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.

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.

South Korea takes another step to ActiveX liberation

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

The Korea Trade Network’s development of an ActiveX-free authentication certification program may be the most concrete sign yet of South Korea finally dislodging itself from Internet Explorer.

Samsung affiliates to benefit from demand for electronic components, OLEDs

samsung girls

[This story was written originally for ZDNet on October 6, 2015 reporting from Seoul, South Korea]

Continued strong demand for TVs, tablets, and handsets will see a profit surge over the next two years, according to a Korean report.

South Korean TVs’ market dominance slowly weakening against Chinese rivals

Samsung is focused on the premium end of the TV market as its strategy to stem the torrent of Chinese companies eroding its market share.

Reporters check out Samsung TVs at a trade show.
Reporters check out Samsung TVs at a trade show.

Even though the Chinese makers are nibbling at South Korean market share, those Korean TV makers continue to enjoy dominance at the premium end of the global TV market.

South Korean TV makers are slowly losing ground in the global market in the face of Chinese rivals and faltering TV demand worldwide despite their strategy of keeping the tech edge over Chinese rivals by developing new innovative products.

Let’s look at some numbers. According to the a report in August by market tracker DisplaySearch, the combined share of Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics — the two big South Korean players — came to 34.8 percent in the first half of 2015. That’s a 4.3 percent drop from a year ago. Not much but the question is whether this is an irreversible trend.

In the meantime, Chinese makers saw their combined share soar 4.6 percentage points to 25.9 percent over the cited period.

Samsung’s share dipped to 20.8 percent, while LG’s retreated to 13.9 percent over the same period, the report said.

LG Electronics is mass-producing OLED TVs, first in the world, while Samsung Electronics is focusing on premium models such as LCD-based SUHD TVs.  It is top-notch technology, but the jury is still out on whether that is innovative enough or if even out competing their Chinese rival on the premium end is the right strategy going forward.

TCL Corp.’s share increased to 5.7 percent from 5.1 percent, and its local rival Hisense Co. also bolstered its presence to 5.4 percent of the global share from 4.9 percent.

South Korean companies’ TV sales have slowed over the past year. Samsung sold 24.1 million units in the first six months of 2015, down 15.2 percent from the previous year. LG’s TV sales sank 16 percent on-year to 13.6 million units as of end-June.

In contrast, Chinese makers boosted their combined sales to 25.4 million units from 21.9 million units during that time.

While the financial media has reported that China weakening its currency by letting it float unhindered in currency markets make things harder for Korean makers, that seems a little exaggerated.

From May, the Chinese Yuan decreased in value in relation to the Korean won by about 5 percent to about 5.45 Yuan for 1,000 Korean won from about 5.71 Yuan.

China’s move may further hurt Korean companies that have already been struggling to vie with Japanese firms backed by a cheaper currency, market watchers here said, adding there is a need to draw up fresh strategies that will help tide over the slackening sales.

Sure, a weaker Yuan is a disadvantage for Korean exporters since it undermines their price competitiveness versus Chinese rivals in the global market. But a 5 percent difference over a four month period is not going to make a crucial difference. It is one factor among many at play here.