issue

Earlier this year, the North Korean ambassador to Thailand, Mun Song-mo, asked the government to set up a diplomatic compound in Pyongyang. However, a government source said this would not happen in the near future.

Five of 10 ASEAN countries — Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia and Vietnam — have diplomatic missions in the North Korean capital.

Diplomatic ties between Thailand and North Korea were quite smooth, especially as Thailand had played a key role in bringing North Korea to the ASEAN Regional Forum back in 2000, when Thailand held the ASEAN chairmanship.

Two sticky Thai-North Korea issues include not only the kidnapping of Thai national Anocha back in the 1970s, but also North Korea’s outstanding rice debt payment. The Thai foreign minister said the issue of rice debt payment was not touched upon but would be discussed in later talks.

North Korea owes Thailand about $300 million after Thailand exported 750,000 tons of rice to North Korea from 1993 to 2002 when the country suffered devastating famine and floods.

Bilateral trade between North Korea and Thailand $42 million in the first half of this year, nearly of that in the form of  exports from Thailand ($39 million). Two-way trade was $126 million in 2014 and in 2013 it was $114 million. Thai exports to North Korea including rubber, chemicals and plastics, and Thai imports comprising mainly chemicals, iron and steel, and electrical machinery.

 

 

 

Kakao details premium taxi app, launches test run

Kakao Taxi

[This story was written originally on October 21, 2015 reporting from Seoul, South Korea.]

The main features of the planned service include Mercedes and Lexus taxi models, a suit-wearing driver, and a complimentary drink, at around three times the price of a regular cab.

Kakao, the $7 billion parent company of messaging app KakaoTalk, released more details on Tuesday about the planned launch of a premium taxi app, as it tries to monetise lifestyle platform businesses.

KakaoTaxi Black will start off with a test run connecting users to a fleet of 100 cars through the end of this year while the company awaits final approval from the Seoul City government, when the service will then be expanded.

KakaoTaxi Black appears to be a souped-up version of Kakao’s existing ride-hailing app. So far the “taxis” include Mercedes E-Class Sedans and Lexus models, in contrast to the natural gas-powered Hyundai Sonata and Kia Lotze models that the vast majority of Seoul cabbies drive

KakaoTaxi Black users will send a request for a ride to a specific destination from their smartphone using the app.

The drivers will be professionally licensed and wearing a suit, much like a limousine service driver. The ride will even come with a complimentary beverage.

The catch is the high-end cab will cost about three times the price of regular cab, the company said. So, a ballpark figure could be about 45,000 won ($37.50) for a crosstown trip in Seoul that would normally be priced at around 15,000 won ($12.50). The base fee is 8,000 won ($6.60).

KakaoTaxi Black could presage future efforts to strengthen the company’s profit sources, since it has posted rather weak financial results for the past two quarters. That said, Kakao is a local success story, growing from a fledgling startup to South Korea’s second-largest IT venture after Naver Corp.

It merged with search portal Daum last year and spun off games and innovative businesses from its mobile-based platform. Intensifying competition in the industry has since burdened the firm with heavy marketing costs and anemic profits.

John Jung, Kakao’s chief business officer and the executive in charge of KakaoTaxi, said during a media briefing on Tuesday that while the concept is quite new to South Korea, premium taxis already take up 27 to 30 percent of the worldwide taxi market.

Kakao launched its existing ride-hailing app after it inked a three-party MOU with the Seoul Taxi Association and a major taxi company. The premium taxi drivers will be regular employees of the taxi company, Kakao said.

As of this month, Kakao said it has about 160,000 drivers registered with KakaoTaxi, which has accumulated 30 million calls since it launched in March, and receives 300,000 requests on a daily basis.Kakao Taxi

LG could launch its own mobile payment service as early as November

[This story was written originally for ZDNet on October 15, 2015 reporting from Seoul, South Korea.]

LG could join an already global market crowded by big players such as Google’s Android Pay, Apple Pay and Samsung Pay, perhaps as early as November, according to South Korean media reports.